Mazda’s i-ACTIV all-wheel drive system takes information from a number of vehicle systems, including yaw sensors, steering-angle sensors and others to actively predict when wheel slip is likely and then distributes torque as needed.
WHISTLER, B.C. — Mazda wanted a CX Winter Drive program and Whistler delivered, with thick, wet snow that hampered exploring the limits of the 2019 CX-5’s new turbo, but offered a great workout of the i-Active all-wheel-drive system.
For 2019, the CX-5 not only gets the same turbo as the CX-9 and topline Mazda6, it also gets a new “Signature” trim level, hoping to snag some compact crossover buyers from the likes of Mercedes, Audi or BMW. It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds.
Full disclosure: my personal vehicle is a CX-5, without the turbo.
For the past couple of years, Mazda has chased the goal of remaining committed to the mainstream customer, but at the same time, trying to steal sales from the premium segment. The Signature trim — now offered on CX-9, Mazda6 and CX-5 — is part of that effort. It offers a higher level of finishing materials — rosewood trim on CX-9, abachi wood trim on CX-5 and sandalwood on Mazda6 — as well as some technology touches.
Mazda’s core designs and execution of fit and finish at all trim levels, however, is good enough that many buyers don’t really need a Signature edition to get that premium feel. My CX-5 is a mid-grade model and I’d put it up against any premium compact crossover on exterior design, interior design and fit and finish.
The big news for CX-5, aside from the addition of the Signature model, is the new turbo, lifted virtually untouched from the CX-9. Mazda may have dropped the name Mazdaspeed, but this is kind of the same idea.
It’s important to note the engine’s specifications don’t tell the whole story, and Dave Coleman, vehicle dynamics engineer for Mazda North America, said you even have to drill down beyond the numbers to get the complete picture. Case in point: horsepower is a relatively modest 250 (with 93 octane fuel), but torque is 310 pound-feet.
“The catalog numbers look weird,” Coleman said. “The power is low but the torque is high, and if the torque is high, it’s a good driving experience.”
Instead of chasing raw power, Coleman said Mazda focused on how the vehicle responds, so on a chart, the torque and number curves look a fair bit different from traditonal engines. The 2.5 turbo hits its peak torque early, as a lot of turbos do, but that peak flattens out for a range of engine speeds, which not only improves the vehicle’s acceleration from a stop, it also makes for a better experience while cruising.
Many smaller engines require the transmission to downshift when acceleration is demanded, such as for passing.
The 2.5 turbo, however, is already in the torque sweet spot in sixth at highway speeds. “The powerband means there is so much torque available in sixth gear that if it can accommodate this demand without downshifting, it’s a much more pleasant experience.”
This careful management of the engine’s torque curve is why Mazda remains philosophically opposed to both continuously variable transmissions and automatic transmissions with high gear counts.
In other words, Mazda’s automatics have only six gears and are likely to top out at six, too.
The engine is also tuned to not require premium fuel. Its torque numbers don’t change based on the octane of the fuel, only the horsepower.
At 93 octane, it will deliver 250 horsepower; at 87 octane (regular fuel), 227.
There is virtually no turbo lag: push the throttle and feel the zoom. This is where the engine gets its name “dynamic pressure turbo.” Up to about 1,700 r.p.m., the exhaust is forced through a relatively tiny opening, which amplifies its speed. This means the turbo gets spinning quickly at very low engine speeds compared to other turbos that take time to spool up. At 1,700 r.p.m., the exhaust is opened fully. The effect on fuel economy of constricting exhaust flow in this way is minimal.
Other changes for 2019 include tweaks to the G-Vectoring control, which, when you start to steer, retards engine output an unnoticeable amount but enough to shift weight to the front tires to aid in turn-in. For 2019, it also brakes the outside wheel slightly when turning out to also improve the car’s response when you start to unwind the wheel. Some suspension tweaks were also made to improve steering response.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto — finally — are standard equipment. “The sounds of our customers screaming for this feature have been so loud and for so long, we don’t really know what to do with the silence,” Coleman said with a laugh.
There’s a reason for the delay, however. Both are optimized for touchscreens, which isn’t something Mazda wanted to force on customers. “Touchscreens are inherently dangerous no matter how much people want them,” Coleman said. Which is why Mazda’s screens are set high on the dash and somewhat out of reach — although they do function as touchscreens. It took a fair bit of work with Apple and with Google to get Car Play and Android Auto to work instead with Mazda’s control knob, which is located behind the shifter.
The 2019 CX-5 is on sale now, with three engines to choose: the 2.5-litre turbo (optional on GT, standard on Signature), a 2.5-litre with cylinder deactivation and a base 2.5-litre without cylinder deactivation. All-wheel drive is standard on GT and Signature, optional on all other trim levels.
For 2019, Mazda’s CX-5 gets a turbo engine option and a Signature top-level trim.
Mazda’s interiors are arguably competitive with premium brands.