Long-term report: It’s time to adventure in the Mazda CX-5

The Mazda CX-5 has been stretching its legs on a trip to the Peak District. Jon Reay explains how it got on.

Mazda CX-5
Mazda CX-5

I’ve been feeling a bit guilty about the monotonous life we’ve forced our poor CX-5 to live – so much so that, this month, I decided to give it a bit of a treat. Now that it’s been well and truly ‘run in’ with several thousand motorway miles, I thought it was high time to take it somewhere a bit more fun.

After some perusing of Google Maps, off to the Peak District we went – hoping for, along with some decent weather, enough twisty roads to test the Mazda’s sports-car-slash-SUV pretensions.

Luckily we weren’t disappointed – and the CX-5, it must be said, played a bit of a blinder. Aside from the occasional East Midlands roundabout, I’ve not had much of a chance to really put the Mazda through its paces in terms of handling; so it came as a bit of a surprise to find such a tall and otherwise comfy SUV hanging on in corners quite as well as it does.

Mazda CX-5
The CX-5 was a perfect choice for a longer trip

Now look, Mazda doesn’t pretend the CX-5 is some B-road munching monster, so you won’t find any stiff suspension or fancy adaptive dampers here. But, what you do get is a fluid, lithe chassis setup – something that’s also often said about the MX-5.

Mazda has resisted the urge to simply bolt on some rock-hard suspension and label the CX-5 ‘sporty’. Instead, they’ve spent their efforts making every bit of the driving experience as fun and communicative as it can be, while leaving the ride compliant enough for day-to-day journeys.

In other words, the CX-5 won’t be breaking any Nurburgring lap times any time soon, but it’s a fun thing to hustle along at the national speed limit. After all, that’s what really counts, isn’t it?

Mazda CX-5
The CX-5 raised seating position gives a good view of the road ahead

It’s just as well that the speed limit isn’t any higher, of course, because our CX-5’s slight Achilles heel continues to be a slight lack of power – particularly for the uh, spirited driver. There’s definitely 162bhp buried somewhere in its 2.0-litre petrol engine, but finding it requires a bit of patience, many down changes, and a willingness to hear 6,000 RPM of screaming from under the bonnet.

There are some positives of such a rev-hungry powertrain, of course – not least that on twisty roads, you feel a much more integral part of the driving process. Power isn’t just handed to you low down the rev range – no! You’ve got to earn it.

As the former owner of many-a hot hatch, I have no problems with that way of thinking. But in a relatively chunky ‘family’ SUV – pretensions of sportiness or not – I’m afraid it doesn’t sit quite right. What the CX-5 is crying out for is some low-down torque: something that became particularly evident on the steeper sections of the famous Snake Pass.

Mazda CX-5
The CX-5 blends sporty and comfortable driving

Luckily there’s an easy solution to all this: buy the diesel. It’s got nearly twice the torque as our petrol, the same 0-60 time, and even costs roughly the same to buy. That’s not to say our petrol-powered version is without benefits or charms, of course – it just wouldn’t be my pick.

Engine choices aside, the CX-5 makes a great case for itself as a fun-to-drive SUV that’s easy to live with – both in terms of comfort, and impact on the wallet. We’re still managing 40mpg in all but extreme circumstances, which considering this isn’t a hybrid – with the increased price tag to match – isn’t bad going at all.

As for our little day trip to the countryside, it was great to finally let the Mazda stretch its legs, and was a nice way to see just what it could do with some twistier tarmac beneath its wheels. If I’m honest though, the CX-5 felt much better suited to easing the pain of an hour home on the M1. And d’you know what? That’s okay too.

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