Extended Test: Mazda CX-5 2.2DE AWD Akera [with Video]

The Mazda CX-5 compact SUV has been selling up a storm in South Africa in 2016. In a bid to see how good it really is/why buyers are flocking to it, we completed a 4 000 km round trip through the country in a 2.2DE AWD Akera.

Strong first impression

It seems that since Mazda’s separation from Ford in the local market (in 2014), things couldn’t be any better for the Hiroshima-based firm. Stepping out of the shadow of the bigger brand has allowed Mazda to develop its own personality, style and customer experience. Every month, the sales charts seem to suggest buyers are keen on not only the CX-5 but also the CX-3, Mazda2 and even Mazda3, which is an endorsement of the brand's SkyActiv technology.

The Mazda CX-5 has proved very successful locally, regularly featuring in the top 10 selling SUVs in SA.

And, equipped with SkyActiv D technology, the 2.2-litre turbodiesel in this top-spec Akera is rather powerful. Peak outputs of 129 kW and 420 Nm of torque are available and that puts the flagship CX-5 pretty much at the top of the power pile of medium SUVs. The equivalent Ford Kuga is more powerful by 3 kW, but lacks the 20 Nm extra of the CX-5. The segment’s top-selling RAV4 is some way down on power and torque (110 kW and 340 Nm), but the extra power and torque of the Mazda doesn’t seem to hamper its fuel economy stats: it’s also claimed to be the most efficient of the trio at 5.9 L/100 km. We weren’t able to match the claimed figure as over the 4 000 km we spent in the CX-5, it returned 7.7 L/100 km, which is not bad considering it was quite heavily loaded.

The long road ahead

Mazda has aimed its vehicles squarely at the "must enjoy the driving experience" clientele. What that means to the average driver is sporty handling, agile steering and firm springs, but dynamism aside, could the CX-5 deliver good cruising ability and long-haul occupant comfort too? I set a route to find out...

The route for my drive took me from the centre of Cape Town along the lesser travelled route to Aliwal North, around all of Lesotho and then back the same way with a stretch on the N1 after Prince Albert. The point of the trip was to get to Pietermaritzburg to participate in the SA mountain biking championship. That meant the car was packed with a bike, gear, spares and an unwilling pit mechanic/fiancé. Despite the CX-5 having a smaller loading area than the abovementioned competitors we didn’t struggle to fit everything inside the car (seats down for the bike).

The CX-5 managed to swallow a mountain bike AND two occupants' luggage with the rear seats folded down.

The twisty parts

Mazda didn't boast about the CX-5's handling talents without reason, as the test unit positively laps up bends at speed. It remains upright when cornering Gs are forced upon it and gives you the confidence to not scrub off all the speed you’ve gathered when a corner looks a bit sharp. That’s good for efficiency too, as you don’t need to constantly accelerate back up to speed after taking a corner. For the parts of my long trip that involved mountain passes and twisty sections, the CX-5 was the near-perfect compact SUV from a driver-engagement point of view (especially given the load it was carrying).

The renowned pass at Meiringspoort, its here where the CX-5 stands out from the rest of the medium-sized SUV crowd.

The straight parts

Roads don’t get much straighter than they are in the Karoo. The region is characterised by horizon after horizon of flat land with a dead straight strip of tarmac sniping through it. It’s not exactly driving paradise, but it’s the perfect place to review the CX-5’s comfort and ride quality on the long road. Long stretches of road out here feature patches of replaced asphalt and filled potholes – it’s bouncy going in some of the most comfortable cars.

The CX-5’s stiffly sprung suspension isn’t in its element here. The bumpy road surface pushed through into the cabin and it gets tiresome taking hits constantly on a long drive. A softer setup would be more comfortable on the long road, but you would lose its handling prowess everywhere else, it’s something you have to weigh up as a buyer – do you want something that’s good for long journeys or something that’s fun on everyday trips?

The Karoo is flat and very straight but it does throw up some awesome sunsets

Great spec

When the Akera arrived, I initially thought that R528 100 was a bit on the expensive side. As the drive wore on a few neat features made their presence felt; the high-end equipment attached to the flagship CX-5 is pleasantly surprising. The automatic adaptive headlights, for example, make it much easier to drive in the dark: simply hit the mains and the car takes care of dipping them when a car is in front of you/travelling in the opposite direction.

The navigation system within the infotainment system is really easy to use and loaded with detailed maps. The two USB ports were a hit for charging two phones, or one, while music was playing from a USB flash disk. A quick flick through competitors' specs shows the CX-5 trumps the Kuga and RAV with the adaptive lights and navigation. The others do have heated front seats (the Mazda doesn’t) and the cold mornings in the Free State had me longing for them.

The solidly built interior is loaded with features, including navigation. 

End of term

Handing back the keys to the CX-5 left me a tad confused, on the one hand the CX-5 was the perfect practical companion... the added ground clearance provided that extra bit of security when tackling a dirt stretch, for example. There are also high levels of refinement in both the cabin and in the ride – especially in dynamic situations. The flip side of the coin reveals an SUV that’s maybe too dynamic for a cross-country journey where lots of kilometres need to be knocked off in a day. Also, I’m not entirely convinced by AWD in a sporty SUV, FWD would probably suffice and save you a bit at the pumps in the long run (the 2WD derivative is admittedly significantly less luxurious). However, as a (nearly) full-house compact SUV, which will be used as a family vehicle for the overwhelming majority of the time, the (now) well established Mazda CX-5 is hard to fault... and, therefore, easy to recommend... if you can afford it.    

Also read: Road Test Mazda CX-5

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