Autoevolution: 2016.5 Mazda CX-5 Farewell Test


'15 CX-5 AWD GT w/Tech Pkg

"The Mazda CX-5 is a perfect personification of how automakers improved the crossover, after many trials and errors, to what can only be described as the zenith of the genre. After all, more people bought into the crossover craze than any other type of passenger vehicle currently on sale. For Mazda, the CX-5 personifies the automakers evolution from small-time company to the kind of automaker able to duke it out on equal footing with big-shot outfits.

Sales are not up to par, sure, but year-over-year growth equates to a steady evolution. Bear in mind that if the CX-5 hadn't sold well, the MX-5 Miata ND wouldnt have happened. Now that the first-generation CX-5 has bitten the dust to make way for the all-new-for-2017 second generation, its imperative to say goodbye to the model that has recently left us with top honors.

When the CX-5 went into production in early 2012, the compact crossover replaced two models that were rather too archaic for what the world wanted from an all-around vehicle such as a crossover: the Tribute and CX-7. Two years after that, the CX-5 was refreshed with a mid-cycle update just in time for the 2016 model year. Continuous improvement of the species brought us the 2016.5 MY, the final iteration of the first-generation CX-5. Our test car is of the latter variety, a European-spec CX-5 with the 2.2-liter SkyActiv-D motor gifted with 150 PS (148 hp), AWD, and a six-speed manual transmission.

It also happens to be the Takumi, the fourth best out of the six trim levels available. It doesnt come with all the bang and whistles one can have in a CX-5, nor does it come with the original 19-inch wheels wrapped in 225/55 rubber. Due to the sub-zero weather of December/January, our test car was shod in 225/65 17-inch Toyo Open Country W/T winter tires. Theyre fantastic in bad weather or when the going gets off-road-ish, but on a dry strip of roadway, they worsen the ride and the tire roar is easily audible from inside.

Its not the cars fault, mind you. Speaking of faults, the 2016.5 Mazda CX-5 isnt without its fair share of puzzling quirks. The top of the dashboard is visible on the inside of the windshield, a condition that makes my eyes focus on the reflection instead of driving. The fuel filler door isnt flush with the body. Some may find the clutch to be a little bit harder to push than in other cars. The plastic cladding that wraps the lowermost part of the CX-5 gets dirty the moment you leave the car wash. OCD junkies may find themselves irritated by a wire that sticks out of the back of the rearview mirror. Taller people like me could use a little more knee room when seated in the rear.

These, however, are not the sort of deficiencies Id define as deal-breakers. Especially when weighed against the good points, the flaws become lost like the crackle on a radio or the lines on an old TV. The first thing that makes you go, Yes, I would like to own a CX-5, is the exterior styling. Mazdas first model to feature the Kodo - Soul of Motion design language is also the first Mazda nameplate gifted with the complete suite of SkyActiv technologies.

Hows the 2.2-liter turbo diesel? you might ask. As the U.S. market waits for the second-generation CX-5 to introduce the 2.2 SkyActiv-D, I feel obliged to tell you that the diesel engine is the proverbial real cherry. The worlds lowest diesel-engine compression ratio (14.0:1), a two-stage turbocharger, multi-hole piezo injectors, variable valve lift, reciprocating parts designed with low mechanical friction in mind, and an aluminum block help the SkyActiv-Ds cause. The design is so successful, theres no need for an expensive NOx aftertreatment system. Comparable diesels such as the OM 651, Mercedes most-produced engine, needs SCR tech to comply with EU6 legislation.

The moment you push the start button, its uncanny how quiet the 2.2 SkyActiv-D is, inside or outside the car, cold or warmed up. Only under heavy acceleration the oil-chugging four-cylinder mill shows its true colors. The motorway is the SkyActiv-D's favorite stomping ground, albeit the engine is good for city driving as well. Whats not so great, however, is the hamfisted i-stop function. In situations when the driver has to press/depress the clutch quickly, the start/stop system might go haywire. I admit that I cussed at the CX-5's i-stop for not doing its job properly on more than one occasion.

Acceleration is a bit so-and-so off the line, as expected from an engine that produces 380 Nm (280 lb-ft) of torque between 1,800 - 2500 rpm, yet it has to propel 1,555 kilograms (3,428 pounds) worth of weight. Accelerating from 50 to 80 km/h (30-50 mph) or 80 to 130 km/h (50-80 mph) is another thing, though. As long as youre in the right rev range and you shift early, the lesser version of the 2.2 SkyActiv-D sure knows how to pull.

Fuel economy is another area with hits and misses. Over 100 km/h (62 mph), the CX-5 morphs from a pipette into a binge drinker. When driven in a relaxed and unhurried manner, like I did in one instance, frugality can improve up to a ridiculous 4.2 l/100 km. Thats 67.2 UK mpg or 56 U.S. mpg, and less than all three official fuel consumption figures. It should be noted that the 4.2 l/100 km I'm talking about was achieved with cruise control, air con, and heated seats on, plus some luggage in the trunk, so it was no hypermiling drudgery.

The transmission, meanwhile, is all sorts of wonderful. I like a harder clutch with an easily detectable grab point. Operating the gear lever is an even nicer experience. If I didnt know better, Id confuse it for the heavenly six-speed stick shift in the MX-5 Miata. Surprisingly enough, rowing through the gears in the CX-5 feels a little more satisfying than doing the same job in the Mazda6.

Two years ago I also tested the CX-5 with the more powerful diesel mill and the SkyActiv-Drive six-speed automatic transmission. Yes, the torque converter/single clutch-based box. This combo is pretty damn good as well, but having a manual makes the CX-5 an idea more enjoyable to drive. Dont get me wrong, though: if it were my money and if I was in the market for a daily driver with good ground clearance, I would take the CX-5 only with a good old automatic. Why's that? For conveniences sake, of course.

The driving experience is a mixed bag of feelings, to be honest. In a straight line, the high driving position and nicely bolstered seat might lead you to believe that yes, this is just another crossover. In the corners, however, the Mazda CX-5 feels uncannily planted for a high-riding automobile. I am fully aware its not Porsche Macan-like nice to carve corners with, but for what the CX-5 is, it wont fail to keep the most enthusiastic drivers among us duly entertained. The slightly firm setup of the suspension helps in this regard.

Mazdas higher-ups always believed that driving is a feast for the senses and that cars are more than just a form of transportation. And it shows. Another thing that makes Mazda (and the CX-5) stand out from the crowd is that the body guys and the chassis guys work together to create a cohesive driving experience without compromising the ride, body roll, and so forth.

Another highlight of the CX-5 is how little brake dive there is. The electric power steering isnt exactly a paradigm of feel. The turning radius is also a bit meh. To its defense, the moment you give an input to the steering wheel, the front wheels turn in the desired direction with utmost haste. No sluggishness here, Im happy to report. This eagerness is a redeeming attribute of a car most people buy as the households only means of transportation.

And this gets us to life onboard. The simplicity of the layout is enhanced by the robustness of the materials used inside. No odd creaks, no annoying squeaks, buttons that feel just so, a steering wheel thats neither thick nor too thin, theres a lot to like about the CX-5. Even a mid-range Takumi model such as the tested vehicle comes with niceties that include faux carbon fiber here and there, two-zone climate control, two USB ports, keyless entry, and a rearview camera. Adaptive LED headlights, LED fog lights, 9-speaker Bose premium audio system, and 7-inch infotainment are also standard.

On the safety front, the pick of the lot is the Mazda Smart City Brake Support system. Not to be confused with SBS (Smart Brake Support), which works only at high speeds, SCBS uses a laser to scan what happens in front of the car at speeds between 4 and 30 km/h. If the system detects a risk of a collision, the brakes are prepared to maximum stopping power. If the driver cant be bothered from texting while driving, then SCBS slams the brakes automatically. The aim is to avoid or reduce the severity of the crash.

Compared to the range-topping Revolution Top tested in 2015, the Takumi made me understand something else about how Mazda rolls. The apparently unpretentious trim level and not exactly brawny engine convinced me, to my own surprise, that the automaker hasnt designed this car on a budget. Its a cheap car, yet it doesnt feel cheap at all. Mazda seems to have made this particular CX-5 as nice to drive and as feature-laden as possible for the money it asks for it. And that is a car that meets consumer satisfaction.

In hindsight, the lower and upper echelons of Mazda know what theyre doing. Masahiro Moro, the managing executive officer of the Japanese company, once said that the bombing of Hiroshima has given the people of Hiroshima, Japan the ability to overcome challenges. Considering that Mazda is the only company to successfully put the rotary engine into mass production, his argument stands true. What's more, do remember that Mazda is the only Japanse automaker to win the grueling 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The first-generation CX-5 for Mazda is more than just a compact crossover designed to appeal to as many people as possible. Its not a product stemmed from those blithering pinheads we often refer to as beancounters. It is a simple car that also happens to be very satisfying. And a satisfying ownership is arguably the best reason why its worth putting the CX-5 on your shortlist.

Having said these, the first-gen CX-5 stopped production approximately four and 11 months after the first JDM-spec unit rolled off the assembly line. The all-new model may be a bit bigger, sexier, and a little more refined, but the essential bits and bobs are shared with the now-defunct first generation.

Why is that? After testing the CX-5 twice, I am pretty damn sure that Mazdas recipe for the CX-5 was good from the very start. On that note, here's a good little question for you: if the recipe is still relevant compared to the modern crop of crossovers, then why would Mazda take a risk by changing it? "