The proverbial ‘‘rising from the ashes like a Phoenix’’ saying has in recent years not been implied more accurately than in the automotive industry where brands, seemingly out for the count, have made some truly astonishing comebacks.
Although it would be a touch too far to describe Mazda as having stared down the bottom of the barrel in its 41 years of Ford ownership, Hiroshima’s divorce from the Blue Oval five years ago has been nothing short of astounding as the fortuitous rate of “moving on” simply showed no drawbacks.
With an impressive end to the last year of the decade having been capped off with the unveiling of the new 3 and the facelift 2, much of the brand with the zoom-zoom philosophy’s success is however attributed to the CX-5 and CX-3, mostly as a result of the now ubiquitous transition to crossover SUVs.
Without a doubt one of the best looking models competing in what is fast becoming the most oversaturated segment within the South African market, the CX-5 has however eclipsed its junior sibling as the modern day flag bearer for Mazda. It made its recent arrival for the customary seven day stay, a year after receiving a subtle specification upgrade, all the more compelling.
As much as the English language comprises of several adverbs to emphasise a description, the CX-5 doesn’t require overly complicated denominators as its Kodo design language and overall execution can simply be described as stunning.
While admittedly not as striking or indeed sporty as the 3, the CX-5 offers a blend of both wrapped in a package that is also stylish as evident by the thin adaptive LED headlights, honeycomb grille with its chrome V-shaped surround, sculpted bonnet, distinctive downwards flowing shoulder line and the signature Soul Red Crystal Metallic hue.
As part of Mazda’s desire to be taken seriously as a premium contender, the CX-3’s interior, in the same mould as that of the 2, 3 and CX-3, is all about simplicity in the shape of a minimalist and uncluttered dashboard and centre console.
Highlighted by subtle faux wood inlays and aluminium- look highlights, the combination of soft-touch plastics, leather and piano-key black inserts on the mentioned console makes the cabin feel expensive and an altogether nice place to be. The overall fit-and-finish is both excellent and, yes you guessed it, has a premium feeling to it.
Remaining the standout though is the MZD Connect infotainment system resplendent on the free-standing seven-inch display. Controlled via a rotary dial behind the gear lever, the system incorporates Bluetooth, satellite navigation, Apple Car- Play plus Android Auto and continues to rate as one of the slickest and user-friendly systems on sale today.
Where Mazda has also not faulted is in the practicality stakes where rear head-and-legroom is noteworthy, the former especially given the fitment of the standard sunroof, with an additional boon being the vents for the dual-zone climate control and an armrest complete with a storage cubby, two cupholders and twin USB inputs. Hiding behind the electric tailgate, the boot is capable of swallowing 442-litres of luggage that expands to a roomy 1 914-litres with the rear seats folded down.
Being the top-spec Akera model, Mazda has crammed as much kit in as possible such as an excellent ten-speaker Bose sound system, head-up display, a multi-function steering wheel, folding electric mirrors, keyless entry, electric lumbar support for the driver’s seat, hill launch assist, dynamic stability control, front and rear parking sensors with a reverse camera, Blind Spot Monitoring, Lane Keep Assist, Smart City Braking and Driver Attention Alert to name but a few.
For all its mentioned virtues, the Akera shines up front where it employs Mazda’s 2.2 SkyActiv-D turbodiesel engine. Although saddled with a rather agricultural soundtrack on start-up, the rumble quickly disappears and with very little lag present, offers fantastic low-down grunt with an equally impressive mid-range shunt. Put your foot down though and the kick that transpires is brutal as all of the 140kW/450Nm is unleashed freely right up to a peaky 4 000 rpm.
Complementing the powerunit, the six-speed automatic gearbox is about as slick and unobtrusive as you are likely to experience, but seldom caught out by sudden throttle inputs when you are eager to get on. Admittedly, the CX-5 was urban bound throughout its stay which explained the rather thirsty 9.4l/100km. However, expect this to drop significantly when the confines of the city disappear in the rear-view mirror.
Sure-footed and grippy thanks to not only all-wheel-drive but also the G-Vectoring Control Plus system, the Akera was left wanting in the ride department though where the 225/55 tyres wrapped in 19-inch alloy wheels and soft suspension made for a washboard like feel on anything but smooth surfaces. Compounding matters is the lack of adequate damping that caused too much of a severe jolt to be felt when going over a badly placed drain cover or poorly patched section of tar.
The annoyance of the ride is however the biggest thorn in the side of the flagship Mazda CX-5 that threatens, but only just manages to avoid ruining what is otherwise an all-round extremely capable and impressive package.
Factor in the list price of R604 400, an amount that comfortably undercuts those of the equivalent Toyota RAV4 and Volkswagen Tiguan, the CX-5 deserves to be taken more seriously and not looked upon as a segment underachiever.
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