SINGAPORE — In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a small war going on, and the new Mazda CX-5 is the first combatant. The battleground is the market for mid-size Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) from Japan, which has just been joined by the officially-imported Toyota Harrier (the one that counts, basically) and, soon, an all-new Honda CR-V.
It looks like Mazda has come out guns blazing, though. Here’s all you need to know about the new CX-5.
Sleek looking thing, ain’t it!
It sure is. This is a car with swagger. The slim lamps give it a purposeful squint, and that grille looks terrific in the flesh. You’d swear it was stolen from a Jaguar.
The high-contrast finish of the Soul Red Crystal Metallic paintwork on our test car does a lot to highlight the curves and cat-like stance, too. Don’t forget, though, that the first CX-5 ushered in Mazda’s current era of “Kodo” design language. This one was always going to look good.
At the same time it looks… strangely familiar somehow?
That could be down to design continuity, family coherence and so on… Mazda’s styling from here, insiders have told us, is to stay true to Kodo but polish their approach. “Beauty by subtraction” is the slogan for that, and it suggests that future Mazdas will be as pared down and sculptural as the new CX-5.
Mind you, some of the visual familiarity it might also be because the CX-5 is built on the same platform as the previous model. Key dimensions stay largely unaltered, as a result. The wheelbase is still 2,700mm, for example. It’s marginally longer and lower, however, which helps with how sporty it looks, especially when you look at it from the side.
Wait, so is it a facelift or an all-new model?
Well, Mazda says the latter, but it’s probably more accurate to say it’s an extremely heavy facelift. That said, Minoru Takata, a program manager for the CX-5 in Mazda’s product division, told us that more than 50 percent of the parts for the platform have been improved or changed. Fair enough. And we have to say, it does feel like a new car.
Climb aboard and you’ll see a completely redesigned cabin, with an impressively neat layout for buttons and switches, and materials posh enough to make you wonder where Mazda found the money for them.
You’ll notice a new freestanding touchscreen, too. It isn’t big by today’s standards (at just seven inches) but it’s bright and easy to use — except for the navigation system, which is still a pain when you try to enter an address without knowing either the postal code or the town your target street is in.
Looks fairly swish up front. How’s the back?
Cooler than before. We mean that literally, because there are new air-con vents back there. The rear seats are slightly adjustable now (you can make them more upright to squeeze more space out of the boot) and there are two USB charging points in the centre armrest.
It’s all meant to make riding in the car more inclusive, instead of reserving joy for the driver. That’s been one of the themes behind the car’s redevelopment.
Makes sense. It’s more family car than rugged off-roader anyway, right?
Exactly. In fact, Takata told us that in his view the single biggest step forward between this CX-5 and the last one is… how much quieter it is inside. Mazda has a “conversation matrix” that it uses to assess cabin noise, and things are so much more hushed in the new model that you can have a chat at the same volume as before, only 30km/h faster.
Ok, but is it a still a driver’s car?
Actually, the CX-5 is a nice car to punt through corners at a spirited pace — for an SUV, of course. What’s new in this iteration is that the suspension damping has been reworked, and there’s Mazda’s G Vectoring Control system — turn the wheel for a corner and the engine retards its spark by a fraction of a second, trimming power enough to put more weight on the front tyres for extra grip, but not enough for you to feel.
Whatever the case, as you guide the Mazda from bend to bend it feels secure, responsive and pretty much pinpoint accurate. The plot doesn’t fall apart as you pick up the pace, either, and while it’s no hot hatch in terms of outright agility, it’s a pleasantly, surprisingly nimble car for something so big and tall.
Hmmm… But does it thump the fillings from your teeth over bumps?
Not at all, surprisingly. The ride is on the firm side of things (the Super Luxury model we drove rides on 19-inch wheels, after all) but it doesn’t send sudden jolts into the cabin, much less your spine.
Sounds like the suspension is sorted, anyway. But on paper it looks like there’s been no progress under the bonnet?
In a way, no. The engines are carried over, along with the six-speed autos they’re paired with. That means a 2.0-litre four cylinder with 165 horsepower, or the one we drove, a 2.5-litre with 194hp.
It’s actually a nice engine, delivering brisk acceleration and revving freely, and it makes a fairly sporty howl at the upper end of the rev counter. Both engines are mechanically unchanged but their management has been fiddle with to improve the linearity of their power delivery, apparently.
Two engines, then? So which should I buy?
Tough question, that, because there are actually four models on offer. Our choice is a 2.5-litre Luxury mostly for the performance of the engine, but apparently once people step up to the bigger powerplant they go the whole hog and buy the most expensive version, which is the Super Luxury spec tested here.
That comes with such safety items as rear cross traffic alert, a lane departure warning system, lane-keep autonomous steering, and the rather glam-looking white upholstery in our test car — that last one is only for someone who has domestic help.
Most people will probably buy the 2.0 Premium, for niceties like the powered tailgate and electric front seats. Even the 2.0 Standard comes with six airbags and satnav, though, so the basics are there, whichever version you choose.
But what about the competition?
It’s actually looking like it will be a straightforward thump-up. The Toyota Harrier drives like Lexus cars used to, so it’s ultra-refined and easy to operate. The Honda CR-V will be interesting to anyone who fancies a small turbo (we hear it’ll come with a 1.5-litre) and three rows of seats.
If you care about styling, cabin quality and handling, it’s the CX-5 for you, really. The SUV battle may be starting to heat up, but right now it’s looking fairly easy to pick a side.
NEED TO KNOW Mazda CX-5 2.5 Super Luxury
Engine 2,488cc, 16V, inline 4
Power 194hp at 6,000rpm
Torque 257Nm at 3,250rpm
Gearbox 6-speed automatic
Top speed 196km/h
0-100km/h 8.9 seconds
Fuel efficiency 7.2L/100km
Price S$152,800 (with COE)
Agent: Trans Eurokars Pte Ltd