CX-5 wasn't broken so Mazda didn't fix it. But boy, did it get obsessed with the details
On the surface, you might think Mazda didn't bother to do much for its second-generation CX-5 SUV.
It's about the same size as the previous model, carries over the same three powertrains (two petrols and a turbo-diesel), comes in the same three specifications (GLX, GSX and Limited) and sells at roughly similar prices: from $39,995 for the GLX petrol FWD to $57,495 for the Limited turbo-diesel AWD, representing an average rise of $700.
As is often the case with Mazda, the delight is in the detail. And there is a lot of detail that makes this new CX-5 a significant leap forward over the previous generation.
True, it's just 10mm longer, but it's 20mm lower and the A-pillar has been moved 35mm rearwards, creating a more sporting profile.
At the same time it's become a more practical family SUV: the rear doors open six degrees wider for easier access, the rear seatbacks can now be adjusted for rake from 24 to 28 degrees, they're split 40/20/40 and cargo space has increased from 403 to 455 litres. There's also a power tailgate on the Limited for the first time.
The three SkyActiv powertrains are familiar: a 114kW/200Nm 2.0-litre petrol for the entry GLX, and a choice of the 140kW/251Nm 2.5-litre petrol or 129kW/420Nm 2.2-litre turbo diesel in both GSX and Limited (FWD or AWD for the petrol, AWD-only for the diesel).
But the 2.5-litre has revised calibration and new "edge cut" pistons that improve combustion control. The CX-5 diesel is now up to the same specification as the Mazda6, with DE Boost Control for the turbo, a Natural Sound Smoother that uses a damper to stifle diesel knock and Natural Sound Frequency Control adjust engine timing to reduce vibration.
The six-speed automatic transmission has been recalibrated in all models.
Fuel consumption has actually risen slightly on average: 6.9 litres per 100km for the 2.0, 7.5 litres for the 2.5 and 6.0 litres for the 2.2 diesel. Mazda says this is a consequence of the same kind of "real world" tuning that it applied to the CX-9's engine - in other words, enhancing driveability rather than chasing good laboratory figures. It's also carrying a little extra weight: the new model is 40kg heavier on average.
All models now have the G-Vectoring Control (GVC) system recently added to the Mazda3 and CX-9, a proprietary Mazda technology that reduces engine torque ever-so-slightly as you turn into a corner, improving steering response and making for a smoother passenger experience. There have also been minor changes to the suspension.
The CX-5 aims to be a quiet achiever... quite literally. Mazda has gone to town (or perhaps into the peaceful countryside) on noise, vibration and harshness (NVH). There is more sound deadening everywhere, including acoustic glass in the front-side windows (as per the larger CX-9), a third layer of sealing between the doors and around the tailgate - even extra rubber closing the gap between doorhandles and door-panels, to eliminate as much wind noise as possible.
Mazda has also blocked what it calls potential "sound paths" in the cabin. For example, hollow plastic sections in the boot have been covered over with lining to prevent unwanted road noise.
That's a lot of detail before we get to the driving, but it's important because it all explains why the new CX-5 treads the line between refinement and driver-engagement so beautifully.
We've had a preview drive of both 2.5-litre petrol and 2.2-litre turbo diesel models. Surprisingly, Mazda NZ's focus on private/user-chooser buyers (only five per cent of its annual sales are rentals, mostly Mazda3 models) means these two higher-end models account for 94 per cent of sales (split 66/28).
It really is remarkably quiet on the open road, making for a much more premium-feeling SUV than the previous model.
The petrol powertrain is as impressive as ever - perhaps still a little peaky when you're pressing on. But the the diesel remains the one for performance and refinement. Yes, refinement: it's actually quieter than the petrol engine and the surfeit of torque makes it a joy to drive.
Yes, we know that diesel is falling out of favour. But Mazda still does well with this engine: the previous version powered 23 per cent of all CX-5s sold, despite a $2000 price premium and NZ Road User Charges.
The diesel is easily the most enthusiast-oriented CX-5 engine - at least until we get a pumped-up version of the CX-9's 2.5-litre petrol-turbo in this model. One for the mid-cycle upgrade, perhaps.
The CX-5 also raises its game on an already-impressive blend of supple ride and engaging handling. The latter must be partly down to the GVC. Although the concept of GVC is that you don't really notice it working, it has greater potential in a high-riding SUV than a low hatchback like the Mazda3. The CX-5 flows beautifully through fast corners - again, the diesel enables greater momentum, but then the petrol has an extra Sport mode that sharpens up the transmission and piles on the revs.
The CX-5 has followed the CX-9's lead in stepping up to a much more luxurious cabin. The first-generation CX-5 was marred by a dowdy cabin, a facelift improved it - but this one has truly arrived.
Mazda has all but banished hard plastics and put plenty of attention into eliminating "visual noise" by hiding joins and closing gaps. It's incredibly swish for a mainstream family car. The GSX has gained the head-up display of the Limited, although curiously it gets the old Perspex-pop-up screen, while the Limited moves to a proper windscreen-projection system.
Safety steps up across the range. The GLX has gained Advanced Smart City Brake Support (ASCBS-F) and Secondary Collison Reduction (SCR), while the GSX now has LED lights and Traffic Sign Recognition for its head-up display. It also carries blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
There's still a lot of extra kit to justify the near-$10k premium for the Limited. It now has adaptive cruise control that stays operational right down to standstill, as well as unique equipment like adaptive lights, Driver Attention Alert, Forward Obstruction Warning, lane-keeping and lane-departure warning technology, and an ASCBS-F system that also works when you're reversing.