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SkyActiv technology sets Mazda CX-5 apart

THE CARGO area can carry four sets of golf clubs.

To grab market share in the fiercely competitive and crowded compact SUV segment, a car manufacturer must introduce a product with a new winning formula that sets it apart from the rest. Mazda Motor Corp., Japan’s fifth-biggest car maker by volume, has come up with a formula called SkyActiv Technology in a brand-new crossover model, the CX-5, to challenge the long-established market leaders.

Mazda has so much faith in SkyActiv Technology that the company plans to make it the blueprint for next-generation Mazda3 and Mazda6 models. Simply explained, SkyActiv Technology is a holistic approach to the development of an entirely new vehicle, integrating in harmony all the major components—the powertrain, chassis, body and suspension—to maximize fuel economy and minimize weight and emissions without sacrificing Mazda’s signature zoom-zoom-zoom driving dynamics.

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Fresh. Starting with a clean slate and developed fresh from the ground up, the front-wheel-drive CX-5 has no hand-me-down components, no platform, engine, transmission, etc., originating from other Mazda models. The SkyActive-G engine is a new-generation 2.0-liter, DOHC in-line 4, 16-valve aluminum powerplant with a long stroke design, direct injection, variable valve intake and exhaust valve timing and a carefully tuned 4-2-1 exhaust manifold that eliminates knocking caused by the engine’s high 14.0:1 compression ratio. The impressive compression ratio, extra-long expansion stroke, reduced internal friction and lightweight but rigid chassis made mostly of high-strength steel contribute to outstanding fuel economy and lower emissions.

Producing 162 hp at 6,000 rpm and 210 Nm max torque at 4,000 rpm, the CX-5 delivers adequate acceleration and respectable high-speed overtaking on the highway. But while the CX-5 weighs less than its competitors, its horsepower rating is also lower than theirs.  In fact, the CX-5 has one of the least powerful engines in its class, making it comparatively anemic in straight-line acceleration.

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THE CX-5’s Kodo-based design is stylish and athletic with a cockpit boasting dual-zone aircon, touchscreen audio system and 6-speed gearbox.

Pleasure. On the other hand, the pleasure of driving isn’t derived from barreling down straights alone. Thanks to a suspension that is calibrated for agility, high chassis rigidity, lightened weight, improved aerodynamics and most of all, the tactile steering and sporty handling offered by its superb 6-speed gearbox whether automatic or manual, the CX-5 is extremely engaging to drive on twisty roads and around wicked corners. It is taut and holds body roll tightly in check when cornering. The newly developed suspension link geometry and bush characteristics of the SkyActiv Chassis guarantee light, linear steering response at low- to mid-speeds and stability at high speeds. The CX-5t seems to exude a willingness to play and an eagerness to respond to your most adventurous driving commands.

I was given the opportunity to test-drive, for one week each, the SkyActiv-Drive automatic transmission (AT) and the SkyActiv-MT manual transmission variants. The AT model (P1.452 million) has a torque converter that is active only at speeds under 8 kph to get the car moving from standstill, but once the speed tops 8 kph, the gears lock up to establish a mechanically direct link with the engine, firing off shifts almost as quickly as a dual-clutch transmission and simultaneously enhancing fuel economy and throttle response. Whether you leave the tranny in “D” (Drive) or use the manual interface, the 6-speed AT shifts frequently to keep the car at optimal revs for enthusiastic driving. The steering gives a lot of feedback, due partly to an electric power steering assist system that doesn’t feel artificial or excessively boosted.

Enjoyable. If you ask me, the CX-5 SkyActiv-MT (P1.392 million) is more enjoyable to drive than the AT. Rowing through the 6-speed gearbox to maintain the car’s momentum is fun because of the crisp, precise short-throw stick shift, sporty heel-and-toe pedal layout similar to the Miata’s and a light linear clutch. With either the AT or MT, the CX-5 offers more athletic handling and a firmer yet still comfy ride than its mainstream rivals that are known for their soft, cushy ride quality…

Style-wise, the CX-5 was designed to look more intense and more energetic than its sleek, swoopy CX-7 and CX-9 siblings. Its 2,700 mm wheelbase makes it one of the longest in the compact SUV class and allows for a spacious cabin with plenty of head, shoulder and legroom for four adults, including driver. Outward visibility is above average, seats are supportive and the following are standard in both the AT and MT models: tilt-and-telescopic steering column, dual zone climate control, a 5.8-inch touchscreen infotainment system, USB port and auxiliary jack for smartphones and Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control, steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls. But alas, no paddle shifters.

Rear split. The 40/20/40 split rear seat backrest can be folded forward together or separately to accommodate long or bulky cargo or to increase cargo room to 1,560 liters. Even with the seats up, the cargo area can carry four sets of golf clubs. The backrest portions can be released from the cargo hold, which also offers some under-floor storage space. In the cabin, there are cupholders and cubbyholes galore for small items.

Speaking of safety, aside from its lightweight, highly rigid SkyActiv Body providing increased crash energy absorption, the CX-5 has front, side and curtain airbags as standard equipment in both the AT and MT variants plus anti-whiplash front seat head restraints and disc brakes with ABS on all four 17-inch wheels.

Bottom line, the CX-5 is the first production vehicle packaging SkyActiv Technology that programs high gas mileage (average 9.57 km per liter in combined city and highway driving), lower emissions, sporty handling, crisp shifting, a roomy cabin and cargo hold, a firm yet comfy ride and complete safety features. Other compact SUVs may also claim to deliver some or all of the above, but not with the playful, fun-to-drive temperament that remains Mazda’s core value.

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TAGS: CX-5, Mazda, Motoring, SkyActiv Technology, SUV
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