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IF ‘post-Trump’ is now a recognised term in educated society, then ‘post-CX-9’ must be a thing in Mazda’s inner sanctum.
Not the heavy, thick-pillared old lump but the comparatively svelte, COTY-winning new one. It has set a high-water mark for Mazda SUVs – and large SUVs in general – that makes the task of every subsequent newcomer that much harder.
Here, the microscope is focused pointedly and critically at the new-gen CX-5. And making its mission doubly difficult is the model we’ve chosen – the most expensive front-drive CX-5 you can buy ($34,390 Maxx Sport) featuring a 114kW 2.0-litre engine that could theoretically cure insomnia. Yet the variant that had us concerned may be the runt of the new CX-5 litter is actually anything but.
The engine is definitely a surprise. Seemingly unchanged since 2012, in front-drive Maxx Sport guise, this unassuming little unit has to lug 74kg more than it did five years ago, yet Mazda has clearly made improvements. Even in an SUV as beefy as this, it’s a peach of thing, revving out keenly (and usefully) to 6700rpm without any of the vibes that plague the CX-3.
Its ultimate lack of muscle sees the six-speed auto hunt up and down a bit on hills (in regular Drive mode, not ultra-primed Sport), yet the transmission calibration is close to spot-on and overall refinement is bloody good. The base 2.0-litre even has personality.
So does the rest of the new-gen CX-5. Inside, attention to detail is way ahead of the old car, hitting all the marks in terms of what you expect from a medium SUV, and then some (despite the lack of a digital speedo). Stitched dashboard and door tops look and feel really upmarket for $34K, as does the horizontal design aesthetic and metal detailing.
Better still is the CX-5’s leap forward in seat comfort and useability. Even the base Maxx gets a height-adjustable front passenger’s seat – a long-overdue feature in any Mazda – while Maxx Sport scores rear air vents, four auto up/down windows, and dual USB slots in its centre rear armrest to calm the little coots.
Both front seats are deeper and more supportive, as is the rear bench, making passengers feel part of the car. But this relatively low-slung seating feel doesn’t come at the expense of all-round vision. Even with charcoal trim like our test car, the new CX-5’s thinner pillars, lower dash and superior accoutrements make it feel so much more welcoming.
Pity its ride isn’t quite at the same level. Around town with just the driver on board, the Maxx Sport’s ride is entirely acceptable – firm, yet well-controlled – but over our punishing four-up test road, the CX-5 simply couldn’t relax.
It fails to iron out the low-frequency bumps that a really good ride does (see Subaru Forester) and can ultimately be a bit tiresome on longer, bumpier country journeys. The more challenging the road, the better the CX-5 is, but it always feels primed when sometimes you just want it to chill.
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Where that works to its advantage is in corners. The Mazda can’t quite match the Escape’s instant poise, but its crisp steering is nicely weighted and, in typical Mazda fashion, the harder you drive it, the sweeter its balance and the greater its handling involvement.
Tyre-noise suppression has simply caught up to its rivals, rather than setting a new standard, yet the CX-5 has gone from being a car that gets constantly singled out for NVH crimes to a car where it’s now a non-issue.
Yet this is no baby CX-9. The new CX-5 is a sportier, younger person’s car than its plush big brother. And this front-drive Maxx Sport variant represents amazing value for money, especially when you take into account the CX-5’s best-in-class resale.
Neither as fast or as frugal, or even as roomy, as the new Tiguan, it’s the CX-5’s engagement that gets it over the line. Unlike the old model, and unlike the base Tiguan, the new-gen CX-5 has warmth and personality on its side, and that’s the stuff that builds relationships, rather than just admiration.
Model: 2018 Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport
Engine: 1998cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v
Max Power: 114kW @ 6000rpm
Max Torque: 200Nm @ 4000rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 10.4L/100km (tested)
On sale: Now
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