Mazda CX-5 Review 2023 | Top Gear
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Thursday 30th November
There are few crossovers as car-like to drive, but the lack of hybrid options might count against it

Good stuff

Still looks good, and still handles gamely too

Bad stuff

New trims confuse the range. Actually best as a diesel


What is it?

We like Mazda. Of all the mainstream carmakers – especially those increasingly specialised in SUVs and crossovers – it’s the one that makes sure petrolheads are kept in mind at every stage of the design and engineering process. All too literally, perhaps, given it has barely dallied in the world of hybrids and thus far has just the one electric vehicle in its range.

But fastidiously engineering its family cars has reaped rewards. The CX-5, its mid-size SUV, sells by the absolute bucketload. It accounts for a quarter of Mazdas sold in the UK, second only to the curvier CX-30 crossover, and more than three million have sold globally. Which might actually make those petrolheads sob a little; launched in 2010, the CX-5 has basically trebled the mighty MX-5’s sales figures in a mere third of the time.

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Pass the tissues.

Don’t worry, though, for there’s a surprising amount of MX-5 thinking that’s gone into this car, most obviously in its use of naturally aspirated petrol engines at the core of its range. That means no turbos, which means none of the effortless torque of the CX-5’s multitudinous rivals. You actually have to work these engines hard if you want to get places briskly, which is kinda unheard of in the crossover world.

Unlike the MX-5, though, it’s natively front-wheel drive, with all-wheel drive an option that a weeny nine per cent of British buyers go for. Diesel is similarly ignored these days, too; there are a pair of 2.2-litre turbodiesels on offer, but only a quarter of customers will opt for them, and they’ll almost certainly be on a company car scheme of some kind.

So what are my options?

The CX-5 has been facelifted for 2022, with some minor styling tweaks (the usual headlamp ‘n’ grille refresh we’re used to with mid-life updates) and some major range updates. The upshot is there are now 20 different styling pack, engine and transmission combos to choose from, which is slightly dizzying.

You’ve two petrols – a 2.0-litre 4cyl with 163bhp and a 2.5-litre 4cyl with 191bhp – and two diesels – both 2.2-litre 4cyl offering either 148bhp or 181bhp – with six-speed manual or automatic gearboxes available on all, save for the top-spec petrol, which is auto and AWD only.

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As well as regular SE-L and Sport trims, carried over from before, you can now have Sport Black, GT Sport and Newground trims, which aim to alter the overall appearance of the car between sporty, luxurious and rugged, though given the off-road mode only appears on posher trims and the supposedly rugged Newground only comes as a FWD petrol, it’s all a bit superfluous really.

Indeed if the MX-5 proves anything, it’s that Mazda is most adept at keeping things simple and focused more on thrills than frills. Small wonder most buyers will stick with a petrol Sport and eschew all those fancy new editions…

What's the verdict?

There are few crossovers as car-like to drive, but the lack of hybrid options might count against it

Linear power delivery and alert steering responses aren’t what crossovers are usually sold on, and so the CX-5 can’t help but feel like a bit of an outlier in its class. In a very good way, if you happen to relish the way a car rides and handles. Here’s a car very tangibly developed by people who care about such things. Its traditional and very intuitive interior – awash with buttons, not screens – will likely please the same crowd.

What’s more likely to cost the CX-5 some sales is its (current) lack of hybrid options, and Mazda’s insistence that internal combustion has a long future ahead of it suggests this isn’t a situation about to dramatically change. But if the running costs work for you nonetheless, here’s a small SUV that’s good to look at and drive. Quite an appealing combo.

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