Mazda CX-5 2.0 SkyActiv-G petrol (2021) review
Mazda's CX-5 crossover gets a small round of updates. Enough to keep it competitive?
Neil Briscoe
Neil Briscoe
Pics by Dave Humphreys

Published on March 15, 2021

What are you driving?

Well, fairly obviously it's a CX-5. Mazda has sold a bundle of these since the badge was first introduced in 2012, and when it came time for a new version in 2017, the company wisely stuck to much of the same styling template. Since when, Mazda - as is its wont - has been steadily improving and updating the car bit by bit, every year. Let it never be said that Mazda's engineers shirked their work. The design department has clearly had a day off, though, as the CX-5 looks exactly the same as before - which to be honest is no bad thing; it's still one of the most handsome and chiselled-looking SUVs out there.

Inside, there has been one significant change, and that's to the infotainment system. Out goes the square-ish screen of previous versions, and in comes a new 10.25-inch display, which hugs low to the top of the dashboard. It uses the same operating system as that found in the Mazda3 hatch and CX-30 crossover. It is controlled by the neat little click-wheel between the seats. It also links up with the MazdaApp on your smartphone to allow you to control some bits of the car remotely (e.g. vehicle finder, door locking, navigation hand-off from phone to car).

Up front, while the CX-5 won't in this current generation get Mazda's trick-pony e-Skyactiv X engine, this one is running a lightly revised 2.0-litre SkyActiv-G petrol unit, with 165hp and 213Nm of torque. You could also, if you fancy, choose from the carry-over 2.2-litre diesel engine in 150hp or 184hp forms, or the new 2.5-litre 194hp petrol engine, which we've tried in the Mazda6 saloon and found to be impressively smooth and silent (if a touch thirsty).

Name its best bits

The best thing that the CX-5 does is to carefully manage the balance between involving you in the driving experience and still isolating you from the annoyances and intrusions of the outside world.

There's just something about Mazda's current line-up that inspires massive confidence in the car even before you've thumbed the start button. The quality level is sky-high, up there with Lexus standards (especially in our GT-Lux spec car, with its silky-smooth 'Sen' wood inserts on the dash). Once you're rolling, the control weights keep that sensation going, and everything - from steering to brakes to gearshift - has a tightness and a tautness that speaks more of a fine watchmaker than a mere car assembly. The contrast between stepping out of the new Hyundai Tucson - an excellent and well-made car - and into the Mazda was quite something. The CX-5 just feels like someone has gone around and tightened up all the bolts another fraction.

The driving position is excellent, and the seats are comfy and supportive. There's decent (if perhaps not cavernous) space in the back and boot, and that new infotainment screen looks far classier than the old one, and its software is much easier to get your head around.

When we last tried the 2.0-litre SkyActiv-G 165hp engine, back on this generation CX-5's original launch in Spain, we thought it was a bit too vocal and wheezy compared to the diesel. Well, fast-forward a tumultuous four years and diesel is out of fashion and Mazda has clearly been working hard on the refinement of the CX-5. The engine may be no more powerful - and as with all of Mazda's petrol engines you need to keep the revs up and work the sweet gearchange hard to keep up a good flow - but it is much quieter than before, to the point where it's positively relaxing to drive now.

The well-weighted, accurate steering is much as before, and in spite of wearing relatively large 19-inch wheels, the ride hasn't suffered over-much. The CX-5 remains a lovely, fluid, fluent car to drive.

Anything that bugs you?

Once again, fuel economy is a bit of an issue, and we struggled to get close to Mazda's official average figure. The CX-5 seemed to settle at around 7.5 litres per 100km, in mixed conditions, which isn't terrible, but not quite the published figure.

Also, we're not sure about the optional body kit fitted to our test car - it makes the CX-5 look a little as if it's wearing boot-cut jeans, and even we know they're not fashionable anymore.

And why have you given it this rating?

Is the petrol Mazda CX-5 a little bit thirsty? Yes, a touch, but perhaps not excessively so, and your conscience will be eased a little by the fact that you're not driving a diesel. In all other respects (bar, possibly, the body kit) the CX-5 remains a class leader - it's lovely to drive, comfortable, practical and very safe. Now all it lacks is a hybrid, or even fully electric, powertrain option.

What do the rest of the team think?

Mazda really didn't need to do much to the exterior styling of this car, as the CX-5 is a good-looking SUV. I agree with Neil on the extra body kit parts fitted to the test car though: it looks better without. The interior is lovely, however, of very high quality and with decent space all-round. Other than the items Neil mentioned, I'd like to highlight the beautifully thin steering wheel rim, which makes driving the car even more enjoyable. It combines with the slick gearshift and tractable, drivable nature of the naturally aspirated engine to make for an SUV that you'll soon realise you enjoy driving. Practicality-wise, buyers should also note how wide the rear doors open in comparison to most rivals. Obviously, petrol power doesn't suit all motorists, but for those in the market for such a thing, this CX-5 is a good option.

Shane O' Donoghue - Editor


Tech Specs

Model testedMazda CX-5 2.0 SkyActiv-G GT Lux
Pricing€42,690 as tested; CX-5 starts at €32,495
Engine2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol
Transmissionsix-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Body stylefive-door, five-seat SUV
CO2 emissions152g/km
Motor tax€280 per annum
Combined economy42.1mpg (6.7 litres/100km)
Top speed204km/h
0-100km/h10.3 seconds
Power165hp at 6,000rpm
Torque213Nm at 4,000rpm
Boot space506-1,620 litres
SafetyEuro NCAP rating for Mazda CX-5
Rivals to the CX-5 2.0 SkyActiv-G petrol (2021)