Buying Used: Mazda CX-5 (2012-16)

Mazda's CX-5 exudes competence in everything it does and has rightly become one of the most popular models in the competitive market for medium SUVs

History of CX-5

Awards can deliver a welcome boost or the kiss of death to new models arriving in the market. Contenders are invariably hand-picked for assessment by the company's PR and engineering staff and avoid quality-control demons that can afflict regular examples. Not so the 'Friday Cars' with their lists of their defects detailed across the internet that can make the 'experts' who confer such honours look like complete mugs.

While scanning the list of international Mazda CX-5 accolades there was therefore a sneaking fear that its success might be overwhelmed by a growing list of owner complaints and recall notices. However, with one spectacular exception relating to its diesel engine, the CX-5 seemingly has escaped the 'Best Of....' hex almost unscathed.

The CX-5 arrived here in 2012, tasked with giving Mazda3 owners an aspirational model and replacing the ageing CX-7.

Cheapest of the CX-5s when new and prolific in today's used market is the front-wheel drive, petrol-fed, 2.0-litre manual Maxx. It cost $27,800 and came with all the goodies expected in a mid-range Mazda. Lack of power was a problem but it did offer a competent chassis and surprising amounts of load-space.

Inside, a happy combination of cloth and quality plastics teamed with an interesting dash layout and groovy little gear-lever. Family-friendly touches included a reversing camera with dash-mounted, multi-function screen plus an audio system with a range of inputs.

Optional for those with more money to spend and a preference for accessible performance were the Maxx Sport and Grand Touring, with 2.5-litre petrol or 2.2-litre turbo diesel engines. Six-speed auto transmission was mandatory in these.

Using Mazda's SKYACTIV integrated engineering that promised improved engine efficiency without assistance from a turbocharger, the 2.5 pumped out 138kW and boosted torque by 20 per cent over the smaller petrol engine.

With diesel engines now falling from favour, the 2.2-litre with 129kW and bountiful torque might not be everyone's first choice, but give it a go if you intend putting some serious distance under your CX-5's tyres, doing some gentle off-roading or towing.

Spending $47,000 would buy an All-Wheel Drive diesel auto in Grand Touring trim with leather seat trim (plus heaters and power adjustment on the driver's side), a power sunroof and 19-inch alloy wheels. The CX-5 GT (and Maxx Sport) could also be specified with a $1990 Tech Pack that performed all manner of interesting functions including lane departure monitoring and automatic headlight dipping.

Roll forward three years and the CX-5 range kept its basics intact while undergoing sufficient change to remain interesting.

Visible updates were minimal, with a redesigned grille, lights and minor trim details helping remind buyers that they were driving the later and improved model.

Most significant among the alterations was inclusion of extra sound deadening and thicker glass. These changes were Mazda's response to complaints from owners of early KE Series CX-5s about road noise.

The cloth-trimmed seats were claimed to be more comfortable than before and came in conjunction with a redesigned console. Still no face-level air-vents in the back however.

New for 2015 was an additional model name and even greater levels of CX-5 convenience and luxury. The Akera came with petrol or diesel power, mandatory all-wheel drive and automatic transmission. When fitted with the diesel engine this was the first CX-5 to break the $50,000 price barrier. However, no one could be disappointed by the level of equipment provided.

On the road

Mazda's new participant in the combative medium SUV market was a success because it did most of what its target market wanted without quirks or chest thumping.

The view from the driver's seat, even in a base-grade Mazda CX-5 Maxx, is impressive and very functional. Taller drivers have complained about the height of the seats and limited lumbar adjustment but for most users they will be fine.

The steering wheel with its maze of buttons is nonetheless easy to learn and the wheel itself feels brilliant. From 2015 Mazda improved the feel of its electrically-assisted steering and there would be few instances – off-road in mud maybe – where the driver would not be certain of where the front tyres were pointing and how much grip they were delivering.

People who tested these cars when new seem not to have done much serious off-road driving and nor did we. The all-wheel drive i-Activ system is for the most part front-wheel drive with 27 sensors to monitor grip levels and 'predict' the level of grip that will be available as surfaces and even outside temperatures change.

Mazda in northern hemisphere markets goes to considerable lengths to emphasise its cars' behaviour on icy and snow-bound roads. While offering minimal grip, these are relatively smooth and allow the tautly-suspended CX-5 to keep all four tyres in contact with the surface.

In Australia, where unsealed roads often include bumps, jumps and ruts, one or more wheels can lose contact and cause the whole show to grind to a halt. Traction control then would apply the brakes to stop grip-free tyres spinning and send torque to the others.

Head and leg room up front are excellent but the rear seat is a bit flat and smaller fry might complain about limited vision. Fold it partially to fit one or two occupants plus some extra cargo or lay the whole lot flat to access a spacious load platform.

The CX-5 rates five stars in occupant protection, according to ANCAP. Features include high tensile steel used to form the passenger cell, airbags in front and down both sides, stability and switchable traction control, belt pre-tensioners and a reversing camera. Later, higher-spec versions get interactive cruise control to help avoid rear-end collisions.

The six-slot auto has a good spread of ratios and driving it like a manual brings instant response for overtaking. The diesels weigh almost 1700kg and don't rocket away from a standing start but once on the move they respond well; zoom-zooming from 80-120km/h takes under six seconds.

Fuel consumption is the primary reason for choosing a diesel and the CX-5 doesn't disappoint with an official average of 5.7L/100km against almost 8L/100km in a 2.5-litre.

Mazda CX-5 check points

>> Some diesel engines fitted to early examples of the Mazda CX-5 suffered terminal damage and were replaced by the manufacturer. If you're considering a pre-2014 car that is still running its original motor, enlist a professional vehicle inspection service to ensure expensive failure isn't imminent.

>> Problems associated with oil contamination and sludging aren't prevalent with later engines, however precautions are still recommended. If you run an engine, be it petrol or diesel, over short distances in a mainly urban environment, check the oil every 2500km and consider reducing the recommended 10,000 kilometre service interval to 7500k or less.

>> CX-5s with their short overhangs and decent ground clearance are competent on gravel, snow and firmly packed sand but suspension travel is limited, so keep them away from the rough stuff. Inspect any car you are considering for underbody scrapes, stone damage and dented exhaust components that indicate one that has been taken where it shouldn't have gone. Torn drive-shaft seals let in sand and dirt.

>> make sure when buying an older CX-5 that you get the primary and spare transponder (electronic key) and that they interact as they should with the remote door controls and starter button. Owners report being quoted significant money to replace faulty or missing units.

Used vehicle grading for Mazda CX-5
Design & Function: 16/20
Safety: 15/20
Practicality: 16/20
Value for Money: 13/20
Wow Factor: 12/20
Score: 72/100

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