It might be a cliché but it's true that you can't afford to stand still in the car business. As fuel prices continue to rise the world over and buyers seek more efficient modes of transport, the key to any future success will be to produce vehicles that offer meaningful savings. However, achieving this without impacting negatively on the ownership experience isn't easy.
Mazda hopes it has cracked it though, with the development of a suite of efficiency and performance improvements that it can apply to its whole range of vehicles. Dubbed ‘Skyactiv' by the carmaker, it hopes that the various developments will help to enhance its future models in the eyes of buyers.
First up to get the Skyactiv treatment is Mazda's new mid-size SUV, the CX-5. Sitting below the long-running CX-7, this new model is a five-seater with the option of front and four-wheel drive plus the choice of diesel and petrol engine and manual and auto transmissions.
Weight is a killer in the car business; not only can it have a bad effect on crash performance and fuel economy but it also doesn't help when it comes to vehicle agility. High-rise SUVs often feel it the most, which is why Mazda has chosen a combination of stronger and lighter weight materials for the CX-5's construction. This hasn't come at the expense of safety, as the company is keen to stress that it's spent considerable time fine-tuning crash structures as part of its Skyactiv philosophy.
Agility is another area Mazda was keen to improve on. The company wanted to ensure that the CX-5 complemented rather than blighted the reputation of the likes of the MX-5 roadster and 6 saloon. The good news is that the engineers have largely succeeded, with the CX-5 feeling uncharacteristically nippy for a high-riding SUV.
Think of it more as a lofty family hatch and you'll get the picture. Weighty controls — steering, gearshift — should appeal to the keen drivers, while ride comfort easily rivals that of a conventional car. Granted, despite the option of all-wheel drive, the CX-5 is no extreme mud-plugger, but its behaviour should please those who tow.
A lot of the CX-5's on-road talent can be traced to its engines. This is another Skyactiv-themed element of the car, as the units offer low levels of consumption and emissions alongside above average levels of performance.
The line-up starts with a 163bhp petrol motor for those focused on two-wheel drive motoring. Diesel power, though largely irrelevant in our market, is a strong favourite in other parts for obvious reasons — plenty of torque and sensible economy. Mazda's offers two 2.2-litre units (148 and 172bhp). Amongst the various engineering tweaks, it's chosen to fiddle with the engines' compression ratios to maximise both economy and power, the end result being a very creditable 3.8 litres-per-100km for the low power motor in two-wheel drive guise and 4.3 litres-per-100km for the high power unit when chosen with all-wheel drive. Performance is also brisk, with the 2.0-litre petrol front-wheel-drive version delivering 155bhp and 200Nm of torque at 2,000 revs, propelling the SUV to 100kph in a respectable 9.4 seconds.
In practical terms the CX-5 performs very well. Mazda's engineers have done a good job of balancing the need to reduce consumption and emissions with the desire to make the car engaging and interesting. That it rides well is a major plus and demonstrates that the firm's Skyactiv-themed technology bundle is more than just a promotional hook.
Staying with the practicalities of ownership, the CX-5's cabin is up to Mazda's usual high standards regarding fit and finish while occupants won't be short of space, especially in the back. Overall, the car's cabin is as well screwed together and as comfortable as many of its premium-priced rivals.
And not just comfortable, the CX-5 is also well equipped. There's a considerable amount of kit out of the box, with the base model including a decent audio unit, MP3 player connections, Bluetooth, climate control, fully adjustable front seats, plenty of airbags and electronic stability controls. Sport adds bigger wheels, leather, reversing camera, upgraded audio unit and keyless entry.
Each trim level can be boosted by an integrated sat-nav, while selected models can also be specified with an optional safety pack comprising lane departure warning, auto-sensing headlight high beam control and a rear vehicle monitor in European markets.
Generous in many ways — equipment, performance, wallet-friendly economy — Mazda's CX-5 promises to put the company on the shopping lists of cost-conscious motorists seeking a good balance of low running costs and premium-level refinement.
With the promise of similar performance gains from other future models, Mazda's new-found engineering talent shouldn't be underestimated.
Specs & ratings
Model CX-5 Skyactiv
Engine 2.2-litre four-cyl
Transmission Six-speed auto, FWD
Max power 155bhp @ 6,000rpm
Max torque 200Nm @ 2,000rpm
Top speed NA