Whereas a few years ago any serious motor manufacturer would ensure it had a C- (Corolla-sized) or D-segment (Passat-sized) sedan in its stable, increasingly the consumers who previously bought these cars are craving something else altogether, the compact SUV. Following the success of particularly the first Toyota RAV4 models in the ‘90s, most manufacturers have already introduced the second- or third-generation derivatives of their respective rivals, but not Mazda… The Japanese brand has left its entry rather late. Can the new Mazda CX-5 make an impact, or has Mazda missed the boat?
Neat, upmarket designThe CX-5 replaces the edgy and larger CX-7 model in South Africa and also introduces the brand’s new Kodo design language. It’s an attractive, if unspectacular offering in its base Active trim, mostly because it makes do without any brightwork. There is no chrome to brighten things up, only lots of black plastic cladding. There are also no fog lamps and, worst of all, no alloy wheels! The CX-5 rides on 17-inch steel items that unfortunately are not acceptable at this price level. All that said, the CX-5 is not unattractive, with a very noticeable wedge shape due to the steeply rising waistline and a particularly attractive rear end with an integrated spoiler.
It’s a similar hit-and-miss story inside, where the build quality is exceptional and the solidity perhaps unparalleled in this segment, but the design is not special and it lacks some key features. But let’s focus on the good news first. Besides the quality of it all, we really like the driving position – the driver’s chair boasts generous vertical adjustability and the steering wheel also offers rake/reach adjustment. Mazda is always good at making the driver feel connected with a car, and they’ve done the same here. More good news is the design of the instrumentation – the three dials look superb and sporty, and the dial on the far right contains a digital readout that endows the otherwise straightforward facia with a sense of sophistication.
But… the audio system looks like an aftermarket item and also slightly old-fashioned with its orange readouts. And then there are the specification oversights. Given the price of the CX-5, the plastic steering wheel is not acceptable, and the lack of a luggage cover is a security concern. What you do get, however, are; air-conditioning, electric mirrors/windows, radio/CD with USB/aux support, multi-function steering wheel, six airbags and ESP (electronic stability system). Cruise control, park distance control and other such items are not offered on this model. The seats are upholstered in good-looking and comfortable cloth.
In defence of the CX-5, however… the lack of some features has not made it an uncomfortable vehicle to spend time in. The wheelbase is long (2 700 mm), and so rear legroom is very impressive. The boot, too, is big at 403 L. As is to be expected, the rear seats can fold down to allow for the transportation of bigger items.
Introducing Mazda’s SkyActivThe CX-5 is the first local offering to feature Mazda’s much-hyped SkyActiv efficiency boosting “features”. Essentially, SkyActiv refers to a package of “optimisations”, rather than any groundbreaking technology. For example, lightweight construction is an important part of the SkyActiv measures and, indeed, at 1 415 kg the CX-5 is not heavy for its size. The 2,0-litre petrol engine, too, has been optimised to achieve better fuel consumption. In essence, SkyActiv is Mazda’s short- to medium-term response to the hybrids and turbodiesel models on offer from rivals. Does it work?
Well… as is the case with the hybrids out there, it really comes down to driving style. Shift early and drive lazily, and you may come relatively close to the quoted 6,8 L/100 km consumption figure, but a more likely average is closer to 8,5. Why? The CX-5’s efficiency goals notwithstanding, there’s still plenty of the company’s Zoom-Zoom character on display, too, so it likes to rev, and it encourages enthusiastic driving. The impressive 0-100 km/h time of 9,3 seconds is evidence of this. With its slick and robust-feeling transmission, this is a compact SUV that is enjoyable to drive and which encourages you to explore the upper reaches of its power delivery – this, in turn, means it drinks more fuel…
Great ride/handling balanceAnother area in which Mazda usually excels is in the handling department. In a compact SUV’s case, however, ride comfort is the more important consideration and the CX-5 must be applauded for the balance it manages to find. The multi-link, control-blade rear suspension arguably plays a big role, as do the relatively high-profile tyres. The Mazda remains supple and controlled on most road surfaces and even when pushed displays admirable body control for what it is.
Like most 4x2 versions of compact SUV line-ups, this CX-5 has no off-road ambitions, and the ground clearance is a relatively limited 150 mm.
Mazda CX-5 - VerdictIn a sense the CX-5 is a disappointment – the basic design is good and the ride/handling in particular is outstanding. But some of the missing features are hard to stomach at this price level, and there’s been too much hype about SkyActiv. In reality the CX-5 should be seen as the entry level version of a near-premium product because the quality and refinement are exceptional. Focus on what makes the CX-5 great, and the omissions are easier to forgive.
- Attractive exterior design
- Cabin space
- Build quality
- Ride comfort
- Lacks some key features
Fast factsEngine: 2,0-litre, four-cylinder, petrol Power: 114 kW @ 6 000 rpm Torque: 200 Nm @ 4 000 rpm Transmission: Six-speed manual Wheels: 17-inch steel Top speed: 197 km/h 0-100 km/h: 9,3 seconds Fuel economy: 6,8 L/100 km
- Volkswagen Tiguan 1,4 TSI BlueMotion Trend & Fun: Deservedly popular and offers a similar package to the Mazda, but is not quite as spacious. Impressive performance/economy balance and excellent ride and handling.
- Hyundai ix35 2,0 Premium: One of the country’s top-selling compact SUVs and it’s easy to see why – attractive design, a good standard specification and a long warranty are the key attractions. Not quite as solid and refined as the Mazda and VW, though.
- Nissan Qashqai 2,0 Acenta n-tec: Another very difficult rival – the Qashqai is already a comfortable and well-built compact crossover in standard form, and gains extra desirability with the n-tec limited edition package which, among other items, adds striking 18-inch wheels.