There is no such thing as a premium car anymore. You get so-called premium manufacturers, but nowadays that’s just a gimmick in order to charge you more for less features, merely because of the badge glued on the nose. No car proves this point more so than the face lifted Mazda CX5 crossover – the subject of this review and a car that gives the premium German brands a bloody nose in the ‘premium’ segment.
Mazda’s recent resurgence to the South African market has come with an invigorated line-up of new vehicles that have focused on utilising the new Kodo Soul of Motion design language to shock the market into realising that Mazda are back. The CX5 has taken well to the Kodo styling, and in tandem with the Soul Red paint equipped to the model on test, it’s a design that’s hard to fault – stunning from every angle, and with masculine proportions that are hard to ignore when spotted on the road.
The interior follows suit in looking good; surfaces decked in leather, with leather upholstery and a dash-mounted infotainment screen – recessed in properly, not mounted as an afterthought to the rest of the interior. It’s not a touch screen though, as would be found in most manufacturers’ interiors; instead it’s controlled via an iDrive reminiscent rotary controller on the centre console, and it’s quite a fluid system, operating with relatively little lag in response to inputs. The system incorporates navigation, media, Bluetooth connectivity, and vehicle settings.
The rest of the interior is dark, but feels of a high quality – a kick in the teeth of brands who’d have you believe that only they can build a classy interior. But there is one glaring fault I don’t know Mazda overlooked – the lack of a door lock/unlock button. Instead you have to fiddle with the locking mechanism around the door handle which is finicky and awkward.
That faux pas aside, the interiors a wonderful place to be – especially as a driver. The electronically adjustable seats are comfortable and supportive with impressive amounts of side support; most impressive of all, they drop low into the SUV giving it a car-like driving position for those who want to feel in tune with the car.
From there on out, the CX5 behaves in a most un-SUV like manner though. Barring the high ride height, everything else is very much easy to use. Visibility is impressive, aided in reverse by a rear-facing camera, and the CX5 feels light on its feet – perched on the balls of its feet in an agile, ready to go manner that bodes well for spirited driving. The electronic power assisted steering dampens the mood somewhat though, as despite its ample weight it is devoid of feel and feels highly artificial.
But the agility of the CX5 more than makes up for this lack of feel in the steering. Change of direction is eager and sharp, and the suspension manages weight transfer alertly and without much roll or wallowing. Mechanical grip is impressively high, too, eventually yielding to understeer when pushed too far. It’s not a situation you’d likely encounter in other SUV’s, but the CX5 begs to be driven enthusiastically – feeling more like a sporty sedan than high-riding SUV.
The mechanical package as a whole implores you to push it beyond the normal realms of what SUV’s are supposed to do. The gearbox in particular is highly impressive. It’s a 6-speed torque converter automatic unit, not usually something sporting – but it’s tuned for response and holding of gears, particularly in sport mode. The shifts themselves are a tad sluggish, but even slight throttle prompts result in quick downshifts and selection of the correct lower gear, and cogs are held at higher revs through corners as if it were a manual. Of course, you can shift gears manually via the paddles mounted on the steering columns, and again the shift response is quick, although shift times are sluggish.
Despite being front-wheel driven, the 141kW on offer from the 2.5-litre naturally aspirated 4-pot are dealt with in fine fashion. Torque is a little low at 256Nm, but the ability to rev out the engine allows one to keep the CX5 in the power band with ease. It’s got a fair bit of mid-range punch, despite the lack of forced induction, and combined with the efficacy of the automatic transmission it makes short work of overtaking and acceleration from a standstill. Yet, for all its sporting qualities, it’s impressively frugal – consuming 8.4l/100km on a combined cycle in our hands.
Endowed with its fair share of fun for the enthusiastic driver, it’s equally as impressive for those who prefer a subdued driving experience. Equipped with all the niceties one would expect of a R408 700 SUV, the CX5 arrives standard with a sunroof, dual-zone climate control, high-beam assist with automatic headlights, a BOSE sound system of impeccable quality, LED adaptive intelligent headlighting, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, blind spot monitoring, cruise control, and lane-keep assist – a system which operates rather obtrusively and highlights the artificial steering feel greatly.
With all these features standard fare on the 2.5 Individual, it’s hard not to be impressed. But it’s the way the whole package is tied together that truly sets it apart. Sublime ride comfort and levels of refinement luxury automakers aspire to are just some of the highlights. Noise levels at highway speeds are nigh on non-existent, and comfort over long journeys is top-tier. Quality materials both inside and out complete a premium package, and the striking looks add a rather large cherry on top.
As a complete package, the Mazda CX5 2.5 Individual offers it all. It bloodies the noses of the German rivals (Audi Q3, Mercedes-Benz GLA, BMW X1) that would like to be seen as a cut above a Japanese brand such as Mazda. It offers all the kit standard that others would add as optional, and provides levels of refinement those other could only hope to achieve. On top of that, it’s genuinely pleasurable to drive, whether you’re seeking a spirited drive or merely commuting to and from the office. It does bear a high asking price though – one that would’ve been more suited to an AWD variant (petrol models are FWD only) – but the list of flawlessly operating equipment does more than account for the cost.
The CX5 destroys the notion of a ‘premium brand’. It embraces its role as a crossover and makes the most of everything it has at its disposal – creating a formidable on-road driving companion in SUV guise. I’m not one to endorse the soft-roader much, but the CX5 is as good as they come, and far better than could have expected.
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141kW @ 5700RPM
256Nm @ 3250RPM
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