Got a family bus

Published on 7/13/2015

So while I'm waiting for a petrol filter for the little blue car, I took delivery of our new family car, the Mazda CX-5.

Apart from the fact that Mazda just updated it for the 2015 year model with a new grill and interior layout, this isn't a new car by any stretch of the imagination. But then again, I'm not a motoring journalist either. After the launch of Mazda SA last year I was really disappointed that we don't have the Mazda 6 Touring available in South Africa. This year, after shopping around for a while, I was back in the Mazda showroom signing the order form. This is the first new car I've had since 2003 so you can imagine my excitement, even at a school bus like this one. A school bus though is very far removed from what this car is, dynamically speaking. In fact, it is a deeply impressive vehicle.

Considering the only wagons still available here are Volvos and Audis (meh on styling and price), I was basically looking at getting a cross-over or an SUV, and as the market are these days, I had a really big list to choose from. There's the new Qashqai, the new X-Trail, the ix35, the Sportage, the Forester... So what are the reasons I bought this car specifically? Essentially, because of the manual gearbox (on the base model), because the rear seats split 40:20:40, and because the SKYACTIV platform is still naturally aspirated. Those were my practical elements in the decision. The new Qashqai is probably the closest rival, so lets quickly dwell on the differences. Price wise, the Qashqai matches the CX-5 with a measly 1.2L turbo. Output wise, it matches the CX-5 with a R50 000 premium with a 1.6L turbo. There is also a whole other thing about turbos, for another time. Since both cars offer a manual gearbox (the X-Trail and Forester don't at all) that's one all, but then practically the CX-5 has the Qashqai beat. Although the new Qashqai is truly massive compared to the outgoing model, and the boot is significantly bigger than the CX-5's, the rear seats only splits 60:40. This means that I can't fit two baby-seats in the car and still have the capability to load something long or oddly shaped, like our super-massive off-road pram. This single difference held the biggest sway for me. And lastly, the CX-5 just looks sublime, inside and out. I don't even list this as a difference because, quite frankly, nothing out there comes close to matching the lines of anything in Mazda's range now. And the Nissan's interior is simply inferior.

So what about the engine? At first it sounds clunky, especially when cold, but quietens down very quickly as it heats up to operating temperature. Without changing gear, it's got that typical Mazda characteristic where there's a small tug as you bury your foot, and then surges forward, building up ever quicker until suddenly you realise you have to back-off. Drop it down to third however, and it almost snorts as it pulls forward; it really makes a good noise too. It's also a very quick revving 4 pot, and the delivery of the power belies the size and weight of this vehicle. Spirited driving still nets me a consumption rate of less than 8L/100km. On a side-note, the new MX-5 in the US comes standard with this 2.0L unit (or something very similar). If this tune is anything to go by, then I'm properly chuffed that the new roadster will, frankly, be epic!

As for handling, you'd be surprised how little you roll about, or back and forth over speed bumps. I've been in hatches that are less comfortable or stable over the back-roads or through the Century City boulevards than this. The big wheels help a lot, but the suspension is the most impressive. It's not hard or sporty by any means, and I'm not going to pretend it's communicative, but it handles the Cape crosswinds exceptionally well for something this tall, hardly moves about during lane or camber changes, and when pushing 80 in a corner, it doesn't lean at the limit half as much as you'd expect. Stopping suddenly from low speed does rock the boat a bit though, that is, suddenly in the strict sense.

So what is there that I don't like? Well, it is very high, and my dogs struggle to get into the tailgate on a slope. The reverse gear selection is a bit clunky when you are in a hurry; I'd have preferred a pull-ring or something instead of the knob push-down mechanism. The seat adjusters (on the base model at least) is very low rent and the worst part of the interior. In fact, it's so far apart from the rest of the excellent trim that it's a bit hard to fathom... And lastly, the infotainment system comes with the "Auto-download contacts" setting switched on by default, and when you pair your phone it downloads every person you've ever sent an email to, and none of the contacts that actually has phone numbers. This was utterly annoying, and after manually downloading the contacts that I wanted to the system, I'm now in the process of deleting the rest. One by one. After two weeks, I'm at N in the alphabet.

Still, I'm enjoying this car so much, it really is fun to drive. That Mazda chassis heritage is very prevalent in this car, and coupled with that smooth power delivery, makes for an excellent and comfortable daily driver and cruiser. Defying convention might be the best thing this marquee ever did!