Mazda CX-5 review
by David Finlay (10 May 2012)
As you will probably read in every review for years to come, the CX-5 SUV is the first car to be designed using various new Mazda technologies known collectively as SKYACTIV. More on this can be found in this feature, but briefly SKYACTIV is the result of innovative thinking in several areas such as engine design and car construction.
The relevance to the customer is variable. One development is that the CX-5 and the variously sized and shaped vehicles which will be based on the same platform over the coming years can all be built on the same platform. This is great for Mazda, and will give other manufacturers pause for thought (apart from those in the Volkswagen Group, which has already announced its intention to do much the same thing), but as a potential owner you may not give two hoots about it. Frankly, there's no reason why you should.
At the opposite end of the interest scale - and here we move from "ho-hum" to "oh my God" - the determination to improve engine efficiency and reduce vehicle weight has had a remarkable effect on the official fuel economy and CO2 figures. The best results come from the CX-5 with the 148bhp 2.2-litre diesel engine (a 173bhp diesel and a 163bhp two-litre petrol are also available), front- rather than four-wheel drive and manual rather than automatic transmission.
According to the EU test procedure, this car can achieve 61.9mpg and emits CO2 at the rate of 119g/km. I wouldn't like to comment on how realistic this is without driving one for several days, but you pay Vehicle Excise Duty according to the official figure regardless of how much CO2 you actually make the car produce.
119g/km puts this CX-5 into Band C, so you'll be asked to contribute £30 each year to the Exchequer. For a medium-sized SUV this is extraordinary. The cleanest versions of the Audi Q3, BMW X1, Ford Kuga, Hyundai ix35, Kia Sportage and Range Rover Evoque fall well short, and they are all smaller and slower. (And heavier, which is largely the point.)
61.9mpg and 119g/km would not be bad figures for a supermini, and indeed some versions of the Mazda2 can't match them. Furthermore, the CX-5 with the 173bhp engine, four-wheel drive and automatic transmission officially emits 144g/km of CO2; that may be the worst result in the range, but it's exceptionally good for a car in this class.
Impressive, no? And yet the CX-5 is also proof that you can have a lot of great ideas and still not end up with a great car. Mazda talks of superior ride and handling, but at their very best these are good rather than excellent, and they are very dependent both on road surface and on which exact model you're talking about.
At the media launch I drove a a 148bhp diesel SE-L front-wheel drive automatic and a 173bhp diesel Sport 4x4 manual, and they were so dissimilar they might have come from different manufacturers. The Sport was fine, despite having lower-profile tyres, but the SE-L could occasionally be quite uncomfortable, and on rougher surfaces its bonnet (which on all CX-5s is so flimsy it might have been made of cobwebs and prayers) jiggled and wobbled in a most distracting manner.
Both engines were good and, for diesels, reasonably quiet. Four-wheel drive, despite the economy and CO2 penalties, seems advisable for the 148bhp car (it's the only choice for the more 173bhp one but, like the automatic gearbox, not available at all in petrol models) since there are occasional suggestions that the car can't cope with much more power going through the front wheels even with the damping effect of the automatic gearbox.
Speaking of the automatic, Mazda people say it "feels like a manual". I have no idea what this is supposed to mean. It feels like a pretty ordinary auto to me, with changes with are very smooth in gentle driving but a bit clunky under harder acceleration.
As a six foot three person, I can fit in the front no problem, though the (very supportive) driver's seat has to be at the extreme rear of its travel. Even when it is, there's lots of room in the back, and not noticeably at the expense of luggage space. With the rear seats in place there's 503 litres of this, which is good though by no means class-leading.
Access to the luggage compartment is made easy by the low sill. That's a good piece of design, but quite close to it there's a terrible one. I'd like to think that there might be room in the SKYACTIV philosophy for something along the lines of "let's make stupid rear side window shapes a thing of the past and help our customers see out of their cars when reversing", but no.
As well as the various engine/transmission possibilities, there are two trim levels called SE-L and Sport, both of which include start/stop and the Smart City Brake Support system which brings the car to a halt from speeds of up to 20mph if it senses that you're about to crash into something and aren't doing anything to avoid it.
SE-L specification also includes dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, rear privacy glass, front and rear parking sensors, black cloth trim, an auto-dimming interior mirror, a 40/20/40-split folding rear seat and leather for the steering wheel and gearknob.
Sports cost around £2500 more (the amount varies) and have 225/55 tyres on 19" wheels rather than the SE-L's 225/65s on 17s, along with adaptive bi-xenon headlights, leather seat and door trim, a more adjustable driver's seat, front seat heating, a reversing camera, keyless entry and a Bose audio system with nine speakers (SE-Ls have six).
There are also Nav versions of both the SE-L and the Sport. Mazda counts these as separate models, but the only difference is that they're fitted with satellite navigation which is based on the TomTom system but is permanently fitted to the dashboard rather than temporarily perched on top of it. Upgrading to Nav costs just £400, which takes the edge off the fact that this is by no means the most elegant satnav on the market.
The cheapest CX-5 is the petrol SE-L at £21,395, while the most expensive is the 173bhp Sport Nav diesel with four-wheel drive at £28,795. The only options are mica, metallic or pearlescent paint, which add £520 to the price, and the £700 Safety Pack, available only on 4x4 Sport or Sport Nav variants and consisting of lane departure warning, rear vehicle monitoring and high beam control.