THE compact-SUV segment has been one of the fastest growing in the local market as families moved away from traditional three-box saloons and MPVs into more lifestyle-oriented models during the past decade. All the major players have some form of SUV or crossover model in this hotly contested segment, and now Mazda has thrown its hat into the ring with the CX-5.
This is unchartered territory for the firm; its only SUV entry has been the medium-sized CX-7 (which is replaced in our market by its smaller brother).
The CX-5 debuts the firm’s SkyActiv technology. This umbrella term describes a raft of measures and systems used to reduce harmful exhaust-gas emissions. These include lightweight construction principles, optimised powertrains and improved suspension designs (see July 2012 for an in-depth explanation of SkyActiv).
The CX-5 is also the first model to expound Mazda’s new design philosophy, Kodo, which is supposed to portray tension, dynamism and strength. From the bluff, bold nose to the wing-shape that is highlighted across the grille and headlamps, the CX-5’s facade is certainly distinctive, but few would call it elegant or pretty. In profile, there is a distinct wedge shape that is emphasised by a raked bonnet and rising waistline. A crease across both doors adds visual drama to the flanks. Metallic paint – especially the Sky Blue of our test unit – imbues the CX-5 with an expensive appearance, but the steel wheels as found on the entry-level Active downplay the appearance. Two other trim levels are available, mid-spec Dynamic and flagship Individual.
After the pretty exterior, you might be left feeling slightly underwhelmed by the interior. The facia is very plain; too middle-of-the-road in our eyes. There is also a paucity of toys on the Active model. Owners have to make do with manual air-conditioning, cloth seats, a fairly basic USB/aux-in sound system (with only four speakers) and a plastic steering wheel. An area that cannot be faulted is the quality of the materials, however: the CX-5’s cabin feels premium and is as well screwed together as the best vehicles in this class.
The seats are supportive and comfortable. And, thanks to the fully adjustable drive-chair and steering wheel, all team members easily found a suitable driving position. Space abounds in the cabin, with plenty of head- and legroom for all occupants.
Luggage space is voluminous: the boot swallowed 368 dm3 of our standardised ISO blocks, which extends to 1 192 dm3 with the second row folded forward. Perversely, the Active does not feature a luggage cover, which is a ridiculous omission as your belongings are visible to prying eyes wherever you park.
Fired up, the CX-5’s 2,0-litre SkyActiv engine idles smoothly and almost silently. The same motor drives all local models, although a diesel variant will become available next year. The 2,0-litre uses a high compression ratio of 13:1 with the aim of producing high torque and fully utilising the energy potential of the fuel.
On the move, the motor maintains its smoothness until revved hard. Once in the upper reaches of the rev-range, a degree of coarseness sets in.
Power is fed to the front wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox. This has also been developed under the SkyActiv banner. It is a light-weight, low-friction unit that has a positive, slick action.
Although the gearing is tall to reduce fuel consumption while cruising, the CX-5 performed on par with its closest rivals on our test strip. It completed the 100Â km/h dash in 10,32 seconds and it sprinted to a kilometre in just over 31 seconds.
The CX-5’s braking performance was even more impressive than its sprinting ability. Over the 10-stop routine, it managed an excellent average of 2,94 seconds.
Mazda claims a very optimistic 6,8 litres/100 km fuel-consumption figure for the combined cycle. A run on our fuel route resulted in a more realistic 7,9 litres/100 km.
The ride quality is among the best in class. The all-independent suspension and high-profile tyres help its cause, as the CX-5 has a very smooth and luxurious ride. It isn’t meant to be driven quickly through corners so, when hustled along, the tendency is toward benign understeer, a situation that will easily be cured by all drivers.
Mazda’s first entry into the compact-SUV segment is a good one. The CX-5 excels on the fronts that seem to matter in this class: looks, space and comfort.
However, there are also a few areas in which the CX-5 doesn’t quite deliver. Mazda has perhaps overhyped its SkyActiv technology; in reality, it doesn’t translate into enormous advancements (although the balance between performance and frugality remains admirable). And, at the Active’s price level, there are several really good contenders, including Nissan’s extremely popular Qashqai, the VW Tiguan and the Korean twins from Hyundai/Kia.
We wanted to like the CX-5, we really did, but faced with the R309 000 question, we would opt to spend our money on one of its competitors.