Mazda – Full circle

The more cars you drive, the harder it gets to be genuinely surprised. So thank you Mazda CX-5. I wasn’t expecting that.

It was the gear shift. As I exited the Mazda showroom where the Japanese constructor keeps its press car fleet in Portugal, I immediately took notice of the quality of the gear shift. It was good. It was very good.

It felt like something engineered by someone who knows what driving pleasure is all about. Someone for whom a car being good is simply not good enough. Mazda have been on a roll since the first-gen CX-5 came onto the market in 2012, but even my high expectations were immediately blown away by the CX-5 in the first 30 seconds. That gear shift. Magical.

Of course you can argue that not that many people will care about it and that in a world where a new SUV comes out every week, it’s not the gear shift feel that will sway a potential buyer. Not only that, so many new cars come with automatic transmissions that fewer and fewer people care about shifting or what it means in a car.

I agree with all that, but bear with me. The quality of the CX-5’s transmission is not just a way to understand the transmission itself: it is a reflection of how Mazda is approaching the engineering of their cars these days. Nothing is left to chance and, trust me, premium is the right word to describe it.

This is the second generation CX-5. The first one, launched in 2012, was the first Mazda to introduce the Kodo – Soul of Motion design language that completely turned the constructor around. Along with Kodo, the CX-5 introduced the Skyactiv engine and transmission technology and set the Japanese name on a path that would, in just half a decade, define it as one of the most technologically advanced constructors of them all.

In fact, after the CX-5, Mazda applied the same principles to the whole range: the 6 saloon and station, the 2, the 3 hatchback and saloon, the CX-3 and the fourth-gen MX-5. This means it has now come full circle and the CX-5 is again the first model to introduce the next array of Mazdas for the foreseeable future.

It also means there is added pressure over every new model Mazda shows the public. There were 1.5 million people who bought a first generation CX-5 and the new one has to be an evolution of a car that didn’t get a bad review anywhere. As you have probably figured out by now, it most definitely is.

I borrowed a front-wheel drive 2.2 diesel with 150 horse power with the aforementioned six-speed manual transmission. I have sung the praises of the gearbox, but everything else felt just as good. The engine is smooth and pulls strongly from as low as 1500rpm, while offering a real-world driving fuel consumption of 6.5 litres per 100km.

The ride is superb, but the absolute best thing about the new CX-5 is the way it handles, knowing how well it rides. This is not a sporty car, obviously, but there is real pleasure to be had at the wheel. The car is so balanced, so well judged, it put a smile on my face every time I drove it. It’s comfortable, it’s practical, it’s very, very, well-built and although the infotainment system is not the most advanced in the world, nor the most intuitive, when you get to grips with it, it actually works pretty well.

The FWD version is the only one eligible for Class 1 at the toll if you install the Via Verde device; all 4×4 cars are automatically Class 2. As for prices, the CX-5 is not what you’d call cheap, but it offers a lot for what it costs. It also depends on what level of equipment you go for: it all starts at €33,000 for the entry-level Essence, the middle ground Evolve is closer to €36,000 and the top of the line Excellence nudges above €40,000.

I am absolutely sure it is worth the money. The CX-5 looks really good, drives spectacularly well for a high-riding car and feels a cut above the direct competitors in just about every aspect, bar the in-car entertainment. But I would trade that in an instant for how much its engine, gearbox and chassis entertain me on every journey, so this car gets a very big endorsement. It is my favourite non-German-premium SUV on the market.

By Guilherme Marques