Mazda CX-5 and new Mazda3 first drive
Mazda has one of the most consistently excellent driving experiences this side of BMW throughout its lineup—from the tiny MX-5 sports car to the CX-9 full-size SUV. The one that started this approach, with the endearing tagline Zoom-zoom, was the 3 sedan, still Mazda’s core model. To beef up its presence in two popular segments, Mazda has launched the new 3 sedan and hatchback, and the all-new CX-5 five-seat crossover. The 3 updates what is still one of the best-looking cars in the compact segment, while the CX-5 provides a smaller alternative to those who find the CX-7 a little too generous in its proportions.
The CX-5 debuts two Mazda unique selling propositions: its new styling theme called “Kodo-Soul of Motion” and Skyactiv drivetrain. Mazda’s goal for Skyactiv is to approach the fuel efficiency of a hybrid drivetrain without the cost and complexity of a hybrid. Mazda says the 2.0 gasoline engine in the CX-5 delivers 15% more torque and 15% greater fuel economy. The engine uses gasoline direct injection and an extremely high compression ratio of 14.0:1. Such a high compression would normally result in knocking. Mazda counteracts this with, among other things, a 4-2-1 exhaust system. Mazda brand manager Kristoff Arcega says that the CX-5 can run fine on regular-octane fuel, although 95 octane is recommended. The 4-2-1 system reduces buildup of high-temperature residual gas in the combustion chamber. The engine outputs 162bhp and 210Nm.
Also part of Skyactiv are the transmissions, six-speed manual and six-speed automatic. We didn’t get to sample the manual, but Mazda promises that it shares the snikt-snikt quick throws of the MX-5.
The Kodo design involves a large pentagonal grille atop with wing-shaped sections. Mazda’s cycle fenders are here but not as pronounced as on the CX-7 and 6. The doors feature upward-stroked creases leading to the rear section. The roofline stays high all the way to the hatchback, again leading to the impression of larger size.
The CX-5 has a tall roofline and relatively long 2700mm wheelbase, just an inch short of the 6 sedan’s. Visually, the CX-5 looks bulkier than what is its natural archrival, the Subaru XV. It also pays off inside, with ample head and leg room for all passengers. The rear seat is ideal for two passengers, what with its well-defined seating positions. Doors are tall and wide, allowing for easy ingress and ingress, and such necessities as installation of child seats. The rear seats can fold in 40:20:40 sections, allowing pass-through for long objects even with two rear passengers. The rear cargo area is also deep and wide, despite the full-size alloy spare. The tonneau cover is also a delightful touch: it pulls up with the hatchback completely out of the way, so as not to impede loading and unloading.
Mazda’s trademark sporty instrument panel layout has been traded for something a little more conventional in the CX-5. Within the high dashboard are: three large gauges, with the rightmost being a digital trip meter display; high-mounted audio unit that is a conventional two-DIN unit rather than a built-in system; and dual-zone rotary aircon controls in the center. The instrument lighting is now white, a departure from the previous amber. The audio unit allows Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming. The starter button integrates with a keyless-go transponder system.
The 2.0-liter is quiet even when revved, and its torque is ample for the CX-5’s frame. With three adults and a kid on board, the CX-5 accelerated briskly. The six-speed automatic shifts crisply, particularly in the manual mode, engaged by pulling the lever towards the driver. It’s nice to see that Mazda has retained the “correct” orientation of pull backward for upshifts, tip forward for down. There are no shift paddles.
As with its bigger brethren, what will sell the CX-5 is the steering feel. It’s quick and responsive, giving the crossover an agile feel. To those used to more conventional setups, including us, it’s a surprise-and-delight feature. Cornering feels secure, whether on tight radius turns or on large roundabouts. The suspension uses MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link setup at the rear. Mazda says that the body uses more high-tensile steel to improve rigidity and reduce weight. CX-5 is front-wheel drive only.
CX-5 six-speed manual goes for P1,392,000; while the six-speed auto variant has an SRP of P1,452,000.
The Mazda3 is the car that started it all for the new Mazda. The 3 is unabashedly driver-centric, using the BMW 3 Series as its benchmark for driving feel. This approach became embodied in all of its cars, from the MX-5 sports car, where it is to be expected, to the huge CX-9 SUV, where it delightfully surprises.
If you like the Joker face of the CX-5 and Mazda6, you’ll like the new 3’s front. The huge grin, slanting taillights that flow into cycle fenders, and huge faux ducts incorporating the foglamps, make the 3 instantly identifiable. The 3’s rear is a mini 6, with a large expanse of trunk with clear-lensed taillamps.
Inside, the 3 is an evolution of the previous car’s, with two large gauges popping out from the instrument panel. There’s a hint of the Civic’s dual-tier layout, with a plastic display boomerang above the primary gauges. The center section displays audio and trip computer information, while the black section in front of the driver is just…there. The circular audio controls are retained, but the Knight Rider roving red light is sadly no longer present. If it’s too many physical switches for your Apple-oriented brain, not to worry: steering wheel audio controls provide tactile control when driving.
The Mazda3 is available as 1.6 liter sedan and hatchback, and 2.0 liter sedan. The 1.6 liter is adequate for city driving, if a lacking the torque from competitors’ 1.8 and 2.0 liter offerings. There’s 103hp and 144Nm on tap. Those wanting more power can go for the 2.0R, which has 145bhp and 182Nm.
The 3’s handling feel is still a notch above its rivals, offering quick steering feel and a nimble chassis. It feels quieter than its predecessor and delivers a seemingly more comfortable ride. Yet it doesn’t feel heavy and
The 1.6V sedan starts at P999,000, with the 1.6 hatchback at P1,099,000. The 2.0 sedan adds the more powerful engine, a five-speed automatic, leather seats, automatic climate control, bi-xenon headlamps, transponder key, and stainless steel scuff plates. Price goes up to 1,299,000.
It’s a good day for Mazda, beefing up the 3 within the still-popular compact sedan class, while introducing a competitive offering a smaller but still roomy alternative to the CX-7. The Skyactiv technology in the CX-5 is interesting and deserves a second look.
By Jason K. Ang