03 June 2012

Mazda CX-5 driven - the SUV that stirs emotion

Mazda CX-5 has been introduced to Malaysian market late last month. Two version are offered, albeit with similar equipment level, differentiated only the driven wheel option. The front-wheel-drive CX-5 will set you back RM155,219 while the AWD version is priced at RM165,219 excluding insurance, but including 3 years warranty and maintenance. 

CX-5 is a very important model for Mazda. For the company that is very persistent last year in introducing its Skyactiv principle in powertrain technology, as well chassis innovation, Mazda CX-5 is showcasing both of these fronts. Skyactiv technology mainly branched into two fronts; namely advanced lightweight body structure and advanced powertrain. For the body structure, the design is optimized for lightness and rigidity via iterations of multi-load path concept. This eliminate the redundancy in body stiffening, as single reinforcement can resist loading from multi-direction. The use of high strength steel has assist in achieving this, while still maintaining top-class safety standard. 

Skyactiv powertrain meanwhile concentrates on improving the thermal efficiency. For the gasoline version, Skyactiv-G, it means an increased in compression ratio, in case of Malaysian spec, it is 13:1. To achieve this level of compression ratio is no small feat. To combat the knocking issue associated with the high compression ratio, a series of innovation has been devised. One of them is the 4-2-1exhaust system which improve the removal of residual gas in the combustion chamber. The leftover of combusted gas at 750 degC (turbocharged car can easily achieve 950 degC FYI) can induced knocking due to the higher TDC gas temperature. The optimized piston crown shape also assists to certain extent.

For more details on the dimensions, engine line-up and chassis hardware please refer to MMN launch posting HERE.
In terms of styling, Mazda CX-5 debuted Mazda new design language, termed KODO. Inspired by nature's soul of motion, Mazda CX-5 aesthetic can be described as distinctive, something rare in this mundane market segment. The front end is dominated by huge radiator grille opening, which posses the unique chrome surround that continues to run into the headlight internal graphic. The lower part of the bumper is clad in black plastic panel to add muscularity. 
The rear end is similarly gorgeous. The wrap-around rear light is very deliberate in its silhouette, unbounded by typical formality that is usually found in this crowded SUV sector. Having a huge 19" alloy also help to mask the visual mass of this Mazda, as it looks lithe like the Mitsubishi ASX, while in truth it rivals Honda CR-V in terms of dimension. So, kudos to Mazda designer to mixing some emotion for the RM150k SUV segment.
The interior is similarly stylish. Free from the necessity to vacant-out the space in the floor console, CX-5 adopts a high floor console layout, effectively introducing a somewhat cosy ambiance. Cosy, yet not cramped. Spacious is not its forte. The dashboard is ergonomically sound, with the high-mounted audio system, clear audio and climate display and a very sporty steering wheel that is thickly rimmed and small in diameter. The gearknob is stubby to hold and pleasing to look at. The movement is short and the grasp is palm-full. The upper portion of the dashboard is made of soft padded material, lending to slight premium outlook. The rest of the cabin material is nicely textured. Pedals are nicely placed and it it nice to note that the accelerator is the floor-hinged item.
In terms of space, as mentioned earlier, spaciousness is not the CX-5 main forte. But occupants of averaged sized won't run out allocation in whichever direction they move at. Unlike Mazda3 with its sweeping lower portion of dashboard, the front passenger won't have to cut their right leg in the CX-5. The seats are upholstered in black leather with red stitching. For the author, all seats are comfortable, the front items are well bolstered while the rear one is very accommodating. If Mazda somehow added the rear aircond duct, it would be a perfect vehicle for me!

The interior design is a fresh departure from the likes on Honda CR-V. While Honda majors on utilitarian, CX-5 borders on sellfishness. There is simply no intention to carve out maximum storage space, or maximum elbow room for example. While Honda cabin has some premium touch to it (a combination of plush fabric, upmarket silver garnish and a simply right-looking overall cabin), it is the CX-5 cabin that stirs emotion. It encourage you to come in and take a ride. Honda is a car that you hoop in because you have to go somewhere. It is that different.
How does it drive? I would summarized it as agile, spirited, muted and definitely comfy. The initial bit of acceleration is a bit not there, but once on the go it is reasonably punchy. According to Mazda people, this AWD version feels a bit sluggish of the line, but the FWD is just fine. I guess we would just take his word for this. 

The steering feels is nicely weighed. Not too light, but not that heavy until it renders the car cumbersome. It steers with good precision. The test route include a sprint on a straight road and CX-5 does not fails me. It has enough reserve to blend in with quicker traffic quickly. On the move, the noise level is good, while overall NVH is similarly kept in check. 

The 2.0L Skyactiv-G feels gutsy. It feels free spinning and ready to be rev hard. I can't quite recall how the CR-V drives, but if I remember correctly, that SUV has a good drivetrain, but the overall dynamic movement is a bit not well communicated. Mazda CX-5 on the other hand feels involved and definitely more agile when attacking the corner. 

The conclusion? CX-5 is stylish, sufficiently fast, nicely equipped and really good to drive. It delivers a more emotional ride instead of formal drive. Sporty can even be considered to be description to it. How does it fare against opposition. Current stalwart Honda CR-V is already old to be listed as competitor, but it is not that long in the tooth as far as capability is concern. While the new generation CR-V has taken a dive in interior quality, we can't wait to see how they fare up. There's also some other SUV on the market such as Nissan X-trail (even more road biased with its FWD setup and CVT), Chevrolet Captive, slightly more expensive and older Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento, but all of these are what I termed earlier as "formal" competitor in the segment. It is your choice. For me I feel young. Thus I take the CX-5.

Enjoy the gallery after the jump.

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