Parkers overall rating: 4.5 out of 5 4.5
  • Manual, auto, two- and all-wheel drive
  • One petrol and two diesels available
  • No hybrids or electric versions to choose

There's a fairly narrow choice of engines for the CX-5, and no sign of a plug-in hybrid or fully electric version in the offing either. However, the engines are updated versions of previous designs and are smooth-running units paired with excellent gearboxes.

A word of advice to avoid confusion when visiting a Mazda showroom: the firm no longer refers to the engines by their capacities in litres, instead simply using their power figures – and the terms SkyActiv-G for petrol (the G stands for gasoline) and SkyActiv-D for the diesels.

Single petrol engine

There’s only one choice here and it’s a SkyActiv-G 165hp, 2.0-litre motor, with two-wheel drive. It's a non-turbocharged petrol engine that's been honed for efficiency with cylinder deactivation technology – which shuts off a pair of cylinders (so using half the fuel) when the car isn't under load – such as when it's coasting or gently cruising.

It's one of a diminishing number of non-turbocharged cars still on sale. We'd say a turbo is probably needed, though, as it feels out of its depth in this SUV – especially if you encounter any kind of hill or are accelerating out of a speed restriction without changing down a gear or two.

As such, 0-62mph takes 10.3 seconds and top speed is 125mph. If you’re coming from a diesel or turbocharged petrol SUV, the lack of pulling power at low and middling engine speeds in this version is going to feel quite alien - it needs to be revved hard to unlock its performance. It's smooth and refined, though, and more often than not you won't hear it too much unless you're driving hard.

The good news is if you are an enthusiastic driver, the manual gearbox is a pleasure to use, with a light and accurate change, and the clutch take-up is smooth and positive. But having to work the engine hard to make brisk progress isn't what you'd expect to have to do in a large family car such as the CX-5. And when you're not being enthusiastic, the cylinder cut-off technology works so well, you won't even notice it happening.

If you fancy that motor with an automatic gearbox, then while top speed drops to 119mph, acceleration from a standstill to 62mph takes 9.8 seconds.

Pair of diesel engines

There are two 2.2-litre options here and both feel more suited to the CX-5 than the petrol. Things kick off with a SkyActiv-D 150hp unit – the projected best seller – and it’s available with both two-wheel drive, and a manual or automatic gearbox.

The manual is the fastest of these, taking 9.9 seconds to get from 0-62mph, progressing onto a top speed of 127mph. Choose the automatic and they drift out to 10.7 seconds and 124mph, respectively. While not a million miles quicker in the benchmark sprint than the more powerful petrol, it requires much less effort thanks to loads of muscle – whatever the engine speed – courtesy of its turbocharger.

Replacing the older SkyActiv-D 175hp is the SkyActiv-D 184hp. The more powerful engine does seem to take a moment longer than the 150hp version to respond to the accelerator pedal, so if you don't want to pay a premium for all-wheel drive, you should be more than happy sticking with the 150hp in performance terms. The 184hp version also feels noticeably gruffer in sound and a little rougher than our experience with the less powerful model.

Mazda quotes identical 129mph top speeds for both manual and automatic versions of the 184PS engine, although the former is quicker in the 0-62mph acceleration benchmark at 9.3 seconds against 9.6 for the auto.

The 184hp model is still impressive for a diesel with plenty of low engine speed urge and proving equally happy when worked harder, but considering just how good the less powerful engine is, we'd be tempted to get the cheaper CX-5.

CX-5 gearbox choices

Two choices here – manual and automatic – and both come with six speeds. The petrol engine is manual only but the diesels can be had with either ‘box. The manual is typical Mazda; reasonably tight and accurate throws with a mechanical feel that makes it more satisfying to use than an SUV deserves to be – especially with the more powerful diesel under the bonnet.

Impressions of the automatic alternative are good. Shift across into manual mode and the lever becomes a sequential shifter; downshift by pushing away and upshift by pulling towards you. It might not sound like much but Mazda is one of the few manufacturers that does this correctly – most others have up and downshifts in the opposite direction, which is far less intuitive when on the move.

What is the CX-5 like to drive?

  • Good fun, as most Mazdas are
  • Will satisfy keener drivers
  • Agility not at the expense of comfort

Driving enjoyment is Mazda’s calling card and for the most part the CX-5 falls into line with the manufacturer’s current run of satisfying steers. It doesn’t deliver quite the same enjoyment as the company’s smaller hatchback and saloon models but you wouldn’t expect it to – this is a tall and comfortable family crossover, which cannot escape the laws of physics.

Innovations this time around include improved steering and braking, plus a stiffer body, which allows for more comfortable suspension while maintaining handling agility.

Where the CX-5 shines is when turning into corners – the Mazda responds neatly to turns of the nicely weighted steering, aided by the new-to-this-model G-Vectoring Control. Don’t worry about how this works – just know it improves the dexterity of this large SUV, making it feel more nimble.

There’s a bit of bodyroll but it’s well-controlled, with no wallowing, and mid-corner the CX-5 demonstrates huge and balanced traction levels – especially in AWD models. The heavier AWD diesel feels noticeably weighty around bends but in a confidence-inspiring manner, and goes exactly where you point it, with more precise steering than the front-wheel drive 150hp version, which has slightly vaguer steering.

Put the steering to one side and the front-driven CX-5 feels more agile when powering out of corners, oddly, where it just grips and goes. In AWD cars there’s a slight delay, which you can minimise by pressing the accelerator earlier than normal and leaning on those huge traction levels.

Entry-level SE-L models with smaller wheels and more rubber between you and the road feel softer and the steering less precise. That extra rubber does mean it is smoother over bumps, though.