Putting the C in Crossover

When it comes time for me to eventually replace my BMW X5 I am hoping that things in my life will be quite different – for starters a new job but then with that may come a more varied commute and/or my own property, with associated bills and running costs to go with the mortgage payments. As a result whichever car I buy next will have to be reasonably more fuel efficient and overall cheaper to run…following the premium route there are some attractive (if expensive) options, but looking around there are a few mainstream models which have managed to surprise me by turning my head.

The CX-5 is around the size of the BMW X3 although admittedly looks smaller in pictures.

One of these is Mazda’s CX-5, a car which isn’t too dissimilar to my own X5 and brings a few qualities of it’s own alongside the letter C! Now Mazda itself has a surprisingly fertile history of SUV’s and crossovers, thanks mainly to it’s historical relationship with Ford through the 80’s, 90’s and early 00’s; this began with the launch of the Explorer-based Navajo in 1991, but with only a 3 door body style and poor brand recognition it was quickly discontinued a few years later. Mazda then launched the Tribute which was a compact SUV based on the Ford Escape/Maverick platform – again the success of the Tribute’s Ford counterpart far overshadowed any sales by the Japanese model.

The Tribute was the first Mazda SUV to sell on European shores, but much like it’s Ford Maverick counterpart it failed to make an impact

The Tribute lasted two generations however, and the booming popularity of the SUV/crossover market led Mazda to launch two additional line-ups to accompany their small machine; the mid-size (by US standards) CX-7 and full-size CX-9. Remarkably despite their larger price tag, the two ‘CX’ crossovers sold in much higher numbers, probably in part to their much more distinctive styling and a driving experience which captured more of the ‘Zoom Zoom’ ethos which Mazda had been ever so proud to shout about. The CX-9 is still on sale today after 9 years of production, and while the CX-7 didn’t sell particularly well it still managed to cross the Atlantic and was launched in the UK and other European markets for a while.

I actually thought the CX-7 was a great looking car and if it had launched with the right engines (and more fanfare), it may have done reasonably well

Unfortunately for Mazda UK the CX-7 was initially only available with a thirsty turbocharged petrol engine and power-sapping automatic. Although the 2010 facelift saw a diesel engine and manual gearbox replace these, by then it was too little too late and it was quietly dropped…thankfully though Mazda had an upcoming ace up it’s sleeve and in 2012 it launched the CX-5 to near universal acclaim. Built on new principles of being sporty to drive yet efficient, it was one of the first Mazda’s to become available with their SKYACTIV engines, which resulted in much improved fuel economy and emissions whilst still providing reasonable power.

The CX-5 reminds me of the X1 in terms of mission objective and looks, but on the whole is easier on the eyes and more practical despite lacking a premium badge.

When the CX-5 first launched I was not totally overwhelmed with it’s looks; the long bonnet and relatively short body reminded me more of a BMW X1 than anything else, and whilst that may not be a bad thing in some people’s books I found it to look more like a tall wagon with undersized wheels. However time has softened my opinion to the Mazda and the increasing number of them that I see on UK roads have demonstrated to me that some cars look much better in the metal than others. For starters the CX-5 is a much larger car than something like the X1, with a higher roofline more fitting of it’s off road ambitions; higher trim levels feature larger alloy wheels which helps the car look more balanced too, but probably more important is the sleek angles and overall cohesiveness of the detailing which make it look a cut above it’s more mainstream rivals from Ford and Honda.

The CX-5 has a plain but well made interior, although this 2015 model is a nicer place to be than previous years.

I have not sat inside any Mazda in the past 10 years so I can’t make too much of a judgement on it’s interior, but on the whole I would think it safest to say that the car’s recent facelift has made it a lot more competitive – particularly in terms of infotainment where before the navigation screen looked decidedly aftermarket and graphics looked dated and slow (going from pictures anyway). Other than that you’re looking at a vehicle with a typical Japanese interior – a lot less flashy than say something like a Ford or Hyundai, with less buttons than modern Vauxhalls/Opels but not the perceived quality of anything from the Volkswagen Group. However when compared directly to Japanese rivals, the Mazda does at least have a good deal more flare than the Toyota RAV4 and avoids the quirkiness of Honda’s latest interiors…I think probably the biggest thorn in the CX-5’s side is going to be the British-made Nissan Qashqai, which is a good smidge cheaper than the Mazda yet comes with nearly the same amount of interior space and equipment.

Not the class leader, but at 463L the boot space with the rear seats raised is actually nearly identical to my X5’s!

On the road is where Mazda’s traditionally excel over their compeition, and it would appear that the CX-5 is no exception. The previous class leader in this segment was the Ford Kuga, but pairing it with the U.S. Escape model for it’s current generation has harmed the car’s handling and aimed it more towards comfortable family transport. That’s not to say that the CX-5 is necessarily uncomfortable, but I would guess that the ride and handling are probably both described as sporting, at least in a compact crossover context! In terms of engine choices, European buyers have a choice of just two engines; a 165bhp 2L petrol and a 2.2L diesel available in 2 states of tune (150bhp and 175bhp), American buyers also get the choice of a 185bhp 2.5L petrol but have to make do without the diesel. Those same buyers stateside have criticised the CX-5 a little for not delivering the performance that is needed in a vehicle of this size, but in reality a time of 0-60 in around 9 seconds (regardless of engine) is going to be enough for anyone, especially in the UK market where superminis can take well over 14 seconds to reach the same speed!

SKYACTIV technologies mean that the CX-5 is reasonably fast and performs well in terms of fuel economy and emissions

Those SKYACTIV engines also translate well into fuel economy and running costs; the 2L petrol engine is only available in the UK with 2WD and a manual gearbox, but should reach a combined figure of 47.1mpg and is £130/year to tax. I am sure there are some rivals which can beat these figures, but when you consider that when the CX-7 launched not even 8 years ago, it’s 2.3L engine could not better 27mpg and would be over £500 to tax! Most people are best off sticking to the 150bhp diesel, as the 175bhp only comes with AWD and can get pretty pricey, although with fuel economy not suffering too much. The 2WD manual sneaks into the £30 road tax bracket and can return up to 61mpg combined, whilst all other manual variants return around 54mpg and are £130/year to tax too. If you want both AWD and an automatic gearbox then fuel economy suffers a little more and road tax goes up by £10, but on the whole this is not going to be an expensive car to run, although bear in mind that despite Mazda being generally reliable, replacement parts will likely have to come all the way from Japan so won’t be as cheap as something like a Ford.

The Qashqai is probably the biggest rival for the CX-5 despite it’s lower price and smaller size

In many ways then, Mazda have created a class leader or at least one which competes very strongly with class standard bearers such as the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV-4 and Ford Kuga/Escape. But when compared to these rivals, sales wise the Mazda barely registers an impact – especially in the US where the CR-V and Escape amongst the highest selling vehicles full stop. In the UK at least, I believe a part of this is down to a poor dealer network – I live in North London and the nearest dealer would be a good 40 minute drive away, and despite the fact that Mazda are offering competitive personal finance deals the fact I would have to travel that far to get it serviced would seriously give me pause for thought. Another key factor in the UK is the presence of the all-conquering Nissan Qashqai, which although is a little smaller all around seems to offer overall lower running costs and a lower sticker price too, plus a larger dealer network and nameplate which the majority of people have come to know (despite it being nearly unpronounceable!). Would I consider a CX-5? Well for me the deciding factor will be the price and kit level – I have unfortunately become accustomed to leather heated seats, navigation, Bluetooth and an automatic gearbox…the leather is optional I guess but automatic CX-5’s seem to be far and few between used and are pretty pricey new!


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