20 May 2022

A facelift for Canberra's beloved Mazda CX-5 keeps it in front by a nose

| James Coleman
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Mazda CX-5 outside a cafe

Canberra Mazda enthusiasts check out the new CX-5. Photo: Murray Farrell (Creek Run Media).

Last year, nearly 500 Canberrans brought a Mazda CX-5 home for the first time, making it the fourth best-selling car in the capital.

On paper, at least, the CX-5 has what it takes. It’s a Japanese, mid-size, five-seater SUV – the go-to, do-everything blend of the decade that killed the family wagon.

But in this segment of the market, competition is scorching hot, so no sooner was the updated CX-5 released in 2020 than the designers got the pens out again.

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Unsurprisingly, there wasn’t much to do, but for 2022, they gave it new lights and a fresh cabin anyway.

As before, there are six models and three engines available, but perhaps most importantly, the GT SP is still here. That’s the fast one. It’s the one where Mazda looked beyond the masses who just wanted a box to carry their children to and from school. It’s set apart from the rest with gloss black wheels and trim, and it’s clear Mazda tried to target the motoring enthusiast.

We’ve seen this before, when carmakers have grand delusions of turning their high rider into a mountain goat by slapping some stickers on it. Has it actually worked for the CX-5 GT SP?

The GT SP Turbo, Akera Diesel, and Touring Active petrol. Photo: James Coleman.

To find out, I borrow one from Phillip Mazda and head out to a ‘meet’ of Canberra’s Mazda enthusiasts.

‘MazdACT’ started over lockdown to bring together the like-minded from across the capital, and today, there’s no missing it. The car park at Lazzari Bros’ Espresso in Kambah is full to bursting with all manner of hotted-up Mazdas, from the humble 121 to the hallowed RX-7. These people will know what’s what.

The new ‘Zircon Sand Metallic’ colour is the first attraction, followed closely by the ‘Turbo’ badge on the back. The bonnet goes up and there’s much cooing over the turbocharged 2.5-litre four-cylinder underneath. It might have an automatic gearbox, but there are paddles on the steering wheel for manual shifting. And are those 19-inch wheels?

An hour of talking cars and wheel designs later, I leave the photoshoot flush with compliments and upward-pointing thumbs. That’s a pass, Mazda.

It gets better on the road. At this point, I could describe the smooth delivery of power, the precise steering and the Goldilocks suspension at length. But I’ll just say this: for the money, it’s the best SUV I’ve ever driven.

It’s not a sports car, but there are genuine smiles to be had when pushing it a bit hard.

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But I’ve had my fun.

Most CX-5 customers won’t be stumping up $56,381 for the GT SP, they’ll be going for the mid-spec Touring Active model which comes in at $47,231 driveaway.

You can feel the difference $9000 buys.

Despite the thicker tyres in the Touring Active model, the ride is jiggly. And the gearbox can’t decide which cog it should be in – it’s noticeable and a touch off-putting.

CX-5 interior

Lime-green highlights will make your life more fulfilling: fact. Photos: James Coleman.

Mazda has high aspirations of going upmarket, but there’s some way to go. For instance, the Touring Active lacks electric seats and soft-touch plastics.

And when they get fancy and sporty with the GT SP, it lacks a front camera which these days should be a given.

All that said … The cabin is a very pleasant place to sit. Not everyone will be a fan of the lime-green highlights throughout the cabin, but it’s no worse than having a potted plant in your living room. It’s there for colour and flair, and without it, you’d be a bachelor eating Two-Minute noodles on a milk crate.

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The infotainment system, with its combination of touch screen on the dash and rotary controller between the seats, is a breeze to navigate. The rest of the technology serves the polite role of a butler – the lane-departure warning is a gentle tap on the arm compared to the ligament-tearing response in some other cars.

Not quite as many buyers will go for the diesel option, which is also available.

In top-of-the-line Akera form, you’re looking at $57,667 driveaway for a car powered by what environmentalists (probably) refer to as the devil’s fuel. But the engine is a ripper.

There’s no doubt diesel comes into its own at times, especially when towing heavy loads or on the highway. The 2.2-litre turbo diesel in the CX-5 won’t let you down – it’s not fast to respond, but when it does … boy, it does.

At the end of the day, then, the slightly updated Mazda CX-5 has something for everyone. That’s one way to stay ahead.

Mazda CX-5

The Akera AWD starts at $55,627. Photo: James Coleman.

Phillip Mazda provided the vehicles for testing. Region Media has no commercial arrangement with Phillip Mazda.

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