Mazda hits upscale vibe with new CX-5

BY Haney Louka. Jul 28 03:00 am

The CX-5 is a bit of a niche player in the compact crossover arena, outselling the likes of the Jeep Cherokee and Subaru Forester, but sitting way back from Escape, Rogue, CR-V, and RAV4 in the race for your attention.

But from a driver’s perspective, there is no relationship between how good the CX-5 is and how many units go out the door of Canadian dealerships. The first-gen CX-5 proved to be a fun, responsive family hauler; its most significant shortcomings being that it was a half-size smaller than many of the entries in its class, and its design (inside and out) was a bit uninspired.

For 2017, an all-new CX-5 is being presented to us, and it is anything but forgettable. Bearing a strong family resemblance to Mazda’s other crossovers, there’s a distinct upscale vibe to the CX-5 that was completely absent before. It’s a three-quarter-scale CX-9, with a simple elegance that is free of excess body decoration.

Most distinctive is Mazda’s treatment of the front and rear details on the CX-5: the forward-leaning grille and linear design of the LED lights (standard across the board) go a long way toward achieving the successful overall design presented here.

Inside, changes are just as significant, although I was surprised to find that this already pint-sized compact crossover has 10 per cent less cargo capacity (according to published figures) than last year’s model.

The driver-oriented cockpit has seen huge improvements in design and material quality, which has likewise derived inspiration from the company’s other crossovers. There’s a simplicity here that is hard to achieve given the number of features available for drivers to access.

At the heart of this is a controller on the centre console for accessing functions on the prominent seven-inch centre-mounted display. It’s a common solution to achieve interior designs that aren’t hemmed in by the requirement to have a touch screen within easy reach. The CX-5 does incorporate limited touch screen functionality, but the elegance in this design is how intuitive operation through the control knob is. My only quibble here is the lack of a home screen that shows any real information. Rather, it’s simply a root menu to access the various functions. Better home screens will show information at a glance: part map, part audio display, part climate settings.

To avoid having to navigate through menus to get to commonly-accessed functions, Mazda has provided dedicated buttons ahead of the control knob that allows the driver to jump to audio and navigation functions. And the climate system has separate hard controls on the centre stack for easy and intuitive access.

Regardless, the overall impression when one slides into the driver’s seat is this is a very nice place to spend time. Check out the tasteful combination of satin metallic and piano black trim.

On all but the base GX (which is equipped with a manual transmission and a 2.0-litre direct-injected four-cylinder), CX-5 models feature Mazda’s 2.5-litre direct-injected four-cylinder engine, good for 187 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. It’s enough to get this crossover up to speed in reasonable time, but I wouldn’t say there is a large reserve of power, particularly on the highway. It’s on par for this class, though, and the CX-5 enjoys fuel consumption ratings of 10.2 and 8.3 L/100 km for city and highway use respectively. That’s generally on par with the class, although nobody can seem to touch the new Honda CR-V’s thriftiness at the pump.

But the driving experience is what continues to set the CX-5 apart from its peers. There’s a special connection a driver can make with this machine from the moment the wheels start turning, and that’s a rare thing indeed these days, particularly in this class. Steering, braking, transmission programming — all designed with responsiveness to inputs being the primary goal. You think the RAV4 drives like this? Not even close.

While this is no surprise coming from Mazda, they’ve upped the ante with G-Vectoring Control to enhance the driving experience. Similar in concept to other torque-vectoring systems, the system reduces torque to the wheels that don’t need it; the unique part of it is that it’s accomplished by fine adjustments to engine spark timing rather than application of brakes. On a front-drive-based all-wheel drive system, it works wonders in the handling department, but most drivers won’t even know it’s there.

I found the heads-up display on our loaded GT tester to be a great source of information, at least while I wasn’t wearing polarized sunglasses — the shades render the display nearly invisible. The only thing that made me ask “why?” is the traffic signal recognition that showed a tiny stop sign as I approached intersections in residential areas. If I hadn’t seen the sign itself by then, you know, by looking through the windshield, I was already in trouble.

I’d classify this second-generation CX-5 as somewhere in between a refresh and an all-new model, and with the exception of cargo space, the previous CX-5’s shortcomings have been addressed. The new model brings a level of class and enjoyment to a category filled with ho-hum, high-volume entries.

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