New car review: Mazda CX-5 Akera AWD

Meet the upwardly mobile Mazda

Back in the heyday of the late 1980s, when Japanese car makers were rolling in cash, some decided they could make even more of the folding stuff by establishing parallel luxury brands.

Honda started the party with the launch of Acura in 1986, followed by Toyota’s Lexus, Nissan’s Infiniti, and Mazda’s Eunos, all three of which were launched in 1989.  

Three decades after that 1989 breakout year, the path to luxury car glory has proven far more challenging than the suits in Japan could possibly have imagined.

Toyota has hung in there with Lexus and built a formidable global brand, albeit one that is still a challenger to the likes of Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi. 

Infiniti has had success elsewhere, notably the USA, but is currently in the process of beating its second retreat from this market. 

Honda never launched Acura here but the brand is well-established Stateside, where it holds down sixth position on the luxury car sales charts, behind Tesla. 

Unlike Honda, Mazda did launch Eunos here in 1992, and it established a small but passionate following until the experiment was folded globally in 1996. 

Distant memories of the shortlived Mazda luxury brand came flooding back recently, when I stepped into the handsomely appointed interior of the brand’s top-spec CX-5 Akera AWD. 

Mazda CX-5

The reason for getting reacquainted with Mazda’s best-selling mid-sized SUV was a range-wide upgrade in March 2020, presumably designed to fend off rivals like the Toyota RAV4 and keep sales ticking through the coronavirus-induced new car sales slump.

Changes to the MY20 range include new headlining material and steering-vibration counter measures, designed to improve NVH; while the turbo petrol version tested here benefits from additional tweaks to reduce in-cabin noise and enhance refinement.

All grades also get safety upgrades to the autonomous emergency braking system, which now includes night-time pedestrian protection.

And all-wheel drive models also get a new Off-Road Traction Assist function, which uses the electronic traction control system to effectively lock the rear differential, providing superior grip and drive in rough and slippery conditions. 

Paddle shifts hidden discretely behind the steering wheel are another new addition for 2020, encouraging the driver to tap into the Akera’s impressively responsive chassis, and in the case of this model, its sporty four-cylinder turbo petrol engine. 

A less potent non-turbocharged four-cylinder Akera is also available for $2500 less, or you can opt for the torquier 2.2-litre turbo-diesel for an additional $500. 

Mazda CX-5

We rate the gutsy 2.5-litre petrol turbo the driver’s choice in the CX-5 range, although it’s only available in Akera and the slightly less-expensive GT specification. 

The engine produces a muscular 170kW/420Nm and drives through a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic and on-demand all-wheel-drive system.

The combination nails the benchmark 0-100km/h dash in a respectable 7.7 seconds, comfortably quicker than both the non-turbo 2.5-litre Akera and the turbo-diesel version. 

The tables are turned when it comes to fuel consumption, with the petrol turbo sipping a combined cycle average of 8.0L/100km, versus the atmo-model’s 7.7L/100km, and the diesel’s 6.0L/100km.

Not surprisingly, our as-tested figure was higher again at 12.2L/100km, although it should be noted this was achieved in mainly stop-start city driving. 

The interior of the Akera is properly upmarket with the sort of materials and finishes one might expect in a Lexus; or a Eunos if one still existed.

Mazda CX-5

The seats are clad in lovely stitched and perforated dark russet-coloured leather, the dash design is elegant and contemporary with a logical layout and suitably up-to-the-minute 8.0-inch colour touchscreen and there’s electric adjustment for just about everything. 

The interior is right-sized for modern families too, comfortably accommodating four, or five at a pinch, with good space and convenience features in both the front and rear pews.

Access to the cargo bay is via an electric tailgate which reveals a useful 442-litre space, expanding to 1342 litres with the second row folded. 

A generous standard equipment list includes dual-zone climate control, satellite navigation, traffic sign recognition, head-up display, Premium 10-speaker Bose sound system, 19-inch alloy wheels, ambient interior lighting, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats and even a heated steering wheel.  

Not sure Queenslanders will have much use for the latter, but everyone can appreciate the standard front and rear parking sensors, reversing camera and surround-view monitor.  

Safety is top notch too, with the Akera boasting six airbags, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, lane departure and lane assist systems, rear cross traffic alert, autonomous emergency braking and numerous other features that contribute to its maximum 5-star ANCAP rating. 

Mazda CX-5

As handsome as they are, the Akera’s 19-inch wheels take a little of the shine off the ride quality. 

The latter is not brutal or brittle, but on anything but freeway conditions there’s a bit more niggle than is absolutely necessary. 

On the plus side, the stiff-sidewall, low-profile tyres help sharpen steering and handling, which are above average for the class and nicely matched to the engine’s effortless performance. 

At a smidge under $51K the CX-5 Akera AWD is pricey for a Mazda, especially when entry to the 15-model CX-5 range starts some $20k lower. 

But if you flick the dial the other way and compare the Akera AWD with a comparably sized European luxury SUV costing $10k or even $15k more, hard-headed buyers will likely come away with the same conclusion as us; that even though it doesn’t wear a prestige badge, the CX-5 Akera is a luxury car in all but name and, as such, represents great value for money. 

Key stats;

MLP: $50,830 (plus on-road costs)

ENGINE:  2.5-litre intercooled and turbocharged four-cylinder  

ANCAP SAFETY RATING:  5-star (2019)  

TAILPIPE CO2 (g/km): 179g/km 

For

Performance and dynamics, build quality, five-year unlimited km warranty, standard safety features. 

Against

Pricey for a Mazda, ride can be firm on lumpy surfaces,