At first glance, you probably won’t notice much difference between the current Mazda CX-5 and the new 2017 iteration. Dimensionally, they’re the same; even the platform that’s the foundation of this popular compact crossover is a bit stiffer, but otherwise unchanged. Start looking more closely, however, and you’ll find this CX-5 has changed a lot. It’s all in the details – nearly 700 of them, in fact.
By Clare Dear
The current CX-5 has recently overtaken Mazda’s perennial leader, the Mazda3, on its Canadian sales charts, so when you’re offering a product that people already like – a lot – you’re reluctant to mess too much with it, explained Dave Coleman, Mazda North America’s manager of vehicle dynamics engineering, at the 2017 CX-5’s media launch in San Diego.
What Coleman and his team did address in this mid-cycle makeover was a list of issues CX-5 owners and prospective buyers had noted, including reducing noise levels in the cabin, making the ride more compliant without sacrificing the vehicle’s excellent handling manners, enhancing throttle response – and even addressing the lack of a power liftgate, which apparently had been a deal-breaker for some shoppers.
Criticism of the current-generation CX-5 has focused on its elevated levels of noise, vibration and harshness, so Mazda engineers spent much time and effort tackling these issues. After spending several hours behind the wheel driving on Interstate highways and curvy secondary roads in the hilly terrain southeast of San Diego, the results are obvious – the improvements to the 2017 model are significant. It’s dramatically quieter; even more so than such premium brands as the BMW X1, Audi Q3 and Jaguar F-Pace.
The improvement has been achieved by focusing on details, such as tucking the wipers below the hood-line to get them out of the airstream; adding a third seal between the front and rear doors to prevent turbulence in the door gap; also adding a third seal around the side rear door to also prevent turbulence; making the inner side door seal deeper to maintain sealing pressure when aerodynamic forces pull the door outward at speed; a new seal in the roof/hatch gap; addition of sound-absorbing material in the cargo hatch; acoustic glass in the front side windows and a thicker windshield; felt-lined plastic cover under the body, plus numerous other new seals, carpeting and insulation throughout the vehicle. Enhancements to reduce the intrusion of road noise through the chassis include the addition of two dynamic dampers on each strut and a dynamic damper on the rear subframe.
Coleman said one of the other goals for the CX-5 makeover was to improve the vehicle’s ride quality without compromising the excellent steering and handling dynamics that set Mazda apart from other brands in the crowded compact crossover segment. Typically, softening the suspension results in delayed steering response, so to counter that dynamic, the rack-and-pinion steering box was mounted rigidly to the frame with rubber mounts and fluid-filled control arm bushings added to damp vibration. Lower-friction front struts were added and the spring perch angle was adjusted to reduce side loads on the struts.
Another feature to improve steering response was the addition of Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control, which reduces engine torque as the driver turns the steering wheel, shifting load to the front wheels for a more linear cornering response. On the road, especially on the hilly, winding two-lane routes, it was easy to forget you were driving a utility vehicle – it’s steering and handling manners felt more like a Miata. There was minimal body roll, the ride was comfortable but not floaty, and the steering was precise, with little need for correction when carving through the often-tight corners. It’s safe to say the engineers achieved their goal.
The refinements to the exterior of the CX-5 are subtle but effective. The leading edge of the hood has been extended and the grille has been revised. The headlights have been redesigned for a slimmer, more premium look and the wheel tread has been widened about 10 millimetres front and rear for a more muscular stance. The 19-inch alloy rims on the GT model (GX and GS trims get 17-inch alloy rims) have been redesigned to make the wheels look larger in the wheel wells. Much has changed for 2017, yet the stylish, athletic look that resonates so well with consumers remains intact.
The interior of the CX-5 has been given a complete makeover with the focus on making it more comfortable, especially for the driver. The steering wheel and pedals are lined up centrally in front of the driver, not angled or offset as in some competitive models. The gauge cluster is clean and easily readable – and if you prefer getting your driving info in a head-up format, a new full-colour active display on the windshield lets you keep your eyes on the road while checking such info as current speed, speed limit and navigation details. To improve outward visibility, the A-pillars have been moved rearward 35 millimetres, providing a wider field of view. The exterior side mirrors have been redesigned to also improve visibility.
The cabin is finished with upgraded materials and the liberal use of french seam stitching conveys a premium feel. The attention to detail is reflected in numerous other changes, such as reducing the width of the steering wheel spokes by 20 mm for a more comfortable grip; reducing the switch layout on the steering wheel from four rows to two; reducing the diameter of the heated wheel’s airbag cover by 14 mm. The rear door hinge has been revised to allow an opening angle of 80 degrees, six more than the current model, to improve accessibility.
Consumers asked for reclining rear seatbacks, so Mazda complied – the new model has two seatback positions, at 24 degrees and 28 degrees. The current model’s seatback angle was fixed at 22 degrees, yet cargo volume remains the same. Heated rear seats are now available, there are two USB ports in the centre armrest and the rear HVAC vents are now mounted in the centre console. The console and shift lever have been raised to match the level of the door armrests, making things more comfortable of the front row occupants.
Although the 155-horsepower, 2.0-litre SKYACTIV-G four-cylinder has been dropped for 2017 in the U.S. market, it’s still available to Canadian buyers, but only in the price-leading base front-wheel drive GX model and only paired with a six-speed manual gearbox. The rest of the CX-5 lineup gets the 2.5-litre SKYACTIV-G four with direct gas injection, double overhead camshafts, 16 valves and the full suite of SKYACTIV technologies. Mazda engineers have made some tweaks to the engine, such as adding asymmetrical oil rings and piston skirts to reduce skirt friction by 13%. The pistons have also been revised by trimming off the top edge, which was a hot spot that could trigger pre-ignition or knock in the high-compression (13.0:1) SKYACTIV engines.
These changes don’t seem to be much on paper, although they did boost horsepower output by three ponies (now 187 hp at 6,000 rpm) compared to the current engine. Torque remains at 185 lb-ft at 3,250 rpm (or at 4,000 rpm in all-wheel-drive trim.) The engine has been recalibrated to make its acceleration more linear and improve throttle response. Bottom line: The revised engine feels a bit more lively, although more grunt would certainly enhance its appeal to many buyers.
Additional power is expected to come later this year when the CX-5 adds a 2.2-litre diesel to its engine lineup. My first experience with this turbocharged four-cylinder was in Berlin during an engineering introduction to the SKYACTIV technologies in 2010. Mazda was expecting to offer the diesel in its 2012 Mazda6, but those plans were derailed when the engine couldn’t match revised U.S. emissions standards without the use of urea fluid to reduce NOx exhaust levels – something Mazda engineers were reluctant to do. When they did manage to tune the diesel to acceptable emissions levels, it lacked the performance Mazda insisted was essential to the brand. Puzzled by how the competition (VW) was meeting the target, Mazda engineers spent countless hours in the engine lab trying to achieve the required emissions level. (Oh, to have been a fly on the wall when they found out all they needed to have done was cheat!)
Those efforts, however, have now cleaned up the Mazda diesel so it does meet the more stringent emissions levels, and it does it without using urea fluid or sacrificing performance. No power specs are being offered yet, but the Berlin presentation revealed that engine would kick out double the torque of the gasoline engine with impressive fuel economy in the range of 4.5 L/100 km in highway driving, 6.4 in urban use. There were whispers in San Diego this latest iteration of the 2.2L diesel will have twin turbochargers, but regardless of the specifics, the diesel option should make the CX-5 even more appealing, especially for buyers already aware of a diesel’s advantages – and a VW rebate cheque in their pocket.
The base GX with the 2.0-litre four-cylinder, six-speed manual gearbox and front-wheel drive is the price leader in the lineup, starting at $24,900. Opting for the six-speed automatic transmission, which only pairs with the 2.5-litre SKYACTIV-G four-cylinder, plus i-ACTIV all-wheel drive bumps the list price to $28,300. The mid-range GS trim starts at $29,100 and includes the automatic transmission and 2.5-litre four-cylinder. Ticking the box for all-wheel drive adds $2,000. The premium GT trim includes the 2.5-litre SKYACTIV-G four-cylinder, six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. It’s priced at $34,700. The only option offered for the GT, other than premium paint finishes, is a Technology Package ($1,600) that adds several enhanced convenience and safety features.
Fuel consumption ratings for the GS 2.0-litre with the manual transmission and front-wheel drive are 9.4 litres/100 km in city driving, 7.4 on the highway. The 2.5-litre engine and automatic transmission are rated at 9.8 city and 7.7 highway with front-wheel drive; 10.2 city, 8.3 highway with all-wheel drive. Both engines use regular-grade fuel.
Compact CUV/SUVs have become the new 'standard' family cars - even though they're classified as trucks for sales reporting purposes. They've surpassed compact cars as the best-selling vehicle segment outside of pickup trucks and they're now challenging the pickups for overall sales supremacy. While the Mazda CX-5 is not among the best sellers in the category, it is arguably among if not atop the class in terms of what it offers both drivers and passengers. Think of it as the compact CUV for connoisseurs!
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