IAIN ROBERTSON

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Beguiled by Mazda for many years, Iain Robertson recalls sometime ownership but highlights the ‘shock factor’ that occurs to anyone strange to the brand, a state readily achieved with the firm’s excellent CX-5 SUV.

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Driving so many different motorcars on-going, it is consummately easy to become numbed by the experience. Come on. We have all been there. Even the archetypal, thirteen years old ‘car-spotter’ is going to be bamboozled by the numbers of new models making the headlines following ever-briefer gestation periods between them all. They all blend, sometimes too seamlessly, into one amorphous automotive blob.

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Of course, there are stand-out models, for which, in my role, I am immensely grateful, but they are truly few and far between. Yet, from a long line of ‘do-things-ever-change’ circumstances, I can recall being confused about recognising one brand’s latest offering over another’s on several occasions during the past half a century. Therefore, it is fair to suggest that they never do…change, that is.

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In recent times, I have adopted a fresh policy. When a new model (requested by me, for the customary week-long period) arrives for critical road test purposes, I let the car stand in the driveway for a day, at least. Usually, somebody in my locale spots it and makes comment (thank heavens we still have some community spirit in Lincolnshire). Then, I drive it around my customary 50-miles test route…first time to maximise the fuel economy (and obtain a ball-park figure), the second time to give the car its head and establish other elements of its dynamic package. It is usually enough.

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The rest of the test period is spent on photographic pursuits and the overall driving experience arising from ‘living with’ the car. I follow the same pattern consistently, as it turns up some fascinating, repeatable, semi-scientific aspects. However, unless I turn my notes immediately into the editorial material you are now reading, much of them can become hard to discern mush. Yet, I mentioned a novel, if minor, adjustment to my far from perfect regime. It is to garner a hands-on view from a relative stranger (not to me, just the product).

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My next door neighbour is an interested party. Interestingly, self-employed, he works in the automotive sector. Therefore, you might fairly expect him to take an informed slant on things automotive. Yet, his knowledge about car specifics is scant. In my book, this makes him an ideal candidate for a ‘cold test’. In many respects, his opinion is precisely the same as that of anybody undertaking a test drive at a car dealership…flung the keys, a 15-minutes bomb-around-the-block is the best that person might hope for and, yet, a purchase decision is anticipated on that basis. As a result, I hold his 1/672nd, or 0.15%, slice of my test period in high regard.

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Handed the keys of the Mazda CX-5, I was (as usual) open to his comments, upon his errand return. He was thoroughly warm towards the CX-5. He loved its steering, brakes and handling, also describing the interior as a place where ‘everything falls to hand’ naturally. Asked if he would contemplate a new CX-5 on his driveway, he gave me an categorical ‘yes’.

 

Perhaps I should also highlight that my neighbour has provided similar acid test responses to every Mazda review car that I have experienced in the past 12-18 months, without exception. It is the only brand that seems to satisfy his every whim and, ironically, he has never owned a Mazda. To me, such an open view summarises the Mazda brand appeal. Whether it is linked to the firm’s ‘Kodo’ design ethos, which presents some of the (subjectively) best looking mainstream motorcars on sale currently, or the on-point engineering ‘nous‘ exhibited by each Mazda, is open to question, as superficial exposure cannot hope to replace the ‘lived-in’ experience. Yet, the vast majority of initial thoughts, especially those governing the spending of cash (whether the individual’s, or the bank’s), are what remain with us, justifying and affirming the human’s rights throughout the ‘ownership’ period. We all do it.

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There is no denying that in a one-size-fits-all preferential society Mazda sits comfortably. Yet, a hard to decipher aspect lies in the ‘reward’ that each Mazda provides to its driver. Fit is one thing but the capability of being well-driven from a cold start is a vital element that few carmakers manage as adroitly as Mazda. The CX-5 slips into that glove with consummate ease.

 

The medium segment of the SUV sector is populated busily. Rivals include the latest Honda CR-V, the ageing but classy VW Tiguan, Toyota’s RAV4, Ford’s Kuga, the slightly larger Nissan X-Trail, Hyundai ix35, Kia Sportage, the smaller Skoda Yeti and even the significantly more costly BMW X3 and Audi Q5, among others. However, the Mazda CX-5 percolates to the top in every comparison, except perhaps brand perception.

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As my neighbour highlights, its steering is superb and, without doubt, the best essential factor of any motorcar. The ride quality is resilient and comfortable, exhibiting minimal body-roll, yet remaining supportive and stable. The Mazda is also well-equipped but not in a ‘look at all my gear’ manner, with the notable exception of the sat-nav screen, which is surrounded by stitched hide, an unusual accoutrement set within the plastic ‘soft-touch’ dashboard moulding. Even the multi-switched, multi-adjustable steering wheel/column features controls that fall neatly and logically to hand. The owner of a CX-5 2.2D SE-L Lux Nav will want for very little.

 

In this guise, the model lacks the 4WD of some of its rivals (most of which have 2WD variants in their ranges anyway), which is no demerit, as it helps to maintain operational costs within the bounds of sensibility. Powered by a slightly larger 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel, which develops a modest 147bhp, incorporating Mazda’s unique SkyActiv-D technology, it is a supremely efficient power unit. In fact, it is enough to propel the CX-5 from 0-60mph in just 8.9 seconds, which is well up with the class’s top performers, while its maximum speed is given as a respectable 126mph. However, this does not result in penalties at the fuel pumps, where I obtained a wholly respectable 47.4mpg in normal running about, with a peak of 56.4mpg (against a typically sky-high 61.4mpg on the Official Combined cycle). Its 119g/km CO2 figure equates to an annual VED of just £30.

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The car’s six-speed manual transmission is controlled by a slick and sporty gearshift, with a pleasantly weighted clutch pedal and effortlessly smooth progress up and down the well chosen ratios. Interior space is well proportioned, with comfortable seating for five people and an enormous boot, thanks partly to the lack of a spare wheel (a puncture repair kit is provided as a get-you-home facility). Cabin storage is also well resolved, with deep door pockets and a useful centre bin between the front seats. Despite fitting into a 4.5m long, 1.8m wide footprint, as a family estate car, the Mazda CX-5 is a clear winner.

 

Having owned several Mazdas in my time (818, 323 and RX3), I know them to be ineffably dependable and sturdy of build. None of them lacked character. Each was innovative and they all delivered markedly above expectations but were immediately recognisable and highy attractive. I still harbour fond memories of Mazda ownership.

 

Yet, I mentioned the brand’s perception a few paragraphs back. It was not a throwaway line. If Mazda were playing on a level field, the CX-5 would top the sales charts effortlessly…but it is not. The car has so much going for it but buyers seem reluctant to change from their existing SUVs to a new CX-5. Personally, I think that the issues, none of which are particularly negative, lie with Mazda UK. The company does not crow loudly enough. There exists an insouciant mild arrogance, almost as though the goods will sell themselves. Balanced against the seemingly bottomless advertising/promotions budgets of some of Mazda’s rivals, maybe that is why Mazda continues to exist, as it simply does not spend similarly but I feel that it needs to spend more and even more wisely, because it deserves to be at the top of its game. Its reward being those elusive greater sales and a higher level of recognition. Mazda needs to get ‘out there’.

 

Conclusion:   An obvious aspect of the Mazda’ CX-5’s appeal lies in its sheer ease of driving, although its handsome appearance and overall practicality help its cause immeasurably. Of course, there is a new, smaller variant in the CX family, in the CX-3, as well as the former but grander CX-7, which was discontinued in 2012 but makes an exquisite second-hand SUV, if you can find one at the right price. Yet, the CX-5 is a proper business machine and priced at a market competitive rate of £26,395, it offers strong value for money, with no unfortunate baggage.