Mazda New Zealand reckons its new CX-5 is special enough to propel it to near the top of the compact-crossover class by the end of its first year on sale.
The distributor is forecasting 1400 registrations per year for the new model.
The top-selling car in the segment last year was the ubiquitous Toyota RAV4 (1477), followed by the Mitsubishi Outlander (1125).
What is it that makes the CX-5 so special? Part of the equation is an impressive combination of price/equipment. But the CX-5 is also leading-edge on technology and efficiency: it's the first model from Mazda to be designed from the ground up around the maker's so-called SkyActiv engineering ethos.
SkyActiv will underpin every new Mazda in the medium-term: eight models across the next five years, accounting for 85 percent of global volume. The SkyActiv models have different core components to current Mazdas: engine, transmission, platform and body construction are all clean-sheet efforts, although the SkyActiv petrol engine/transmission combo was launched as a taster last year in the Mazda3 GSE model.
CX-5 comes in three levels of specification: GLX, GSX and Limited, at prices from $39,690-$55,990. There's a choice of 114kW/200Nm 2.0-litre petrol or 129kW/420Nm 2.2-litre turbo diesel engines, both with a new six-speed automatic SkyActive-Drive gearbox.
The petrol comes in all three specifications, with FWD (GLX/GSX) or AWD (GSX/Limited). The diesel is AWD-only (GSX/Limited).
Mazda claims diesel-like fuel economy for the petrol models, which return Combined fuel consumption of 6.4 litres per 100km. So it stands to reason that the diesel takes things to a whole other level of efficiency, with 5.7 litres per 100km.
There's no radical new technology involved in SkyActiv: it's simply a careful rethink and redesign of every significant mechanical component. The maker claims that the SkyActiv engines are 10 percent lighter and have 20/30 (diesel/petrol) percent less internal friction than a conventional powerplant. The petrol has extremely high compression, the diesel extremely low.
The new transmission is a conventional automatic, but thanks to measures like low-friction internal components and very early torque converter lockup in all ratios, Mazda claims it offers the efficiency and direct-drive feel of a dual-clutch unit.
Right out of the box, the CX-5 impresses with its refinement and nimble handling character. The electric power assistance for the steering is an annoyance, with inconsistent weighting, but the chassis is superb and the ride class-leading.
The petrol engine is no ball of fire but feels crisp and responsive. It would perhaps stand out more if the diesel wasn't so incredible: it's smooth, quiet and very muscular, with more than twice the torque of the petrol. The diesel also addresses the one niggle I have with the SkyActiv-Drive gearbox: a marked reluctance to kick down except under extreme provocation (there's a manual shifter but no paddles and no sport mode). With 420Nm on tap, there's plenty of torque to use those higher gears.
The downside is a premium of at least $3000 for the diesel, but in terms of driveability it's worth it. Especially as you're getting so much for your money elsewhere. All CX-5s have a reversing camera, tyre pressure monitoring, front/side/curtain airbags and stability control.
All from the GSX upwards have a neatly integrated TomTom touch-screen sat-nav system and the flagship Limited has a lot of kit you'd expect to find only on premium-priced European models, such as auto-dipping headlights, lane departure warning, blind spot warning and a high-powered Bose nine-speaker sound system designed especially for the CX-5. All versions have full iPod integration for the audio system.
Practical touches include a 40/20/40 splitrear seat with remote releases in the cargo area.
The arrival of the CX-5 does mean the end of the CX-7 for New Zealand. They're not exactly the same thing: CX-7 is an idiosyncratic mix of sporty hatch and crossover, whereas CX-5 is more in the traditional soft-roader mould created by Toyota and Honda 17 years ago. But they're in roughly the same size and price range, so Mazda New Zealand thinks it wise to put all of its eggs in a next-generation basket.