Sometimes, to understand the full measure of a car, you’re better off driving an entry-level one rather than a range-topper. As this way, you can see what the machine is like in its most naked and simplistic form, free from the burdens of leather trim and fancy gadgets.
And while it was never my intention for that paragraph to read like it was proclaimed by a mid-century gospel preacher, the theme is undeniably true.
As here, in the 2021 Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport, it is easy to see why the CX-5 continues to be so popular, even half-way through its second generation.
And no, I don’t know why it warrants two x’s in its name.
The CX-5 is the second-top selling SUV in the country (behind the Toyota RAV4) so far this year (4129 units), just as it was last year (21,979 units). However, in 2018 (26,173) and 2019 (25,539), the venerable Mazda held the top rung spot. Sufficed to say, kangaroos, meat pies and CX-5s might not be a catchy jingle, but it seems we love them all the same.
Priced from $36,490 before on-road costs, the Maxx Sport is the second-model in the CX-5’s six-variant range hierachy (Maxx, Maxx Sport, Touring, GT, GT SP, Akera).
While our car shares a mechanical setup with the entry-level $33,190 Maxx (2.0-litre petrol with front-wheel-drive), it throws LED fog lamps and tail lamps, dual-zone climate control, a dimming rear mirror, integrated satellite navigation and steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters into the mix.
That’s on top of automatic LED headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, an 8-inch LCD touch screen (well, an ‘occasional’ touch screen) with integrated DAB digital radio and support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and push-button start, that are all included on the base-level car.
It’s a generous list in anyone’s currency, especially considering there is a near $5000 jump up the range again to the 2.5-litre AWD CX-5 Touring.
And while you do miss out on some of the more convenient and luxury features of a higher-spec car, the Maxx Sport is, as I said earlier, a great way to understand the strengths, and weaknesses of the CX-5.
Case in point, the Maxx Sport is equipped with a full range of driver assistance technology, including Lane Keep Assistant, Blind Spot Monitoring, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Adaptive Cruise Control. This is partnered with a rear-view camera, rear parking sensors and even a tyre pressure monitoring system.
Curiously though, there is no digital speedometer in the instrument cluster, just an array of fuel consumption and trip information.
Speaking of which, Mazda claims a combined cycle consumption of 6.9L/100km, which is lower than our result of 8.9L/100km, but this is something of a theme with Mazdas.
Power comes from a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with 115kW and 200Nm available. Given its curb weight of 1558kg (and a resultant power-to-weight ratio of 73.8kW/t), a higher fuel use figure isn’t unexpected, but we’d just be really keen to see a real-life Mazda consumption figure come close to the claim at least once.
But I digress.
The rest of the cabin is cleanly finished, with the cloth trimmed seats providing decent comfort and support, and while there is no power adjustment, once you have your driving position set nicely, the CX-5 is a pretty solid place to eat up the miles.
The leather-wrapped wheel is nice to hold and visibility around the cabin is
The MZD Connect infotainment system works well with Apple CarPlay and the DAB tuner is a good inclusion at this level. Unfortunately, the touch element of the screen only works when you are stationary, making on-the-fly changes to radio stations and especially the CarPlay interface only possible through the jog/select wheel on the console and we’d argue that doing this is much more involved and distracting than just tapping the screen.
There is good storage, great headroom and excellent overall cabin space. You need it too, as amusingly the user manual is a giant tome that lives in the glovebox, like some ancient A-K edition of the white pages (look it up kids), and bashes around every time you brake.
Rear passengers have a comfortable bench too, plus the convenience of air vents, a centre armrest with cup holders, USB ports and a phone holder and the back seat folds 40:20:40. There’s a space-saver spare tyre, some extra storage under the floor, remote seatback release and a neat cargo blind in the boot too.
Sure, the tailgate may not be powered but even then, it’s all pretty standard stuff, and that’s pretty much the point.
As a ‘pure’ SUV, the Maxx Sport has all the features, functions and space you need. A lack of seat heaters and leather trim doesn’t diminish the basic appeal of the car in any way. It’s no runaway excitement bus, nor is it brimming with character, but it does its job as a well-rounded family hauler without fuss or bother,
On the hop too, the car is a decent performer, but you can see where that extra fuel consumption comes in. Peak power of 115kW isn’t available until 6000rpm and you also need to work for peak torque of 200Nm at 4000rpm. Off the line, the car feels muted below 2500rpm, but build some engine speed and things more along reasonably well.
Let things slow down a bit, like turning a tight corner, and the car will fall off the boil again until you build those revs up again. While you can certainly run about town like this, you do tend to find the car buzzing in a lower gear or at higher revs than expected.
Speaking of which, the transmission works well enough too, but if you fall back down into that response hole, the engine pitch changes but nothing much else happens.
It’s a good car, but you need to work it to get any real zip or character. But I guess that’s what the 2.5-litre turbo is for, further up the CX-5 ladder...
However, all this ignores the CX-5’s biggest strength, its well-mannered suspension tune.
Ride comfort is very impressive, mostly due to the 17-inch wheels and 65-profile tyres. The CX-5 has always been one of the better driving SUVs and the added cushioning just helps round it off as a comfortable one too.
Even with the bigger rubber, it turns in well and remains an enjoyable wagon to drive, even if it’s perhaps lacking in overall zip.
And it’s here, relaxed behind the wheel and out on the road, that the popularity of the CX-5 really sinks in. You see, a CX-5 is your lens of life now, and I can guarantee that it will seem like every second car around you will be another mid-sized Mazda.
While recording my audio notes for this review, I counted ten within a five minute period.
And it is in that way the 2021 Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport is somewhat of a risk-free car.
Equipment, packaging and value are strong, it isn’t quick but the driveline is honest, and it generally doesn’t put a foot wrong other than coming off a little bit bland.
But that’s OK, as simple family transport, even a somewhat generic CX-5 ticks a lot of boxes.
This article has been republished with approval from its original source and author at drive.com.au.
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