Mazda CX-5 SkyActiv Driven

Few landscapes in the UK, and arguably Europe, can rival the formidable terrain found on the Isle of Skye.  Sandwiched between mainland Scotland and the Outer Hebrides, Skye and the surrounding highlands can be reached with relative ease from Inverness, which is a leisurely two-hour drive to the west.

With sound reasoning, Skye was deemed an ideal location for Mazda to launch the first of their sixth generation of vehicles - the CX-5 crossover SUV.  Starting at £21,395, at first glance the CX-5 seems to be a lot of car for the money, although the top-spec 2.2 AWD CX-5 will set you back a not inconsiderable £28,395. This just about brings the CX-5 into the firing line of the lower ranks of the considerably more desirable Range Rover Evoque range.   

This launch was about much more than a new competitor in an already crowded (but growing) market segment, however.  The CX-5 is the first Mazda to house not only the Japanese maker’s new, efficient SkyActiv technology but it also exhibits Design Chief Ikuo Maeda’s vision for Mazda’s future design language: KODO.  With the tag line ‘Soul of Motion’, KODO derives its character from the Minagi concept car seen at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show.  Incidentally, Minagi was the last Mazda overseen by Laurens van den Acker, recently appointed vice-president of corporate design at Renault. 

In recent times, the trend has been for the Japanese and far-eastern manufacturers to invest heavily in hybrid technology.  It was, after all, pioneered on a production scale by Toyota when they launched the first Prius in 1997, which seems a very long time ago now.  Western companies, on the other hand, have traditionally taken a more conservative stance in regard to their drivetrains, preferring clean, efficient diesels that are cheaper to build and maintain buyer confidence.  VAG have been hugely successful using this formula, and this is perhaps the reason why companies like PSA Peugeot Citroën have been forced to bring hybrid vehicles to market earlier than they perhaps would have liked, in an effort to compete. 

Mazda’s argument is that the internal combustion engines used in most hybrids are, in reality, relatively inefficient.  The result is that, in terms of both emissions and fuel economy, current hybrids are underperforming considerably.  Their answer is SkyActiv – technology designed to maximise the efficiency of their combustion engines before any hybridisation occurs, a few years down the line.  Sure, Mazda have joined the fight for a share of the eco market late, but maybe their delayed arrival has allowed them to be more circumspect (let’s not forget that Mazda have dabbled with hybrid technology in the past, with the ‘Tribute’).  Mazda also believe that by 2020, 90% of the world’s cars will still use an ICE, and it’s in this 90% that Mazda want to contest.

The CX-5 is a far cry from the Tribute, in that you won’t immediately avert your eyes the first time you see one.  Mazda’s new SUV has presence whilst lacking the overwhelming nature of cars such as Nissan’s Juke.  It’s also very well proportioned, and this is reflected in that the CX-5 looks more resolved from side-on that any other angle.  The car’s front graphic, whilst powerful, is slightly clumsy and looks angry, but almost slightly confused as to why.  This is perhaps because the KODO design principles were not fully developed at the time when the CX-5 was penned.  The front does, however, have some nice detailing, such as the metal grill-line running into the headlights and the pronounced double creases on the bonnet.  Xenon headlights are standard on the ‘sport’ models.

The CX-5’s surface language also manages the juxtaposition of rigidity and agility, the best examples this are the arched fenders lines coming off the front wheels and the curved feature line above the side-skirts, which almost looks like a reference to the ‘squash’ line on Nissan’s INVITATION concept.

SkyActiv technology will make its way into every single new Mazda from now, and will help each new model achieve an impressive 100kg weight reduction over the model it replaces, partly by using 60% high tensile steel for the body work.  Further eco-features include a now widespread stop-start system that works fluently as well as entirely re-engineered 2.2-litre diesel engine that’s capable of around 61mpg in the 150ps front-wheel drive model, not that we could have hoped to achieve that whilst navigating the severe contours of Skye.  Mid-forties is a more realistic target.  The headline figure surely belongs to this front-wheel drive model, which also achieves a faintly astonishing 119g/km CO2 emissions figure.  That’s less many A-segment cars; let alone cars of the same ilk.

The same 2.2-litre diesel unit is also available in a higher state of tune, putting out 175ps, as is a 2-litre petrol engine.  The aforementioned 150ps diesel, however, really seems like the one to go for.

Echoing the exterior’s admirably small shut lines, inside, the CX-5 feels like a quality product, which shouldn’t come as a surprise as Mazda have really upped their game over the last decade.  The cabin is typically driver focused too, with an excellent driving position and superb visibility compared to other cars in this class.  This was something I was grateful for when traversing the ‘Bealach na Pa’ pass en route to Applecross – a single track road that reaches 2053ft, with precipices which will take you back to sea level faster than anything with an engine ever could. 

Breaking through the clouds, assaulted by driving rain and sleet, it was hard to imagine a more cosseting environment – spacious yet secure, and clad with high-quality grippy plastic and leather.  Adding to this sensation of security was the CX-5’s chassis, which is surprisingly resistant to body roll and helps the car feels very sure footed – a quality that is only emphasised in the 4WD models.  When the mood takes you, the CX-5, in any guise, will cover ground on any road swiftly and with minimal fuss.  It’s this aspect of the car that was most impressive.

The CX-5 represents a strong contender in a market dominated by the established SUV makers.  Namely Nissan, BMW and now Range Rover.  What Mazda bring to table, however, are class leading economy and emissions figures, on top a capable, grown up car, and although the smaller cars in Mazda’s line up are yet to be breathed on by SkyActiv technology, the prospect is certainly encouraging.

Mazda CX-5 2.2-litre SkyActiv D (front-wheel drive)

Engine: 2,191cc 4-cylinder diesel  Gearbox: 6-speed manual Power: 150ps @ 4,500rpm Torque: 380Nm @ 1,800-2,600rpm  Top Speed: 121mph Economy: 61.4mpg combined Emissions: 119g/km CO2 Price: £25,195


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