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Motoring: Skyactiv technology makes Mazda CX-5 a fine handling machine


Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | March 19th, 2012



Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is one of the oldest, most renowned and among the most dangerous racetracks on the planet, and this was the place where Mazda choose to launch their new crossover, the CX-5.

Now why would a car company launch a crossover vehicle at a racetrack, even if it is the title sponsor of the facility? Simple: it's because Mazda believes this new vehicle (which replaces the Tribute in their line-up) is one fine handling vehicle.

Mazda takes their “Zoom- Zoom” slogan very seriously and likes to add characteristics to each vehicle they produce in order to make them more fun to drive.

Many people would agree that the Mazda is more fun to drive than the cars it usually competes against, however their drawback has been fuel economy.

To address the fuel consumption issue, Mazda has spent a lot of time and money in recent years to develop a new range of engines, gearboxes and platforms. They're calling their new philosophy Skyactiv (there is no “e” at the end).

We first got a taste of this Skyactiv technology in the 2012 Mazda3 GS. While that vehicle got the new engine and gearbox, it was still based on an old platform, so the full effect of the Skyactiv technology wasn't applied.

The CX-5 is the first Mazda to go on sale that has the full Skyactiv package, which begins with the new stiffer yet lighter platform. Mazda engineers worked hard to shave weight off while retaining its safety performance. The theory here is that a lighter car not only burns less fuel, it will also handle better. Does it work? Keep reading.

On the engine front, you get the same 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine you'll find under the hood of that Mazda3 GS I spoke about earlier, but now, thanks to its ingenious four-into-two-into-one exhaust system (a system too big to put into the old Mazda3 platform), it produces a little bit more power. Peak power output is 155 hp and 150 lb/ft of torque.

That power can be fed to just the front wheels or to all four wheels in the optional all-wheel drive package (worth an extra $2,000). You also get to pick from either the six-speed manual gearbox or the six-speed automatic with sport shift ($1,200 extra).

Having driven both the frontwheel drive version and the allwheel drive version, with both the manual and automatic gearbox, I'd suggest that the all-wheel drive with the automatic gearbox is worth the extra money. Why? Because while the manual is a decent gearbox, the automatic is just much better suited to this vehicle. As for the argument of frontwheel drive vs. all-wheel drive, what I can tell you is that when the vehicle is put into an obstacle avoidance test, the all-wheel drive vehicle is much better at sorting itself out.

However, for most people, the cheaper front-wheel drive version will make more sense to buy. Plus, this new platform is very capable and the vehicle feels very much like a car to drive, not some small truck. Its handling is truly spectacular — no wonder we did most of the testing on a racetrack.

My only quibble with the handling has to do with the steering feel. Like many modern cars, Mazda has fitted the CX-5 with an electronic power-steering system. Mazda says this system is not only lighter than a conventional hydraulic-based system, they can also better program the response from the steering. In reality, for the average person it might not make much difference, but for enthusiasts, the new system lacks feedback. However, the now deceased Mazda RX-8 also had electric power steering, and that had plenty of feel, so more feel can be programmed if the engineers deem it necessary.

Since I'm quibbling, I would also like to point out that the engine does not feel very willing. It might have 155 hp, but in reality it feels like a lot less. The problem is a lack of grunt in the low-end of the rev range, and that makes the vehicle feel slow. Passing someone on a two-way road requires some planning and perfect execution, because this is no road rocket.

What it is, however, is quite a nice place to be in. All the controls seem to be well laid out and the fit and finish looks very good. The seats are nice and comfortable also, although you do need to spend some time finding the right driving position. Depending on your budget, you can have a very basic CX-5 or a fully loaded model with a Bose sound system and a TomTom-developed satellite navigation system. If you like your gadgets, you won't complain much with the CX-5.

You also are not likely to complain much about the looks, either. It is an attractive vehicle from all angles. Sure, it might not be a breakthrough design, but it's not offensive, either. If you pay attention, you will find that it has a few clever design touches to liven it up. Has it worked? You be the judge.

If you like what you're seeing and reading, then you can go to your Mazda dealer now and pick one up for yourself. The starting price for the GX model with frontwheel drive and the manual gearbox is just $22,995. The fully loaded GT model with all-wheel drive, automatic and all the gizmos is yours from $33,890. That really is a lot of money for something with just 155 hp, but if speed is not your thing, it might be alright for you. I just hope Mazda's enthusiastic engineers are working on a Mazdaspeed version to keep drivers like me content.
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