Beefier, prettier, cleverer

With the CX-5, the driver gets instant gratification with the highly responsive throttle and ultra-linear power delivery.
With the CX-5, the driver gets instant gratification with the highly responsive throttle and ultra-linear power delivery.ST PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER TAN

Mazda's CX-5 is back - with a taut chassis, a smarter front grille and sharp steering

When I see the word SkyActiv, I think of Skynet, that homicidal artificial intelligence system in the 31-year-old Terminator movie franchise.

SkyActiv is, of course, not related to Skynet (as far as we know). Launched in Japan four years ago, it is a Mazda technology underpinned largely by high-compression engines. The first SkyActiv model - the CX-5 crossover - arrived here in 2012.

Like the Terminator cyborg played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, the CX-5 is back. This time, with a beefier engine, a number of new features and aesthetic improvements (although liquid metal is still not yet an option).

The test variant is powered by a 2.5-litre engine which makes 192bhp and 256Nm of torque. Those are respectable figures for a non-turbo, made possible by a diesel-like compression ratio of 13:1.

Although the specs sheet says the car clocks a 0-100kmh timing of 9.2 seconds (modest by today's standards), it feels considerably swifter in real life. Perhaps it has to do with its highly responsive throttle and ultra-linear power delivery.

  • SPECS/ MAZDACX-5 2.5 2WD

  • Price: $167,888 with COE
  • Engine: 2,488cc 16-valve inline-4
  • Power: 192bhp at 5,700rpm
  • Torque: 256Nm at 3,250rpm
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual select
  • 0-100kmh: 9.2 seconds
  • Top speed: 198kmh
  • Fuel consumption: 6.9 litres/ 100km
  • Agent: Trans Eurokars Mazda

There is no dead space in the pedal action - you get instant gratification with every degree of movement.

The same alacrity applies to the rest of the car. Its chassis is taut and coherent and its steering super sharp and a pleasure to your senses. despite its sometimes intrusive lane-keeping assistance system.

Via a camera system that recognises lane markings, the electronic nanny beeps and nudges you back in lane if you so much as touch a millimetre of white.

Personally, I think this is bordering on creepy (if not a tad irritating), so I turn it off.

The CX-5 is even more continental than the first variants I drove, a 2-litre petrol and 2.2-litre turbodiesel. Its strong and linear acceleration aside, the car's ride and handling characteristics make you think you are in something like an Audi Q3.

That's the other trademark of SkyActiv. The CX-5 2.5 is agile and manoeuvrable and very forgiving when you put a foot wrong.

In many ways, this Mazda drives more like a hot hatch than a crossover. Not only that, it behaves like a turbo, even if its specs suggest otherwise.

But its unbridled performance comes at the expense of fuel efficiency. The test-car averaged 12 litres/100km over three days of driving in city traffic and long uninterrupted jaunts across the Pan-Island Expressway.

It is relatively thirsty for a car that offers not much more room than a compact Mazda3. But for its performance, it is par for the course, even if a turbo model with a smaller engine displacement might offer a lower consumption figure.

Like most facelifts, it features a few cosmetic tweaks. Its headlamps get a new design that incorporates daytime-running lights; its front grille is smarter and bolder; and its wheels are sportier and fiercer-looking.

Inside, the main difference is a connectivity suite that offers the usual phone-pairing services and navigation via a 7-inch touchscreen.

You can also access the sytem via a BMW iDrive-like knob on the centre console or handy steering- mounted switches.

Other than its less-than-intuitive navigation, the onboard systems are user-friendly.

Elsewhere, the car's self-releasing electronic parking brake and keyless system are welcome additions. And its dual-zone climate control is as efficient as those in other Japanese cars.

Other useful features include a blind spot monitor, which beeps if you are in danger of changing lanes unsafely.

Another system warns the driver of oncoming vehicles as he is reversing - a function Audi just introduced in its new Q7.

It is truly clever for a mass market model. Perhaps a little too clever.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2015, with the headline 'Beefier, prettier, cleverer'. Print Edition | Subscribe