It might be a cliche but it’s true you can’t afford to stand still in the car business.
As fuel prices continue to rise and buyers seek more efficient modes of transport, the key to any future success will be to produce vehicles that offer meaningful savings, writes Iain Dooley.
However, achieving this without impacting negatively on the ownership experience isn’t easy.
Mazda hopes it has cracked it though, with the development of a suite of efficiency and performance improvements that it can apply to whole range of vehicles. Dubbed “Skyactiv’ by the Japanese car maker, it hopes that the various developments will help to enhance its future models in the eyes of buyers.
First up to get the Skyactiv treatment is Mazda’s new mid-size SUV, the CX-5. Sitting below the long running CX-7, this new model is a five-seater with the option of front and four-wheel drive plus the choice of diesel and petrol engine and manual and auto transmissions.
Weight is a killer in the car business; not only can it impact negatively on crash performance and fuel economy but it also doesn’t help when it comes to vehicle agility. High-rise SUVs often feel it the most, which is why Mazda has chosen a combination of stronger and lighter weight materials for the CX-5’s construction. This hasn’t come at the expense of safety, as the company is keen to stress that it’s spent considerable time fine-tuning crash structures as part of its Skyactiv philosophy.
SUV agility is another area where Mazda was keen to improve on. The company wanted to ensure that the CX-5 complimented and not blighted the reputation of the likes of the MX-5 roadster and 6 family car. The good news is that the engineers have largely succeeded, with the CX-5 feeling uncharacteristically agile for an SUV.
Think of it more as a high-rise family hatch and you’ll get the picture. Weighty controls – steering, gearshift – should appeal to the keen drivers, while ride comfort easily rivals that of a conventional car. Granted, despite the option of all-wheel drive, the CX-5 is no extreme mud-plugger, but its behaviour should please those who tow.
A lot of the CX-5’s on-road talent can be traced to its engines. This is another Skyactiv-themed element of the car, as the units offer low levels of consumption and emissions alongside above average levels of performance.
The line-up starts with a 163bhp petrol motor for those focused on two-wheel drive motoring. Diesel power is a strong favourite among 4x4 drivers for obvious reasons –plenty of torque and sensible economy. Mazda’s take on diesel power for CX-5 is to offer two 2.2-litre units (148 and 172bhp). Amongst the various engineering tweaks it’s chosen to fiddle with the engines’ compression ratios to maximize both economy and power, the end result being a very creditable 61.4mpg and 119g/km CO2 for the low power motor in two-wheel drive guise and 54.3mpg and 136g/km CO2 for the high power unit when chosen with all-wheel drive. Performance is also brisk, with a sub-nine second 0-62mph time for the 172bhp diesel and a 9.4 second time for the all-wheel drive 148bhp car.
In practical terms the CX-5 performs very well. Mazda’s engineers have done a good job of balancing the need to reduce consumption and emissions with the desire to make the car engaging and interesting. That it rides well is a major plus and demonstrates that the firm’s Skyactiv-themed technology bundle is more than just a promotional hook.
Staying with the practicalities of ownership, the CX-5’s cabin is up to Mazda’s usual high standards regarding fit and finish while occupants won’t be short of space, especially in the back. Overall, the car’s cabin is as well screwed together and as comfortable as many of its premium-priced rivals.
And not just comfortable, the CX-5 is also well equipped. Two core trim levels deliver a considerable amount of kit out of the box, with the base SE-L including a decent audio unit, MP3 player connections, Bluetooth, climate control, fully adjustable front seats, plenty of airbags and electronic stability controls. Sport adds bigger wheels, leather, reversing camera, upgraded audio unit and keyless entry.
Each trim level can be boosted by an integrated TomTom-branded sat-nav, while selected models can also be specified with a optional safety pack comprising lane departure warning, auto-sensing headlight high beam control and a rear vehicle monitor.
Generous in many ways – equipment, performance, wallet-friendly economy – Mazda’s CX-5 promises to put the company on the shopping lists of cost-conscious motorists seeking a good balance of low running costs and premium-level refinement. With the promise of similar performance gains from other future Mazda models, Mazda’s newfound engineering talent shouldn’t be underestimated.