Ryan Bubear drives the all-new Mazda CX-5 Individual...
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Better performance, for less fuel. This is quite likely, in exceedingly simple terms anyway, the brief given to Mazda's engine boffins not all that long ago.
What did they come up with? Yes, fossil fuel fans, another evolution of the humble internal combustion engine! The folks in Mazda's Big Brains Department gave the ol' two-fingered salute to all this hybrid poppycock — for the next few years, anyway — and decided to see how they could improve a given powertrain to effectively employ energy that is usually lost in a normal cycle.
The result? Something they've dubbed SKYACTIV technology (which we'll call Skyactiv from now on, since it's rude to shout). Significantly, this tech has been extended to the transmission, body, and chassis as well, which leads me neatly to the very subject of this review, the all-new CX-5.
The full Skyactiv treatment
This compact SUV is the first production model from Mazda to make use of the entire range of Skyactiv technology. Which makes it rather important. In South Africa, the range is made up of three derivatives: the entry-level Active (six-speed manual), the mid-range Dynamic (six-speed auto), and the flagship Individual (also six-speed auto). Each uses Mazda's new-generation Skyactiv-G 2.0-litre petrol powerplant.
What makes this engine so special? In a nutshell, it's all about the impressively high compression ratio of 13.0:1, which means — compared to Mazda's previous generation 2.0-litre petrol — there's significantly more low-down torque and far better fuel economy. Stats addicts will be pleased to note that it makes 114kW at 6000rpm and 200Nm at 4000rpm, and Mazda reckons it's good for 6.8 litres per 100km in manual guise and 6.9 in auto. Good.
But enough about the theory; what's it like in practice? We had the range-topping Individual on test, which is strangely only available as an automatic. The engine itself certainly has sufficient grunt for everyday use — and it helps that it's shunting along a particularly lightweight body and not the SUV equivalent of Fat Bastard — but it certainly won't see the CX-5 scare the pants off your hot-hatch-driving neighbour. Real-world driving conditions saw our final fuel consumption figure rest at 8.5 litres per 100km, some way off the claimed number but nevertheless impressive for a vehicle with this much space.
It is clearly noticeable that the auto transmission's gearing has been optimised for fuel efficiency, which means it flies up through the cogs to sixth before you can say "Homogenous Charge Compression Ignition engine". Which is great (and eerily quiet), until you suddenly need to accelerate sharply. And since the 'box is about as keen to drop a gear as I am to do the dishes, nothing less than a very sharp kick to the loud pedal will result in the desired spurt of forward motion. In essence, the auto 'box needs more than just regular levels of encouragement to change down... and resists stubbornly until the driver gets forceful.
What about the manual?
It's quite likely that this 1998cc Skyactiv powerplant feels more alive when bolted to the slick-shifting six-speed manual, but this is unfortunately only available in the bog-standard Active model (which we haven't driven). This entry-level offering is bare-bones stuff, making do with steel wheels, and without the alarm, Bluetooth, cruise control, fog lights, leather gearknob/steering wheel, and a few other bits and bobs found in the Dynamic.
The range-topping Individual, however, gets 19-inch alloys, an uprated Bose sound system (with touchscreen), dual auto air-con, adaptive front light system (which includes auto Bi-Xenon headlights and auto levelling), reversing camera, parking sensors, heated leather seats, power adjustable driver's seat, rain-sensing windscreen wipers, keyless entry, and a sunroof. Phew.
The CX-5 is the first to employ Mazda's curvy new design theme, which will make its way into the DNA of future models from this manufacturer. It certainly is a handsome vehicle, even at over 4.5-metres long, with a particularly distinctive snout that represents the new-generation family face. Dual-exit exhausts add a sporty touch to the rear. Despite its high-riding stance, the CX-5 comes in two-wheel-drive configuration only, so best the off-road trips be restricted to the pavement.
The Individual model's cabin is a particularly comfy place to spend a journey. The perceived quality of interior trim is relatively high, and all of the controls have a well-crafted feel when operated. There's decent space up front, and enough leg-room in the back for a six-footer to travel in comfort. Luggage space is a little over 400 litres.
The CX-5 rides well even on bumpier surfaces, and the steering has a pleasant weight to it at higher speeds. It remains composed around corners, and very little bodyroll presents despite the vehicle's 1.67-metre height. There's very little road grumble, and the engine note is muted, but some wind noise does make its way into the cabin (although Cape Town's infamous southeaster is a tough test to pass).
Safety is taken care of by a raft of abbreviations (DSC, TCS, ABS , EBD, EBA, ESS, and HLA), while front, side and curtain airbags are standard on all models. Also part of the package is a four-year or 120 000km warranty and a pleasantly long five-year or 90 000km service plan (with 15 000km intervals).
On the whole, the CX-5 is a generally likeable, decent-to-drive SUV. It's comfortable, pretty fuel efficient, and not bad to look at either.
But we can't shake the feeling that a manual version of the top-trim model would be just that much better to drive, and a more enjoyable combination overall. Regardless of whether or not we're right, the Skyactiv tech featured in this CX-5 achieves the brief outlined above: better performance, for less fuel.
So, we say: long live the internal combustion engine.
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See page 2 for specs and pricing.