Last week, Mazda invited Drive Life to the launch of the all-new CX-5. This was no mid-life face lift – this new CX-5 would bring the look into the current Mazda family design, along with a number of other significant improvements.

After testing the CX-9 recently, the CX-5 had some big boots to fill. The CX-9 sets new standards of NHV and overall design excellence – would the new CX-5 measure up to its bigger sibling?

Day One: the big reveal

A bunch of motoring journalists arrived at Villa Maria Estate near Auckland Airport. After obligatory food, coffee and tall stories, we were taken to a meeting room to be given the low-down on the new CX-5, including a talk from the Program Manager for the CX-5, Masaya Kodama, who flew in from Japan for this event.

Apparently the new CX-5 is going to be the ‘icon car’ for Mazda – it used to be the Mazda6, but they have so much confidence in this car, they feel it is worthy of the title.

Although the CX-5 was launched in 2012, it quickly gained market share, and accounts for a quarter of all Mazda New Zealand sales. In 2016, globally they sold 370,000 units – pretty good for a car only launched in 2012. This represents a third of all Mazda sales.

The new CX-5 has a focus on driving pleasure, and this was rammed home a fair number of times by Mazda staff. It’s now all about the driving experience, and the driver (more on this later).

Included in the new CX-5 range is a new colour – sort of. Mazda’s signature premium colour, Soul Red, has undergone some treatment. It’s now called Soul Red Crystal, and has 50% more depth and is 20% more vivid. At the lunch break, Mazda lined up a current CX-5 in Soul Red and the new CX-5 in Soul Red Crystal and yes, you could see the new colour had a lot more depth. It makes Soul Red just that much nicer. Fortunately, there was no talk of any new grey colours.

Soul Red Crystal

The new CX-5 embodies more of the evolution of JINBA ITTAI, or driving dynamics to you and I. Part of this includes G-Vectoring Control (GVC), which controls the torque of the engine as well as the suspension and steering, and is supposed to make cornering, steering and car control just that much easier. Big promises being made here. We were shown a side-by-side video of a passenger in a current gen CX-5 and a new gen CX-5 – the difference was noticeable. In the new gen car, the passenger was not being thrown around anywhere near as much the as the new car. Still, we can’t just believe what a manufacturer shows us – this would be put to the test later in the driving programme.

After the success of the CX-9, the CX-5 has also had the NVH treatment; Mazda say this is the biggest advantage over the current car.

Of course, there’s been other improvements as well – in the interior, there are two 2.1amp USB ports in the armrest for the rear passengers, a windscreen-projected HUD for the premium Limited model, a flip-up HUD for the GSX model, a power tailgate (Limited) and the inclusion of Activsense technology, which now includes the ability for the adaptive cruise control to bring the car to a stop. Other safety features include Advanced City Braking system to detect pedestrians.

Great to see the previous model and the new one side by side – and ‘old’ Soul Red next to Soul Red Crystal

Tim Nalden, the Product Planning Manager for Mazda New Zealand, tells us that the current CX-5 ranks second to the Kia Sportage, and has a number of times taken the top spot. Mazda is confident that the new CX-5 will allow them to take that top spot once again.

He confirms there will be three models of CX-5 in New Zealand; the GLX, the GSX and Limited. However, he also tells us that the base model makes up for a mere 10% of sales, so buyers are willing to pay extra to get one of the premium models.

There’s also a choice of engine;

  • 2.0-litre Skyactiv petrol, 114kw/200Nm
  • 2.5-litre Skyactiv petrol, 140Kw/251Nm
  • 2.2-litre diesel Skyactiv, 129Kw/420Nm

You can get the 2.0-litre in the GLX and GSX models, and the 2.5-litre and the diesel is available in only the GSX and Limited. Only the GSX and Limited are available in AWD.

Tim goes on to say that the interior is more driver-centric than before, and an effort has been made to remove all hard plastics where the driver’s hands fall to touch.

Also, the rear doors now open wider and all doors now have three seals for extra quietness by stopping air turbulence in the door gap. This has an added benefit when you close any of the doors – there is almost no sound, not even a clunk. It’s a very pleasing non-sound to close the CX-5’s doors.

The Limited model comes with an all-new, 10-speaker Bose stereo system, and SatNav is built-in to the GSX and Limited (optional on the base model). Strangely, there is no capability for Apple Carplay or Android Auto. The GLX starts at $39,995 and the diesel Limited at the top of the price range is $57,495.

So – what’s it like?

Enough talk – time to go and look at these cars, and drive them.

Think of a smaller CX-9 – you now have a CX-5. That’s not a bad thing, as the current Mazda family look is a superb design. There is no mistaking it, and it looks stunning.

Putting my bags in the boot, you can see it’s a bit larger than the outgoing model, and nicely finished too. It’s 52 litres larger, which is a noticeable increase.

Time to hit the road!

We grabbed a 2.5-litre petrol AWD Limited model, and headed out from Villa Maria Estate and onto Highway 1. Like a few weeks ago with the C-HR launch, I preferred to be a passenger before taking the wheel. First impressions? Spacious, well built.

I could see that the hard plastics were well hidden, and most of the touch surfaces are a very nice padded leather or leatherette type of finish.

The media system is Mazda’s standard fare, and works perfectly. Like the Mazda3 and CX-9, there’s a main jog dial and a separate volume knob next to it. The car didn’t feel as surreal to be in as the CX-9, but still a nice, quiet ride, with some road noise from the tyres. Engine noise was louder than I had expected in this petrol version – on hard acceleration by my driver, it was much more vocal than I had expected.

A driver change at halfway to our lunch stop, and my turn behind the wheel. Performance was more leisurely than I had thought it should be from a 2.5-litre petrol engine – not slow, but it really needs the CX-9’s turbo petrol engine. The transmission is fantastic – perfectly behaved, smooth and doing what it should, when it should.

We switched positions again at another point, and then headed onto some twisty back roads behind Pukekohe Race Track. My driver knew this road, and it showed. He drive with vigour, and with the G-Vectoring Control I was sitting calmly in my seat and yes – I was not being thrown around in any way at all – just like the video. It was almost weird as we were powering around sharp bends, I was sitting calmly and not swaying from side to side. Excellent.

We stopped for lunch at Bracu, an olive orchid in Bombay (the Auckland one). A superb lunch was had, and I managed to grab the Soul Red Crystal car to snap a few photos. This car has a white leather interior, and while it may be impractical for some, it sure looks different to your usual all-black leather interior.

Some negotiation after lunch with other drivers saw us grab a black, 2.2-litre diesel AWD Limited. I took the first half of the drive, and what a difference that engine makes. This is the model to buy. The diesel engine transforms the CX-5 from a nice drive to an engaging and more pleasing drive, with dollops of torque thrown in.

Amazingly, both I and my co-driver thought the diesel engine was quieter than the petrol motor. Go figure.

Coming out of tight bends, a jab of the gas pedal saw the rear end come back into line, and it makes for a better driver’s car than the petrol version. My turn for a few twisty roads now – the handling and steering of the new CX-5 is excellent. With G-Vectoring Control, the steering seems to need less input to make things happen, and the car tracks beautifully around bends, no matter how tight or bumpy. Mazda have a winner with GVC – this is an SUV you can confidently chuck around a twisty road.

We swapped over again, and I decided to test out the back seat. Lots of legroom, even behind my driver who is 6 foot. Comfort too is excellent with supportive seats, and I can see teenagers loving having those two grunty USB ports right in the armrest – these should charge tablets, which need lots of power. The new CX-5 now comes with rear air vents in the back of the centre console. The rear seat also has two recline positions, which is a nice touch on a long trip. Rear windows are now deeper too.

We stopped for the night at Puka Park Lodge, in Pauanui. On arrival, we were given the run-down on the mid-life updates for the Mazda2 and CX-3. This will be in another article.

Day two: return to Auckland

Actually, not much happened today other than me sharing another diesel Limited AWD and heading back to Auckland. But it did cement my initial impressions of the diesel CX-5: it’s the way to go. Grunty for passing or cornering, smooth and quiet. Handling? Excellent, and ride is the same – very compliant. Road noise is there but we both agreed a change of tyres would be the way to go to remove that.

I think I’d struggle with anything but the Limited model though – adaptive cruise, heads-up display (with Traffic Sign Recognition and SatNav instructions), both front seats are electric and heated – it’s got all the goodies you could want.

At one point, I needed to do a U-turn and this showed one of the CX-5’s strengths – it has a very tight turning circle. Handy in the city.

At the end of this launch and drive program, both my co-drivers of both days had the same opinion – there was little on the CX-5 you wouldn’t like. After just a couple of days of driving it – even if only for relatively short bursts – it comes across as a competent driver’s SUV.

A full test on the car is coming, but first impressions are great – another winner for Mazda.

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How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm also an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.

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