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Car reviews - Mazda - CX-5 - Diesel range

Launch Story

1 Jun 2012

OUR first Australian spin behind the wheel of the CX-5 came at the local press launch of the petrol version late last month, where we found the little SUV to be a fine car in need of more oomph. Well, here is the oomph we craved.

The new SkyActiv 2.2-litre diesel is out of the ordinary, because this oil-burning engine fills the role of ‘performance leader’ for the range, in addition to the fuel efficiency and load-lugging mantles more traditionally associated with such powertrains.

With 129kW of power and a thumping 420Nm of torque – some 222Nm more than the petrol – it’s easy to see why. The claimed 0-100km/h sprint time of 9.4 seconds seems surprisingly modest as it seems faster, though the engine does have to lug around an extra 100kg over the petrol models.

Aside from a small amount of initial lag, this is a strong, quiet and exceedingly potent mill with a muscular mid-range and an unusually rev-happy nature (we hit the 5500rpm redline with ease).

Keep in mind that all this was accomplished carrying two 100kg-plus occupants, bringing the total weight of our test car – with a full tank of petrol – to within breathing distance of the two-tonne mark.

You will also struggle to find a quieter and more refined oil-burner in anything short of a $100k premium Euro passenger car, with an almost complete absence of clatter on start-up or idle.

It also sounds far less gruff and begrudging under spirited driving than most diesel rivals, and the ‘i-stop’ idle-stop system is one of the least obtrusive examples we have experienced.

With spirited driving, we naturally couldn’t match the claimed 5.7L/100km combined fuel economy though, instead achieving 8.5L/100km on a mixture of back roads, suburban streets and gravel tracks.

The CX-5 is also the first Mazda passenger diesel (the new BT-50 ute does offer a diesel/auto pairing but is defined as a commercial) available with an automatic transmission, with previous CX-7, 3 and 6 oil-burners limited to less-popular self-shifting gearboxes.

Smooth and unobtrusive, it makes good use of the acres of torque at its disposal, while the manual mode is relatively quick between the ratios and more than happy to obediently hold a gear even up to the redline.

The DSG dual-clutch unit found in the Volkswagen Tiguan and Skoda Yeti still pips it, though. We would like the see paddle-shifters available, too, since this is one of those rare diesel SUVs with a playful enough streak in its nature to warrant them.

In terms of handling dynamics, the CX-5 diesel is an interesting beast. Since the petrol launch earlier this month, Mazda has consistently drawn parallels to a cheetah – the spirit of which is said to be evident not only in its lithe styling but also the car’s agility on the road.

We found the ride to be superbly poised, with the suspension handling everything from small potholes to unsurfaced country roads with consummate ease. Even on gravel at higher speeds, the car remained firmly planted, with the AWD system handling the loose surface with aplomb.

The electric steering is not the most communicative but is well-weighted and firms up with speed in sweeping bends and is light and easy around town.

But, while it undoubtedly sits close to the top of its class in terms of handling prowess alongside the Tiguan and Yeti, one can’t quite escape the fact that this is still a tall and boxy SUV. There’s pitch and roll in sharp corners and a propensity for safe and predictable understeer.

While the muted diesel and lack of tyre roar helps NVH and overall refinement, we noticed a lot of noise emanating from the underbody as it was pelted with loose stones, as well as wind noise from the side mirrors at speeds above 80km/h.

The look and feel of the CX-5 cabin is excellent, with an abundance of soft-touch surfaces and glossy black trim highlights giving it a premium feel to match its premium pricing.

The diesel commands a $3000 premium over the petrol engine, and it is not available in entry-level Maxx specification unfortunately, Mazda Australia has no firm plans to offer the diesel in the more price-sensitive lower end of the segment.

At $39,040 for the cheapest Maxx Sport variant, the CX-5 diesel is pricier than entry-level automatic oil-burners like the Nissan X-Trail (from $38,240), Tiguan ($38,490) and Kia Sportage ($35,720).

However, with a range of standard features including Tom Tom satellite-navigation, reverse camera (helpful considering the hefty D-pillar) and every type of audio connectivity under the sun, it stacks up well if you can make the stretch, and is also cheaper than its manual-only CX-7 predecessor ($43,640).

At $46,200 (or $48,190 with the Tech Pack active safety kit), the flagship Grand Touring is pushing up toward the bottom end of premium Euros like the BMW X1, but the powertrain and specification on offer doesn’t render this too much of a stretch.

Roominess inside is commendable, with plenty of head clearance and legroom in the rear seats, even behind the tallest of drivers. The 40/20/40 folding rear seats liberate plenty of storage, and even with these pews up there is enough room in the luggage area for a big pram and some baggage.

One concern was front passenger legroom, with both myself and a colleague finding our knees uncomfortably close to the dash, even with the seat all the way back. However, since both of us are at the extreme end of the height scale, this may not be a bugbear for many.

The occasional squeak from the hard transmission tunnel plastics, an occasionally dim-witted sat-nav and audio streaming system, and the lack of air-conditioning vents in the rear also take points way from an otherwise commendable interior.

In most ways, the CX-5 diesel impresses. The new engine is a belter and, even if we couldn’t achieve the fuel economy claimed by Mazda, its sheer grunt more than makes up for it.

It’s also well-equipped, rides beautifully and handles decently (for an SUV, at least). Despite a few flaws – its steep entry price not the least among them – this is a very accomplished vehicle and a worthy addition to Mazda Australia’s highly-popular range.

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