Mazda’s new CX-5 is the company’s first sixth generation vehicle and its importance in the UK cannot be overestimated. Not only does the compact crossover usher in the Japanese firm’s new Kodo design language - Soul of Motion is its snappy catchphrase – but it's also the first in-the-metal iteration of Mazda’s groundbreaking suite of fuel-saving Skyactiv technologies.
It’s available in the UK with a choice of 163bhp 2.0-litre Skyactiv-G petrol and a 2.0-litre Skyactiv-D diesel engine with outputs of 148bhp or 173bhp, hooked up to either a Skyactiv-MT manual transmission or a Skyactiv-Drive automatic gearbox, both with six speeds, and there’s a choice of front- or four-wheel drive.
Hang on a minute, this is all vaguely familiar – haven't you driven the Mazda CX-5 before?
Yes, but not in the UK and not in UK-spec models. Click here for our earlier first drive review of the Mazda CX-5.
With 18 models on sale, priced from £21,395, the CX-5 is well poised to take on the Qashqai, Tiguan, Q3 and Kuga, with Mazda UK expecting to shift a healthy 4000 in its first 12 months on sale. Spec levels are pretty generous too. Smart City Brake Support, Mazda’s low-speed collision radar-based avoidance system joins the safety brigade, while 17inch alloys, twin tailpipes, Bluetooth, i-stop start-stop, dual zone climate control, cruise control, nifty Karakuri 40/20/40 split fold-flat rear seats and a large 5.8-inch touchscreen are all standard on the entry-level SE-L model.
Opt for the top-dog Sport variant and 19inch alloys wheels, leather, active bi-Xenons, reversing camera, electric driver seat and a fine-sounding Bose® audio system with nine speakers join the kit list. An integrated TomTom Satnav system is one of the few key options.
Remind me again what all this Skyactiv marketing guff is about.
Skyactiv is Mazda's innovative suite of technologies that focuses on lightweight chassis engineering, optimised powertrains and ultra-efficient transmissions. Mazda’s idea is simple – the vast majority of us are going to be driving cars powered by combustion engines for a long time to come, so rather than throw huge amounts of money and manpower at hybrids and electric vehicles, it believes that time and investment would be better spent on making sure its current crop of cars are as efficient and clean as possible.
It makes complete sense to us. And the results look impressive – the lower-power diesel model, for example, weighs in at 1450kg and posts CO2 emissions and combined economy figures of just 119g/km and 61.4mpg, compared to 1541kg, 139g/km and 53.3mpg for the equivalent Tiguan 2.0 TDI BlueMotion Technology.
Presumably the diesels then are the engines of choice?
Yes, both variants of the Skyactiv-D diesel engine are truly impressive. The all-new 2191cc units feature low-friction and lightweight all-alloy construction, common-rail diesel injection with multi-hole piezo injectors capable of handling up to nine injections per cycle, a bi-turbo layout, variable valve lift, and its 14:1 compression ratio is the lowest of any current production turbodiesel engine, resulting in superior air-fuel mixture levels and greater uniform combustion. This in turn delivers lower levels of nitrous oxides and a higher expansion ratio for better economy – it meets stringent 2014 EU Stage 6 emission levels without the need for any expensive after-treatment systems. Combined economy and CO2 emission figures are impressive - the manual lower power 148bhp version posts 61.4mpg and 119g/km (auto 53.3mpg and 139g/km), while the higher 173bhp unit delivers 54.3mpg and 136g/km (auto 51.4mpg and 144g/km).
Both versions are creamily smooth, surprisingly keen to rev to their 5,200rpm redline and enthusiastically muscular in the mid-range, but it’s the lower output unit that’s the peachiest of the two – it’s slightly more refined, subjectively quieter and never feels in any way inferior in the performance stakes to its punchier stablemate. Factor in its 7.1mpg and 17g/km advantage over the 173bhp and it’s a clear winner. Oh, and kudos to the i-stop system which works quickly, quietly and unobtrusively.
Picking the transmission isn't as easy. The manual may be the… errr… automatic choice because it delivers almost the same crisp, wrist-flick action that MX-5 drivers enjoy, but when mated to the smooth and responsive Skyactiv-Drive automatic box it’s an equally compelling two-pedal package that majors city-friendly ease of use. Pity that while you can nudge that stubby gearlever back and forth to snappily swap cogs, Mazda stopped short of fitting gearshift paddles to the chunky three-spoke steering wheel.
So you’re saying don’t bother with the petrol, right?
Not exactly. If you’re not looking at doing big annual miles the crisp and flexible petrol is worth a look. It can’t flex the same effortless mid-range bicep as the diesels, but it feels willing and biddable, pulling cleanly from idle through its 6000rpm power peak and spitting out a pleasingly growly exhaust note in the process. Like the diesel, this new 1998cc petrol features an incredibly high compression ratio of 14:1 - higher than that of a Formula One engine – and its 15% more economical and 15% torquier than Mazda’s current 2.0-litre petrol unit. CO₂ emission and combined economy figures of 139g/km and 47.1mpg are decent enough, but the diesel gets our vote.
How does the CX-5 ride and handle on our roads then?
Pretty well, so long as you opt for the smaller 17inch alloys of the SE-L model. They may looks a bit weedy and lost in those vast wheelarches, but the dynamic trade off is a compliancy and comfort that the Sport model, shod with bigger 19inch wheels, cannot match. The bigger wheels introduce a degree of patter and fidget on anything but the smoothest of roads – and there weren’t many of those about on our route through the Scottish Highlands – and over larger undulations the Sport feels a touch stiff-jointed. On smaller wheels the CX-5 rides with a relaxing fluidity.
Well, Mazda has made much of its SKYACTIV’s ability to deliver uncompromised driving dynamics, but while the CX-5 can be hustled along quickly and cleanly, it doesn't feel as sharp and alert as we’d hoped through faster and sharper corners. Some of the electrically-assisted steering must shoulder the blame here – it feels a little fuzzy – and the rack could be usefully tightened up by a half turn . The front-wheel model also feels far more incisive and responsive than the all-paw version, which uses an electronically controlled part-time system to shunt torque out to the rear axle when necessary. That’s not to say the CX-5 is blunt in any way – it’s markedly sharper than most rivals – but perhaps our dynamic expectations have been set too high by the rest of the current Mazda range.
What’s it like from the driver’s seat?
Compare the CX-5’s cabin with that of the current Mazda6 and things have definitely improved. Plastics are softer, joins are fewer, equipment levels are higher and the whole layout and design feels more mature and sophisticated – an impression helped by the intuitive i-Drive style controller on the centre console. Visibility is good, rear accommodation is generous and Mazda continues its Karakuri packaging innovation with the CX-5’s remote-controlled flat-folding rear seats with a useful 40:20:40 split, and a tonneau cover that opens and closes together with the tailgate. A pity then that louder-than-expected wind noise at motorway speeds and a susceptibility to changes in road surface let the side down.
Peter Allibon, Mazda UK’s sales director, bullishly believes that at £25,595 the lower output 148bhp diesel with manual transmission and front-wheel drive layout, in top spec Sport NAV will be the range’s best-seller. He’s not wrong – it’s the sweet spot of the CX-5 line-up that looks easily capable of giving its Nissan and Audi rivals a bit of bloody nose – but we’d see if your local dealer will swap those 19s for 17s. That way you really will get the ideal CX-5.