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The Mazda CX-5 finally fills what has been a gaping hole in Mazda Australia’s line-up by becoming the brand’s first diesel-powered passenger vehicle with an automatic transmission.
While Australians have warmed to the added torque and increased fuel efficiency of diesel engines in recent years, we have lost our love of the clutch pedal at an even faster rate, forcing manufacturers to offer self-shifting gearboxes or risk becoming irrelevant in the marketplace.
The introduction of the two Mazda CX-5 diesel models – the $39,040 Maxx Sport and the range-topping $46,200 Grand Touring – completes the all-new medium SUV line-up that launched last month with the petrol variants, which are priced from $27,800 to $43,200. (Click here to read our Mazda CX-5 petrol review.)
Both models feature Mazda’s all-new 2.2-litre diesel engine and six-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive, and a lighter, stronger body and chassis – all of which were developed under the brand’s ‘Skyactiv’ efficiency strategy.
The high starting price for the diesel models will exclude a number of prospective buyers from the outset – Mazda Australia has no plans to introduce a cheaper Maxx diesel – although compared with the superseded Mazda CX-7 Diesel Sports manual ($43,640), the CX-5 represents good value.
It’s now more competitively priced to take on other diesel autos like the Kia Sportage ($39,720), Nissan X-Trail ($38,240-$45,240), Skoda Yeti ($37,990) and the Volkswagen Tiguan ($38,490). Cheaper options include the Holden Captiva 5 ($33,990), Hyundai ix35 ($35,490) and the SsangYong Korando ($28,800).
Against all its competitors, the Mazda CX-5 offers the best combination of pulling power and fuel efficiency. The 2.2-litre ‘Skyactiv-D’ engine produces 129kW of power (at 4500rpm) and a class-leading 420Nm of torque (at 2000rpm). There’s some initial lag and a bit of a torque hole just above 1500rpm, but with an extra 222Nm over the petrol engine, the diesel feels much stronger and more responsive through the mid range up to its unusually high 5200rpm redline.
Low-speed throttle inputs provoke a raspy note (albeit, a muffled one), but the engine displays few other characteristic diesel traits. There’s no start-up or idle clatter – and, of course, no noise at all when the standard ‘i-stop’ stop-start system kicks in to switch off the engine at idle to reduce fuel consumption. Firmer acceleration inputs are rewarded with an enthusiastic, metallic engine sound, rather than the gruffer, less sophisticated growls common among its competitors.
The diesel’s 9.4-second 0-100km/h sprint time may be no better than the base model petrol manual, but it’s far more capable and immediate when you ask it to accelerate onto a highway or overtake at higher speeds. The diesels are 94kg heavier than their AWD petrol counterparts – ranging from 1637kg to 1687kg – and have an identical 1800kg braked towing capacity (750kg unbraked).
Despite the performance benefits, the Euro 4-compliant powerplant has an official fuel consumption rating of 5.7 litres per 100km and CO2 emissions of 149 grams per kilometre – better than many petrol-powered small cars. We achieved 7.7L/100km on the launch – an acceptable result given our drive route included no freeway stints.
We were critical of the automatic for changing up gears too hastily in the petrol variants, but it seems better behaved when teamed with the diesel engine. Shifts are smooth and generally well timed, and the engine’s extra torque makes it more forgiving of any tardy down changes.
What hasn’t changed from the petrol variants is the CX-5’s brilliant ride and handling characteristics. Despite its taller body and boosted ride height, the CX-5 doesn’t bounce or roll excessively. The suspension deals with ruts, potholes and undulations without drama, allowing the car to sit flat and remain poised and comfortable over a range of surfaces and road qualities.
The steering is well weighted, provides consistent feel regardless of the vehicle speed, and has an unrivalled ability to negotiate tight corners and hairpins with intoxicating ease.
Road noise is less intrusive than in some of Mazda’s other passenger cars, although wind noise from the large side mirrors and the top of the A-pillars detracts from an otherwise well insulated interior.
The 4.5m long CX-5 embraces Mazda’s new ‘Kodo’ design language, highlighted by the assertive headlights and prominent grille, curved body contours and strong shoulder line, and neat rear with its short overhang.
Despite having a shorter wheelbase than the CX-7, the CX-5’s cabin is more spacious.
Both diesel variants feature 40:20:40 split rear seats, which can be folded flat independently either by using levers in the cargo area or buttons inside the cabin. Capacity expands from a respectable 403 litres to 1560 litres with all rear seats folded forwards.
The look and feel of the CX-5’s interior is among the best in its class, with soft plastics across the dashboard and front doors and high-gloss black and satin inserts to add contrast the dark tones. The scratch-prone plastic housing over the climate control display and some panel fit issues take away from the premium ambiance.
The front seats’ thin bases suit slender bodies better than larger ones, and the Maxx Sport could do with the Grand Touring’s driver-side lumbar support. Rear passengers are unlikely to be wanting for room in any direction, although the lack of rear air vents could make “shotgun” a popular summer catchcry. Forward visibility is satisfactory for the driver although the view over your left shoulder is impeded by the sizable triangular D-pillar.
The CX-5 diesel models are identically equipped to their petrol siblings. The Maxx Sport – the entry-level diesel but essentially the mid-spec model above the petrol-only Maxx – features 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights and wipers, fog lights, dual-zone climate control, satellite navigation, push-button start, cruise control, and a six-speaker sound system with USB input and Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming.
For an extra $7160, the Grand Touring adds 19-inch alloys, bi-xenon headlamps, daytime running lights, sunroof, leather upholstery, eight-way power driver’s seat, front seat heaters, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, keyless entry, front and rear parking sensors, and a nine-speaker Bose premium stereo. Both grades get a 17-inch steel spare wheel.
The Grand Touring is also available with the $1990 Tech Pack option, which adds blind spot monitoring, high beam control and lane departure warning driver assist functions.
Six airbags (dual front, side and curtains) and electronic stability control head the list of standard safety features, which is supported by a rigid body structure with widespread use of high-tensile steel.
Its on-the-road starting price of $40,000-plus will put it out of the reach of many Australians after a medium SUV, but for those who can stretch the budget beyond the underpowered petrol, the diesel is the pick of the Mazda CX-5 range and one of the best all-rounders in its class.
2012 Mazda CX-5 Diesel manufacturer’s list prices (excluding government and dealer charges):