It is not so long ago that Mazda was an also-ran, existing as a mere sidekick to parent company Ford. It had its superb MX-5 and many other good models but it was living in the shadow of the Blue Oval to a big extent. Then the Japanese marque went on its own and has seemingly never looked back.
The company focused on making great cars again, so much so that it grabbed the attention of Toyota, which began using the company’s Skyactiv engines in its Yaris models built in South America. Last week Toyota announced further collaboration with Mazda.
Today the brand has a strong line-up, marred only perhaps by the rather outdated BT-50 bakkie. It has great design, even greater engineering and a focus on delivering great drivers’ cars as well as models that have a high level of equipment.
A case in point is the latest CX-5 sport utility vehicle (SUV). We had the top-spec Akera model with all-wheel drive. At R557 500, the pricing is rather steep but as our time with the model progressed, it became apparent that you pay a lot, but you get a lot.
The styling is sharp and tidy. There are no strange lines or curves and the narrow headlights give it a serious but sporty look. Even the protective cladding along the side sills and around the wheel arches seems practical and purposeful without looking cheap. Someone really thought through the design of the car.
It is not just design that has been carefully considered. The rear passenger doors open to almost 90 degrees, which is perfect for climbing in and out and even better if you need to strap kids into a child seat.
On the subject of kids, there is one area where someone without kids was clearly in charge. Forget to lock your car and walk away and the car will lock itself. It’s a great security feature, but on a number of occasions I found that in the time it took me to climb out of the driver’s seat and walk around to the other side of the car to get my daughter out, the car had locked itself.
Another anomaly on this front is when you push the button to close the electronic tailgate, the car will not lock itself if you walk away. You have to wait for the tailgate to close and then walk away before it locks.
Perhaps that’s a security thing — you have to keep an eye on your shopping before the door closes.
The interior is as well designed as the exterior. We have often said that Audi has the best interiors, but in some ways Mazda beats the German firm.
The driving position is superb and the layout places everything perfectly within reach. The infotainment system features a dial to scroll through settings but there is also a touchscreen.
The touchscreen is a bit odd, though, because sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I have often found this with Mazda touchscreens — you find yourself questioning whether you are a bit crazy and it is not a touchscreen at all, but it is.
The Akera model features a 2.2-litre turbodiesel engine generating 129kW and 420Nm.
On paper the power does not seem that high and you do notice this when conducting higher-speed overtaking. But it is in town where the engine excels. There is almost no sign of that infernal turbo lag. Instead, the car pulls really well. It sits nicely too, with a great suspension that is as at home in town as it is on an open and twisty road.
The head-up display appears on a piece of plastic that rises from the instrument cowling, something we are not great fans of in a Mini either, but the information is good and includes notification that something is approaching your blind spots.
It also displays an icon when the lane departure assistance is in operation. This system is like that in Infiniti models in that it insists on being exactly between the lines. Stray a centimetre and the car pulls itself back to the dead centre of the lane. This is all fine until you move to avoid a pothole. A couple of times the car wanted to put me in the hole rather than stray across a line.
Rear legroom is good and the leather upholstery feels luxurious and comfortable. The standard boot space is 442 l, which is ample for most and can be expanded to 1 914l by folding down the rear seats.
It’s a tough market out there, particularly when it comes to small SUVs. The CX-5 has to compete with lower-spec derivatives of the Audi Q3 and BMW X1, but perhaps more obviously has to beat the Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage and Toyota Rav4. It does so comfortably, with better styling, a better drive and better equipment. It even has better standard specification than our segment favourite, the Volkswagen Tiguan. Would I take it over the Volksie? I just might. – Mark Smyth
Fast Facts: Mazda CX-5 2.2L DE Akera AWD Automatic
Engine: 2191cc four-cylinder turbodiesel
Power: 129kW at 4500rpm
Torque: 420Nm at 2000rpm
Transmission: six-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 9.5-seconds (claimed)
Top speed: N/A
Fuel: 6.0l/100km (claimed combined)
Price: From R557 500