Mazda’s improved CX-5 shows that human touches are still preferable
Inevitable model updates occur cyclically for the majority of carmakers, highlights Iain Robertson, as a means to introduce line improvements, as well as attract new customers to the brands and those on the latest CX-5 reveal Mazda’s ‘ace-card’.
I am a collector. There. I have admitted it. In a confession not dissimilar to the ruminations that your average ‘alcoholic’ might endure en-route to declaring his affectation publicly at AA meetings, I bare my soul to you and beg your forgiveness. In undertaking the process of self-realisation, to be frank, I have been forced to analyse several aspects of my life, both socially and pleasureably.
In my job, some carmakers insist on providing their invited event guests with colourful neck-bands and name-badges. I have a collection that currently goes back about ten years. It would have been more but a couple of house moves and a desperate need to clear out drawer space, or to find a fresh place from which they might be suspended (today, at the bottom-end of the staircase bannister), curtailed the hundreds of tags I used to own. I mourn the loss of hundreds more.
While I have always enjoyed collecting model cars, something that I did as a child, seldom playing with them but keeping them stored neatly and in their (now, valuable) original boxes, my collection has been almost doubled by vehicle manufacturers supplementing what is now around 3,200 individual models. Somebody once informed me that the collection was ‘worth several thousands of Pounds’. The truth is, I do not care. They carry no financial value to me but I adore my collection.
I shall not continue to highlight the innumerable other items that constitute personal collections, other than my music CD collection, which is about 5,000 titles in size. Put simply, I do not have enough available shelf-space in the house to store them all but they are stashed, in boxes, in my lock-up. I mention the CDs, because my present personal transport, my much-loved Suzuki Baleno, is not equipped with a CD player. It is the first car that I have lived with for several decades that is CD-less. Instead, I am forced to listen to digital recordings of around 1,000 songs via a USB-connected iPod, which is so tiny that I wonder how Apple’s engineers can make all of those notes fit.
This where Mazda resolves a major issue for me. Its neatly integrated CD-slot, which sits in the overhang of the CX-5 dashboard’s upper surface, between air-vents and material cross-stitching, is so imperceptible, yet welcome, that I could easily trade-off the Baleno, replacing it with the thoroughly business-like CX-5 instead. I am certain that I am not alone, as gentleman of a certain age, who loves his music collection but feels short-changed by myriad car manufacturers, which believe that it is about time I relinquished my grip on ‘old fashioned CDs’ and got into Spotify, or some such other digital music download facility that I do not wish to have anything to do with.
Mazda is one of those cuddly and eminently adorable car companies that actually thinks about its customers. While I no longer smoke cigarettes, being one of a new generation of professional vapists, I think it is sweet that Mazda’s driver’s window can be lowered, with the first touch of its button, just enough not to create a draught but to allow conveniently a finger-tapped curl of ciggy-ash to be sucked by passing breeze into the ether. Do not get at me…I know it is ‘littering’ of a sort!
It is not the only Mazda benefit on display. When I think of the mass of cars that I drive in the course of an average year and how few of them allow me, without some contortionism, to insert the male end of the seatbelt into the female receptacle, without it springing out the instant I tidy my seating position, so far this year it has been two; my own Baleno and the Mazda CX-5. For heaven’s sake. This is a primary safety function. How difficult can most carmakers install it?
However, the list goes on…take the electrically adjustable, memory driver’s seat. Naturally, it is only noticeable, should another driver take to the helm, because they never return the seat to where the normal driver positions it. In Mazda’s case, not only the seat repositions automatically but also the head-up display reflected in the windscreen and (trumpet fanfare) it all works via the smart key that is kept in the driver’s pocket, without intervention. Oh, how I love Mazda.
Perhaps I should explain that the car you see pictured here, in front of the beautiful Lincoln Cathedral, is in 2.2TDi, 2WD Sport-Nav form, priced at £29,255. As such, it is not the top 4×4 model (£33,195), nor is it powered by the 172bhp version of the SkyActiv whisper-diesel engine (the range starts in petrol form at £23,695). In fact, it makes do with the 147bhp alternative. Tipping the kerbweight scales at 1,669kgs, if you are attempting to breach every speed limit and race with the guy in the Audi SQ5, then you will not have half a chance.
Under normal circumstances, a 0-60mph sprint in 9.1 seconds, before running out of steam at around 127mph might be considered as fair game. Truth is, CX-5 does not feel as punchy as that and its larger than expected engine is not really willing to give of its all above 3,500rpm. Yet, shift-up early, or block-change, avoiding the odd gears, and a cursory glance at the speedometer will reveal that what you thought was 45mph, is nudging 75mph. This sneaky Mazda conceals its sporting nature beneath a deceptively silent bushel and there is no contrary shove-in-the-back to inform you otherwise, although it pulls strongly from idle speed in any gear.
If you consider that to be a ‘win’ situation, I managed an outstanding 57.6mpg (ignore the 43mpg you might just spot in one of the pictures, as I had been tampering with the on-board computer) on a trip between home and Donington Park racing circuit, which means that I can double up my situation to ‘win:win’, which proves to be immensely satisfying. Unfortunately, a 132g/km CO2 rating bulks up the first year’s Road Tax to £200, although subsequent years are at the standard annual fee of £140. For the record, the Official Combined fuel economy figure for the car is 56.5mpg, which is mighty impressive.
The CX-5’s ride and handling is sublime. It corners with confidence and only a small amount of body roll, while grip levels are leech-like. Only on a diesel drizzled roundabout did I feel the front-wheel-drive behaving in expected understeery manner and throttling back and unwinding steering lock returned its stance to normal, despite the fun I was experiencing. Normally, big alloy wheels (19-inch versions on the example tested) are notorious for wrecking ride quality but they not only look great on this mid-size SUV, they also maintain a silken ride that is among the best of the breed.
The car’s steering is lovely, meaty and provides well-measured feedback to the driver’s fingers but I did not expect to be so lead-footed on the brake pedal. It demands pressure levels that would cause the majority of Mazda’s contemporaries to nose-dive to startling effect. While I became familiar with it, the car seemed to run-on, without retardation, for a few extra yards in early driving sessions. The clutch pedal weight was light enough by comparison and the stubby gearlever slots speedily but positively up and down the ratios.
Having mentioned some of the cabin highlights, I feel loath to highlight that its funereal grey is all-pervading. So many new models seem to introduce more colourful palettes but conservative Mazda sticks rigidly to a monochromatic alternative. Yet, there is another Mazda benefit, as the dials are clean and clear, being easy to read at the briefest of glances, as are the climate controls and even the blissfully logical MMI. Sorry! That’s the ‘Man-Machine-Interface’, the knurled knob that sits behind the gearlever and provides a master control, with adjacent music, sat-nav and control options buttons alongside.
It is all very sensible and lacks the complexity levied upon us by almost every other player. It is feasible, without rehearsal, to hop into the Mazda CX-5 and drive it at the dead of night, without fear of having to play hunt-the-button, which can be a lethal task. Yet, it misses only a few of the tricks, most of which are unnecessary anyway. The big digital screen in the top-centre of the dashboard is also a ‘touch-screen’, which means that when boredom sets-in with the knob, you can just touch what you want to command, if you can reach it.
A fairly broad centre console contains a deep oddments bin ahead of the gearlever, with a spring-loaded flap for the power-point. If you want USB slots, you will find them in either of the centre armrests, in front, or between a pair of rear seat occupants. Additional door pocket storage is generous, as is the accommodating boot (accessed via a lower-right dashboard switch, or by tapping the rubber bar below the bootlid swage-line, which opens the door electrically). Set into its underfloor is the BOSE stereo bass response unit that provides a meaty sound to the 10-speaker stereo system (remember the CD slot!).
Conclusion: Driving a Mazda CX-5 is a helpfully relaxing experience. There are zero wild distractions; no extraneous optional extras. Both front seats are electrically heated, as is the steering wheel rim. The headlamps and wipers have an ‘auto-on’ function and the nocturnal light pattern is strong and controlled, although there is no automatic high-beam setting (thank goodness!). Mazda stands for automotive ordinariness done very competently. There is not much to dislike on the CX-5 front.