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First Drives with Darren Moody - Mazda CX-5

Updating Australia's favourite SUV comes with its challenges. Change too much and it loses the appeal that made it the best-selling SUV in the country. Don't change enough and the others go past. It's a dilemma that faces all manufacturers at some point.

​​Did Mazda get it right?

With the new CX-5 Mazda chose the evolutionary rather than revolutionary path, with stated aims of "less is more" and adding more prestige inside and out. The external design showcases the latest evolution of their Kodo design language, featuring a larger grill area and a more pronounced front fascia with longer, thinner headlight assemblies. The A pillar was moved rearward 35mm to give the appearance of a longer-proportioned, lower stance. From the rear there is a more rounded design across the shoulders, providing a slightly lower and wider look.

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Inside, occupant space is similar. The centre console is both higher and wider, with storage and packaging changes increasing user convenience. Most hard plastic surfaces have been replaced by a range of soft-touch materials. Rear seats have been redesigned with a two-stage recline function, adding to comfort levels. External physical dimensions of the CX-5 have hardly changed from the previous model, but cargo space has increased slightly for improved carrying capacity. On my first drive it was evident wind and tyre noise have been significantly reduced, with Mazda saying the result of their work in this area is roughly equivalent to that of travelling 20km/h slower than in the previous model. Connectivity via Mazda's MZD Connect system is simple, as is using the command control system.  There is also the inclusion of an electric park brake with auto hill-hold functionality standard across the range.

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Drivetrains remained relatively unchanged in terms of hardware across all three engines, with a concentration on recalibration activities to optimize real-world driving experience and in-service fuel consumption. Both power and torque values remain unchanged with the 2.0L petrol used exclusively in front-wheel drive models delivering 114kW and 200Nm, the 2.5L petrol used for all-wheel drives delivering 140kW and 251Nm, and the 2.2 diesel 129kW and a meaty 420Nm of torque from 2000rpm. Fuel consumption on the official cycle is slightly up, but Mazda indicated European testing in real-world conditions had seen improvements by about 4%. Recalibration of throttle response provides increased drivability, whether that is in low or high-demand requirements. While a six-speed manual is available on 2.0L engine variants, Mazda believes 95% will be sold with their slick shifting six-speed auto.

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The model range has been expanded to five starting with Maxx, Maxx Sport, Touring (which is the added model), GT and topped out by the full-fruit Akera. All models feature a high level of standard safety features including blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, reversing camera and smart city brake both front and rear, providing autonomous emergency braking between 4-80km/h to either help avoid collisions or mitigate damage in the event of a collision. The upgraded system also includes pedestrian detection.

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Pricing starts at $28,690 for the Maxx 2.0l FWD manual and tops out on the Akera 2.2L diesel auto at $49,990 (plus on-roads).  For me the value in the range is the new Touring model, which adds active driving display, keyless entry and start, front parking sensors and traffic sign recognition (TSR) to the Maxx Sport's 17" alloys, front LED fog-lights, auto headlights, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone climate control with rear vents, rear-seat armrest storage with USB input and Sat-Nav. The GT heads you in the luxury direction adding 19" alloys, adaptive front-lighting, remote tailgate operation, sunroof, front seats with multiple electric adjustment, heating and memory setting, full heads-up display, leather trim (black or white) and premium Bose audio for $44,390. The Akera then adds safety features including radar cruise control, adaptive LED headlights, driver attention alert, lane departure warning, lane-keep assist, side camera and smart brake support for a $2600 premium over the GT.

The verdict: From my first look and drive I'm pretty confident Mazda haven't forgotten the formula that got CX-5 to the top of the tree and have again raised the bar for others in the segment to aspire to.

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​Traffic Sign Recognition (TSR)

While not new in the automotive world, TSR systems can be a really useful driving aid. In the case of Mazda their TSR system uses a forward-sensing camera to detect speed limit, no entry and stop signs while driving and presents the sign on the active driving display (heads-up display) on the windscreen in front of the driver. If the vehicle exceeds the posted speed limit the system warns the driver by blinking graphics and sounding an alert. While this shouldn't be used as a substitute for attentive driving, as humans there are occasions when we miss a speed sign, particularly when driving in an unfamiliar area, that a system like this can help us drive within the posted limit.

However, these systems aren't foolproof. When driving vehicles with similar systems in the past it has recognized the 40km/h speed sign on the back of a school bus (not during school bus service) and was blinking and beeping until the next speed sign was recognised. Early systems also struggled to pick up the electronic speed signs being used in variable speed zones.


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