This is the new Mazda CX-5, and it really is new. The Mazda CX-5 ushers in a whole raft of new technologies – under the SkyActiv banner – aimed at cutting weight, consumption and emissions. The two engines, the two gearboxes, the chassis, and the body, have all been designed and developed from scratch under the SkyActiv philosophy, and that means the CX-5 is light and fuel efficient.
The same raft of SkyActiv tech will underpin the new Mazda 6 saloon, due to debut at the 2012 Paris motor show this autumn, and the arrival of the CX-5 means the end of the line – at least in the UK – for the nice-but-niche CX-7 SUV. Is the new Mazda CX-5 a worthy replacement, and good enough to compete with the likes of Ford’s Kuga, Nissan’s Qashqai and the VW Tiguan? Read on for CAR’s first drive review of the new Mazda CX-5.
Let’s start with the outside first – what does the new Mazda CX-5 look like in the metal?
Not quite as sharp as it does in photographs. The CX-5 is supposed to usher in Mazda’s new Kodo design language – after years of teasing concept cars, its predecessor, Nagare, only manifested itself as three creases down the side of the 5 MPV – but we hear the new 6 saloon will be a much more evocative interpretation of Kodo. Face-to-face the CX-5 is a little generic: there’s a hint of big GM SUV in the nose, Hyundai Santa Fe in the rear lights, and the lines down the side don’t create enough visual interest.
But there’s no arguing with what’s under the skin. The use of lots of high- and ultra-high strength steels mean our test car weighs 64kg less than the equivalent Ford offering (and 21kg less than the VW Tiguan) while a top-spec, high-power, four-wheel drive and auto-equipped CX-5 is 57kg lighter than the corresponding Kuga (the Volkswagen is 80kg heavier).
So what about the engines and transmissions?
There are only two engines, a 2.0-litre petrol and a 2.2-litre diesel, both mated to Mazda’s stop/start system, and with the choice of a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. In an age of downsizing and forced induction it’s odd to be presented with an all-new naturally aspirated petrol engine, but Mazda engineers claim it’s a better solution than a complex, small capacity turbo motor. The 1998cc unit has direct injection, and is claimed to have the highest compression ratio of any petrol engine in the world, yet weighs 10% less than its predecessor, produces 15% more torque, and consumes 15% less fuel. But such is our CO2-biased tax bands that it’ll only account for 15% of UK sales.
Conversely, the 2.2-litre diesel is claimed to have the lowest compression ratio of any oil-burning engine in the world. It’s 10% lighter than before, burns 20% less fuel, and is Euro6 compliant. There’s choice of 148bhp/280lb ft and 173bhp/310lb ft outputs: our test car was the former, together with a front-wheel drive chassis and a six-speed manual gearbox. It’s expected to be the biggest seller in the UK, and on paper it promises 61.4mpg and emissions of just 119g/km CO2.
So what’s the new Mazda CX-5 like to drive?
Whether it’s the 2 supermini, the 3 hatchback, the current 6 saloon, or the MX-5 roadster, Mazda’s are always good to drive. But the CX-5 doesn’t feel quite as sharp. Driven gently it’s very quiet and refined, and the strong ride comfort is only let down by some high-frequency intrusions. The manual gearbox is great too, with the same short, snappy throw as the MX-5, and the 2.2-litre engine is reasonably hushed, smooth and linear in its delivery, and powerful enough.
But get up to brisk pace and there’s soon understeer, roll and a lack of information from the overly light electric steering. Ford’s Kuga will lap up any enthusiastic driving, but hustle the CX-5 along with any eagerness whatsoever and it feels much more comfort-orientated than the rest of the current Mazda line-up. The outgoing CX-7 is definitely more fun to drive.
What about the interior of the CX-5?
Good, but not great. The quality of all the materials on display is good, perceived quality is high too, but there’s such a myriad of finishes and textures so that the overall ambience isn’t class leading. The sat-nav is by TomTom so it’s easy to use, either via the touchscreen or the iDrive-style rotary dial atop the transmission tunnel
The front seats are surprisingly thin, but not to the detriment of comfort, and the upshot (together with the longest wheelbase in its class) means lots of rear legroom. There’s space under the front seats for big feet too, but the rising waist line, lack of theatre-style seating and all the black trim means you soon find yourself wishing for a full-length panoramic roof to brighten things up for back seat occupants.
Those rear seats split 4-2-4 and fold flush via remote levers in the boot, and the boot itself is claimed to be the biggest in class. There’s a clever tonneau cover too, that’s integrated into the tailgate and lifts out of the way when the boot is open. The tonneau can easily be stored under the boot floor – where you’ll find a wheel jack but no spare wheel…
The new Mazda CX-5 feels less than the sum of its parts. There’s clever technology, the start of a new design language, but despite the promise it lacks the driver enjoyment that we love about the Mazda 2 and 6, or the sparkle and polish to top the class.