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July 17, 2012

Review: 2012 Mazda CX-5 M/T and A/T

Mazda engineers have been burning the midnight oil finding ways to make their cars fun to drive. Suffice to say, they’re trying to make each and every vehicle in their line-up as fun on the road as the MX-5 (aka Miata). This may sound blasphemous, but it’s wholly true: from the 2, 3, and even the 6--Mazdas are fun behind the wheel even if they don’t tend to be the most powerful in their respective classes. But how can their philosophy, the now infamous “zoom-zoom” translate into a compact crossover? Remember, this is an extremely competitive segment, where function largely dominates over fun.

The Mazda CX-5 is effectively the replacement for both the Tribute (a badge-engineered Ford Escape) and the CX-7. For the former, it’s clearly understood since the Tribute never seemed to blend that well into the rest of the Mazda line-up. For the latter, it’s an aging product that may seem big and burly on the outside, but tight and cramped inside. One thing new with the CX-5 is its styling. It’s the first Mazda to employ the new Kodo or “Soul of Motion” design language. The smiley face of old has been replaced by a more aggressive trapezoidal black grille with subtle wings that extend into the headlamps. From the side, the Kodo styling means the CX-5 features a prominent shoulder line that rises up towards the back, complimented by an accent line just above the rocker panel.  Combined with relatively short overhangs, Mazda says this makes the CX-5 look like an animal ready to pounce. Hyperbole aside, they’ve nailed it right. It’s bold and beautiful without being too cartoony.

The exterior may seem compact, but stepping inside the CX-5 reveals an interior that’s spacious and comfortable. The highlight is the easy-to-use touch screen that incorporates the audio system, vehicle settings, and Bluetooth hands-free system. There’s even a voice-command function that allows you to operate things like the radio and climate without needing to fiddle with buttons or controls. The audio system itself is fully featured with all the prerequisite inputs including iPod connectivity built-in. And it’s got enough bass too to keep a DJ happy.

The seating position, particularly for those in front, is downright perfect with supportive seats and excellent visibility. From the back though, a bit more hip support would be welcome although at least there’s good space for three adults. That said, the overall interior feel is solid, almost to a Teutonic level. It even echoes something with a blue and white propeller badge down to the orange-lit controls and font-type used. There’s a wealth of soft-touch materials, particularly on the dash and there’s even a 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat to accommodate extra-long cargo without compromising passenger space. In fact, if there’s only one gripe is that leather seats should have been made standard given the rather high retail price of P 1,392,000 for the MT and P 1,452,000 for the AT.

Mazda is known for its driving dynamics, and the CX-5 doesn’t disappoint. But like the MX-5, it’s not about overwhelming power, rather it’s about how well balanced the entire package is.

The CX-5 uses Mazda’s full suite of SkyActiv technologies, and while it’s easily mistaken for just the engine, it’s much more than that. While the 2.0-liter engine is the SkyActiv-G engine, it’s mated to a choice of SkyActiv-branded transmissions--a six-speed manual or automatic. The whole package is then wrapped in a lightweight SkyActiv chassis. And speaking of lightness, the CX-5 weighs around 200 kilograms less than the CX-7 it replaces.

Back to the SkyActiv-G engine, it develops a healthy figure of 162 horsepower and 210 Nm of torque from just two liters of displacement. Mazda has done so without the help of turbocharging, but through the engine’s impressive, diesel-like 14:1 compression ratio. This means that the engine can extract more power from each drop of fuel that enters the combustion chamber. Fuel economy is certainly a big win for the CX-5 whether it’s with the manual or automatic transmission. In a week-long test, the manual-equipped CX-5 delivers   11.1 km/L while the automatic model returns an equally astounding 11.58 km/L. And this is in a purely city driving environment. On longer highway stints, the CX-5 will return close to 20 km/L with either transmission. Overall, the engine feels sufficient for just about any occasion, bar perhaps uphill overtaking. But, it must be noted that a heavy right foot will really penalize fuel economy (just for kicks, we drove the CX-5 M/T hard, and it returned just 7.28 km/L in the city).

The biggest highlight of the CX-5’s power train is the transmission, regardless of what you choose. Mazda is the only one to offer a manual in the entire segment, and what a gearbox it is. The throw length is comparable to that of the MX-5, and together with a light, linear clutch, the row-it-yourself package is quite frankly, better than many sports cars around. Only a small percentage of buyers will likely go for the three-pedal setup, but at least you know that if you do, you’re in for a treat. Meanwhile, the six-speed automatic is as slick as it can be. The transmission can be both economical, shifting as early as 1,300 rpm, or enthusiastic, keeping the engines at optimal revs for power. Though the automatic doesn’t feature a fancy dual-clutch set-up, it does offer the very same lighting-fast reflexes without the low-speed hiccups.

The CX-5 is a crossover that begs to be driven with passion, and taking it around Luzon for close to 1,000 kilometers shows that Mazda’s theory of excellent steering and a well-sorted suspension works well. The steering may be electrically boosted, but it gives comparatively good feedback. The steering is linear, with minimal effort needed to execute quick turns. Combine that with a suspension that’s designed to reduce body roll and offer a sportier (but still comfortable) ride than the mainstream, and you’ve got a car that stands true to Mazda’s belief in driver engagement. It truly feels like a bigger Mazda3 rather than a smaller CX-7.

After all’s said and done, the Mazda CX-5 employs the lessons learned from the MX-5. Thanks to a lightweight body, a well-tuned suspension, direct steering, and a willing engine, this crossover ranks first in driver engagement. Now, the biggest question is: will Mazda’s philosophy work on the typical crossover buyer? It manages the functionally card quite well. It’s got everything you need in a crossover such as space, ground clearance, and an abundance of convenient features. And then, add to that the additional driver excitement that comes standard in the CX-5. If you want to convince the wife to get you that MX-5, then consider replacing the “M” with a “C”. She’ll be happy because of its practicality, and you’ll enjoy it for its driving excitement.


  1. Nice review. Overall, would you choose this over the CR-V?

  2. Great post man! I was wondering if you have an update for 2014 models and whether mazda offers Grand Touring line? thanks!

    1. Hi. So far Mazda, through its new distributor, Berjaya Auto Philippines, has no plans to update the CX-5. I guess for now, we're stick with the FWD versions of the CX-5. However, in case we do get he AWD versions, we'll be sure to feature them!

  3. hi ulysses, again, another good review. am very interested with the m/t but most of the dealers are saying it is not avail anymore. can you pls check with yr mazda friends if the m/t version will be available soon or phase out.

    yr reply will greatly help me in deciding my next car purchase, many thanks in advance

  4. i just want to know if the new (2014/skyactive) mazda3 will also be available in our country and when...cuz its really worth waiting for...thanks and more power...


  5. Hi Ulysses, i saw a 2012 cx5 mt being sold below 800k, do u think this is a bang for buck? im wondering how much the PMS costs of this.. wanted to have a diesel crossover but this one seems good considering year model, mileage and maybe fc? fc`s like a sedan fc


    1. Interesting question. The 2012 CX-5 M/T likely was sold before Berjaya Auto took over. This means, you don't get the Yojin-3 package assuming that it's still within the warranty period.

      Discounting the Yojin-3 though, might be good value. The reason for its low resale maybe because it's a stick shift and not everyone appreciates a manual. Kudos to you for considering one.

      Anyway, you won't get the same stellar FC as the current CX-5 Pro because the older models don't have i-Stop. However, it's going to be cheaper to maintain because you don't need to buy deep cycle batteries. As indicated in this test drive, the MT returned just 7+ km/L. In comparison, an i-Stop equipped model does 11+ km/L. That's a 36 percent improvement!

      How long do you plan to keep the car if ever? I'm sure, I'll like this better over, say, an EcoSport.

    2. Hello again Mr. Ulysses, thank You very much for the reply. We plan to keep the car for maybe 5-8 yrs. We only plan to buy crossovers not over 850k and 2nd hand so I just look around olx everyday. I read reviews about this model (2012) and some other reviews gave them high FC, i'm skeptic about it and almost falling for it. So i thought it would be best to ask you. thanks for the info about the fc of this model. it kept me wondering why is it still hanging around olx.
      So far we've considered fort, forester, cx5 and the bare 2013 sorento.. if this cx5 is only 7+ kml then I'd rather get a 2nd hand forester. the cx5 got me interested because of the 9-11 kml I see on the reviews and that's like the honda city im using right now.

      Fc and cost of maintenance is important to me. we have a rav4 gen3 but i don't want to use it anymore, it's digging holes on my pocket 6-7 kml

      Do you think diesel is the way to go? i'm going to use it purely city and flood fording is kind of important. I would really love a fort but can't go to older models and have some 50k++ mileage.

      Last week there was a 2012 fort dsl mt that was only being sold for 790k rush! too late for us to see and was already reserved, now they're back to 900k+ again.

    3. Frankly, I'm sold on diesels when it comes to long-term ownership, especially if you're buying a second hand car. I've heard a lot of horror stories when it comes to having a diesel-powered car roughly 3-5 years down the road. It seems with our fuels, it's best to buy a brand-new diesel and just dispose of it after the warranty period expires.

      For your purposes, I'd stick with a gasoline crossover. If you're worried about fuel consumption, don't go for the Forester. Admittedly, its a nice drive, but if you get the 2009-2011 model, expect around 7 km/L because of its dinosaur 4-speed AT. The CX-5 is better suited with the AT, I think. In fact, if you can spring for the Berjaya units...the one equipped with i-Stop, so much the better.

    4. thank You for that info and it was scary, I'll have to reconsider my choices I guess. we also do have a '09 dsl accent (bought 2nd hand) which has 76k on it.. so far no problems (fingers crossed) one thing I noticed after a few thousand mileage, the turbo whistle is noisier even at low speed..

      i've seen some 2012 foresters being sold.. do you think it's fine to get the NA forester with 30k+ mileage?

  6. Sir Ulysses, " I've heard a lot of horror stories when it comes to having a diesel-powered car roughly 3-5 years down the road. It seems with our fuels, it's best to buy a brand-new diesel and just dispose of it after the warranty period expires. "

    will it be less concerning, if I buy a 2011-2013 crdi engine and use unioil's euro iv? i am fortunate to have these stations near us, congress and mindanao


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