– Good interior space
– Superb fuel economy
– Excellent handling
– Pricey with options
– Noisy highway drive
– Needs more power
As our first taste of the new generation of Mazda models, the CX-5 is certainly a good example to start with. A brand new nameplate, the CX-5 is their first model to go with the new “Kodo” design theme and their first GCC-spec model to feature their new “SkyActiv” engine. Marketing buzzwords aside, the CX-5 had our interest piqued as soon as we got the call to try one out.
The Mazda CX-5 is said to be replacing the similarly-priced CX-7, the latter being a larger car that never sold well for some reason. The CX-5 is visibly smaller and a fairly good-looking car, although it will never turn any heads, even with the 19-inch alloys, the dual exhaust tips, and the built-in roof spoiler. It looks small, but is apparently slightly longer than the Honda CR-V, and much longer than the Kia Sportage.
Inside, the dashboard/console design is devoid of any personality, very simplistic and focussed on functionality. In a welcome change from the cheap cabin treatment in its competitors, the CX-5 instead has a soft-touch dashboard top, with cushy door inserts and armrests. Of course, the upper door-sills and everything below the belt is still hard plastics, but few are likely to notice.
Cabin space is pretty good, with moderately-bolstered front seats and just enough legroom for six-footers even in the back, and great all-round headroom. Boot floor-space is also sizeable, although the sloping rear window cuts down on some of the volume. There is a roll-up cargo cover, the rear bench has three headrests, and the 40:20:40-split rear seatback can almost fold flat. There are enough moulded-in cup-holders and useful storage cubbies, although the door pockets are small for some reason. But all in all, it does what crossovers are generally popular for.
The gadgetry in our well-kitted tester was commendable. There’s a decent touchscreen stereo with Bluetooth streaming and USB/AUX ports, dual-zone auto a/c, sunroof, bi-xenon HID headlights with turning feature, fog lamps, front and side-curtain airbags, cruise control, trip computer, smart keyless entry and start, rear camera with sensors, and a power-adjustable driver’s seat. The a/c was unstressed in our December test, but the lack of rear vents is a concern. There’s also a tyre-pressure monitor, a welcome addition, but it seemed overly sensitive sometimes. And for some reason, there is a sharp “beep” sound on every button-push, even when changing the volume using the back-lit steering-wheel buttons. We did like the little light that goes away only when the engine has warmed up, so you know how long to take it easy.
Mazda’s new direct-injection “SkyActiv” engine tech is actually a brilliant piece of engineering. They’ve apparently managed to create super-high compression in a mass-produced engine, something that no one else could do due to the need for better cooling solutions and high-octane fuel. Of course, this being the Middle East, we aren’t getting the 14:1 compression-ratio motor, but rather the slightly detuned one with a 13:1 ratio that runs on “Special” RON95 petrol. In our all-wheel-drive tester, it makes 151 hp at 6000 rpm and 198 Nm of torque at 4000 rpm. Mated to a 6-speed automatic, these numbers aren’t particularly competitive, especially when you can buy a Honda with a bigger engine for the same price. We timed it in the 0-100 kph run at 12.2 seconds, slower than any other crossover we’ve tested except for the lowly Renault Duster.
And yet, it doesn’t feel particularly inadequate in certain situations. Once up to speed, it cruises just fine, revving below 2500 rpm doing 120 kph. Poke the accelerator to overtake, and somehow it manages to find the juice to speed up, albeit slowly, but not much slower than its rivals. In initial mixed driving, we were seeing a fuel consumption reading of 10.8 litres/100 km, a little better than the Honda, but we brought that average down to 9.5 litres/100 km with a Dubai-Abu Dhabi highway trip. Those figures are better than the small Chevrolet Cruze sedan even!
The Mazda CX-5 offers a good-enough ride, at least as smooth as its best rivals. What it lacks in is sound-deadening, as the 140 kph highway trip was a cacophony of external noises, like you’d find when driving a small hatchback. Otherwise, around town, the CX-5 is easy to drive, with its mild steering effort, good size, good visibility, optional rear camera, and a smooth gearbox, even if the latter is hesitant to downshift sometimes.
But then there’s the infamous Mazda handling, something that they never seem to advertise. The CX-5 is probably the best compact crossover we’ve ever driven when it came to cornering. The 225/55 rubbers offer good grip, the body roll is kept to a minimum, the tiptronic transmission shifts when you want it to, and the brakes are surprisingly good with great pedal feel and linear action. But damn, they’ve really outdone themselves with that electric power steering. It is mildly-weighted, with realistic feedback and great response. If it weren’t for that lack of power, the CX-5 could’ve passed off as a Toyota 86 competitor! Only without the drifting.
You can chase VW Golf GTIs all day around the twisties, but you’ll have to give up on chasing Nissan Xterras on the dunes. The CX-5 is more car than offroader, with a basic all-wheel-drive system that comes with no offroad aids whatsoever. The ground clearance is limited and the stability control cannot be turned off completely, so it’s best to not venture too far off the beaten trails.
So leave the CX-5 on the paved road, where it shines in terms of driving pleasure, as long as it involves a lot of corners. Even with its deficiencies, the CX-5 is a real winner from Mazda, and would’ve become their first proper cash-cow were it not for the fact that its rivals offer a whole lot more for about the same price.
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