Published on Saturday 8 March 2014 18:17
Ten Second Review
The market's fastest growing segment right now is that for Qashqai-like Crossovers and compact soft-roading SUVs. If you want something that offers the best of both and offers the finest driving dynamics, the lowest running costs, the most space and arguably the best value in the class, then it's hard to ignore this one, Mazda's improved CX-5. Not the first car of this sort you thought of is it? But try one and you might just think it to be the best.
So what is Mazda's CX-5? A soft-roading RAV4 or Freelander-style compact SUV with at least a modicum of off road gumption? Or the or the kind of family hatchback-on-stilts the industry calls a 'Crossover', Qashqai or Peugeot 3008-style models better suited to Sainsburys than the Serengeti? I'm going to let you make up your own mind of that one. Probably, the definition doesn't matter. Depending on your preference, you could pigeonhole this CX-5 either way -which is exactly as Mazda wants it. That's why it's created modestly powered entry-level 2WD versions for school run mums. And pokey all-wheel driven variants with a tougher remit further up the range. Here's a brand reaping the benefits of late arrival to this particular party. A maker that's looked carefully at what's available, what buyers want and what they actually need. A measured approach that ought to pay dividends - and will need to in the face of crowded competition for sales of cars of this kind. Let's judge this CX-5 on its merits.
Like so many other things about the CX-5, the driving experience may not instantly grab you as being unique right at first: it's only when you spend some time with it that you appreciate what it can do. For a start, I can't think of any other compact 4x4 or Crossover model that covers ground quite so effortlessly. The 150PS 2.2-litre SKYACTIV-D engine we tried isn't short of pulling power and with 0-62mph taking just 9.2s, it's 25% quicker than a comparable Freelander. If you want to go faster, there's a 175PS version of this unit. And a 165PS 2.0-litre petrol powerplant for entry-level 2WD customers.
But it isn't the sheer straightline speed that you really remember after spending some time in this machine: it's the way it rides and responds. Take the steering. It's an electric set-up, so you don't initially seem to get quite the level of feel that some of the better hydraulic systems used to have but adjust, as you can quickly, and you'll find yourself using it to place this car through corners with real precision, especially since Mazda improved matters by introducing a revised suspension set-up with re-tuned dampers, bushes and stabilisers which improve driving dynamics by delivering increased ride comfort and reduced noise, vibration and harshness.
And off road prowess? Well, as with the systems employed by most of its rivals, this car has a set-up in which the torque is automatically split according to the terrain you're on, so it can direct 100% of drive to the front wheels in normal conditions, with up to 50% then directed to the rear wheels if slip is detected.
Design and Build
Externally, what we've ended up with is a smart and certainly contemporary-looking Crossovery compact 4x4, if not a visually arresting one. But even if the shape isn't especially memorable, its aerodynamics are, an excellent drag coefficient of just 0.33cd helped by wing mirrors that are mounted directly onto the door shoulders and a rear roof-mounted wing that streamlines the flow of air over the car.
The cabin isn't as obviously 'styled' as some of its main rivals but the piano black inserts and chrome splashes look good in a low key kind of way. The materials quality is especially impressive on the upper dashboard, though not quite so eye-catching lower down with slightly lower grade panels that Mazda will doubtless justify as part of this car's weight loss plan. There are certainly plenty of switches - 55 in all, not counting the chunky column stalks - but it's pretty easy to adjust to the way everything works.
And in the back? Well, like most models in this segment, this one doesn't offer a seven seat option, but the rear bench is one of the most accommodating in the class. Out back, once you've raised the rear hatch and admired a tonneau cover that neatly opens and closes together with the tailgate, you'll find a luggage bay that's the largest in the class, measuring 503-litres, a figure that extends to 1,620-litres when you drop the Karakuri rear seats.
Market and Model
List pricing sees CX-5 ownership pitched in the usual £20,000 to £30,000 bracket for cars of this kind. If having done your homework and made the comparisons, that makes sense, then you'll need to allow a £1,600 premium to go from the 2.0-litre petrol model to the lower powered 150PS version of the 2.2-litre diesel that most will want. This is the only engine in the range that can be mated to both two and four-wheel drive set-ups. Which is one reason why it'll be the best seller: well that and the fact that you'll need to find another £2,500 to progress onwards into the 175PS diesel variant, which seems quite a lot to find for an extra 25PS. Whichever of the two diesels you choose, there's the £1,200 option of an automatic gearbox.
But what about equipment? Well, whichever variant you choose - 2.0-litre petrol or either of the 2.2-litre diesel variants - you should find your CX-5 to be very well equipped. Even the entry-level models include 17-inch alloy wheels, dusk-sensing headlamps & rain-sensing wipers, daytime running lights, front foglamps, front and rear parking sensors, privacy glass, power-folding mirrors, a rear roof spoiler, tyre pressure monitoring, dual zone climate controlled air conditioning, Bluetooth compatibility for your mobile 'phone, cruise control, a trip computer, an auto-dimming rear view mirror, an iPod connection, USB and AUX-in points for the decent quality 6-speaker stereo, a leather-trimmed steering wheel with audio controls, a 5.8-inch colour touch screen for the infotainment system and Hill Hold Assist to stop you from drifting backwards on uphill junctions.
Cost of Ownership
The CX-5's unexpectedly imperious progress continues when it comes to cost of ownership and this is where the SKYACTIV technology really pays off, clean enough to mean exacting Euro6 emission levels. Thanks to a weight-loss programme and a clever i-Stop start/stop system that cuts the engine when you don't need it, stuck at the lights or waiting in urban traffic, the 2.0-litre petrol model can produce the sort of economy that until recently, wouldn't have shamed a mid-sized diesel SUV, delivering 47.1mpg and CO2 emissions of 139g/km. Which means that the usual advice to go for the diesel if you do anything over an average annual mileage doesn't hold quite so true here.
Of course, you might well want all-wheel drive, an automatic gearbox, or just need more torque for towing, in which case you'll need one of the diesel models, also equipped with start/stop. Go for a front-wheel drive 150PS variant and you'll see 61.4mpg on the combined cycle and 119g/km. Small wonder this is the big draw. Specify it with all-wheel drive and the figures are only a little worse, 54.3mpg and 136g/km, this identical to the return you'll get from an all-wheel drive diesel CX-5 with 175PS.
Stick these figures alongside those of obvious rivals and typically, you're talking about being able to go 10-15 miles further on every gallon in a car that'll put out 20-30g/km less of CO2 than a directly comparable rival.
The CX-5 isn't one of those cars that jumps out at you on first acquaintance. But as with many Mazdas, its modesty hides a product packed with innovation. The result is excellent packaging, class-leading economy and emissions and driving dynamics that set a new benchmark in this sector. Add in a high specification and competitive pricing and you've a compelling proposition, especially since recent suspension and refinement improvements.
Nothing less was necessary given the Japanese maker's tardiness in entering this segment. The styling may not be anything special but everything else about this car is. It's yet another example of Mazda going its own way, doing things differently. Which means? Well something quite simple really. Looking for a car of this kind? Start here first.