The Road To Perfection

SUV design is an evolving journey that has just taken an exciting turn as M2woman discovers…

I hate to say it, but today’s new car market has become a sea of rather boring, jumped-up SUVs and crossovers – so much so that if you fast-forward a couple of decades or so, it seems there will be few cars from today that will turn heads in a good way. This is not only in the looks department. That I-am-considerably-taller-than-you preoccupation that is ultimately at odds with the laws of physics, has seen ride comfort and good handling on the road exchanged for stiff-as-a-board suspension and the tendency to lean and flop on corners. Without sounding too dramatic, where have the heart and soul gone?

Well, this is at least something that the good folks at Mazda know a decent thing or two about – they call it ‘Jinba Ittai’, the unity of rider and horse as it originally pertained to Yabusame or Japanese mounted archery. In Mazda’s case, it was first used to describe the driver’s connection with the iconic MX-5 roadster; the idea being that getting behind the wheel would feel like a natural extension of yourself. It would certainly seem a handy concept to bring to a staid segment seemingly allergic to the idea of being fun and comfortable to drive.

Enter Mazda’s second-generation CX-5. At a cursory glance, it might seem like not too much has changed since the outgoing first-gen, but this is a case of not fixing what’s not broke and finessing the finer details. From the curb, the new nose is a sliver more dramatic without being overdone; the slick, swept-back lights are squintier and nicely integrated into the more canted-forward, pentagon-shaped grille. There are subtle changes to the sheet metal bends along the sides and the rear fenders boast a more pronounced, shoulder-like appearance. From the side, it looks decidedly more planted, the centre of gravity having been lowered and the A-pillars pushed back slightly, amplifying a rear-leaning stance. Chrome detailing finishes the windows and defines the lower edge of the grille, adding yet a further touch of refinement. Overall, its proportions are more upscale and athletic. If Mazda was aiming for a mainstream premium vibe a class above its rivals, they have succeeded.

That right there is what sets Mazda apart from its peers – an insanely steadfast devotion to craftsmanship that sees them sweat the smallest details to the nth degree. Quite literally, perhaps; when you see what they’ve done with the interior and beyond, you want to believe Mazda’s master fabricator, Osamu Fujiki, when he claims that every stitch of the interior of the CX-5 is a part of him. The satin-chrome trimmed cabin – kitted out with a 10-speaker BOSE sound system in the top Limited version – is all about simplicity, symmetry and driver-centricity. Soft-touch materials abound, imparting a feeling of luxury replete with contrast French seam stitching. Ergonomically, the centre display now sits atop the dashboard for better visibility and the centre console, raised for better reach, imparts a sportier vibe. The driving position has also had the once-over, with the engineers ensuring the wheel is perfectly centred and the accelerator and dead pedals positioned exactly at shoulder width. They  have even gone so far as to ensure both the door and centre armrests sit at exactly the same height and the door pulls have been detailed with contours to better fit the profile of human fingers. Now, it may have been the NASA data at their fingertips that ultimately nailed the ideal body position, but sitting behind the wheel feels just right. Even the rear passengers haven’t been overlooked, with the seats receiving a new, two-step reclining mechanism and cushioning that contours to the passenger’s body. They also get their own air vents and a pair of USB jacks for charging mobile devices for good measure.

Just as, stylistically the new CX-5 feels a step above the rest of its class, dynamically speaking it is also a Mazda through and through. Again, not making change for change’s sake, Mazda’s engineers have scoured every nook and cranny for improvement, and have done an impressive job of achieving agile, car-like handling. Part of this is due to the body being made 15 percent stiffer courtesy of more high-strength steel, and the track (or distance between the wheels on each side) having been widened, as well as the centre of gravity lowered. The outright star in this equation, though, is Mazda’s remarkable G-Vectoring Control, an algorithmic ninja of sorts, that delivers an extra-smooth driving experience by multitasking on a plethora of systems and inputs such as throttle and steering angle. Parrying engine braking with ignition spark when entering corners, torque is essentially added to the front wheels when turning to significantly improve handling and steering response. As compact crossovers go, this refreshingly makes for a confident, predictable and rather fun to drive ride.

At this point, you’d think Mazda’s engineers would have hung up their lab coats and gone on a well-deserved holiday for their efforts, but there’s more. Quite a bit more. It seems one of their biggest bugbears was the dreaded NVH (noise, vibration and harshness); adressing this saw them embark on an equally obsessive seek-and-destroy mission for the smallest high- and low-frequency noises in order to achieve a hushed cabin at speed and reduce impact noise over bumps. To give you but a few examples of the sort of attention to detail that would make any accountant proud: the windshield is now thicker, as are the front windows, made of acoustic glass; the underbody panelling was expanded to cover more of the chassis and made of sound-insulating, felt-like material; more aerodynamic parts were developed about the exterior to deal to wind noise, including recontoured mirrors and A-pillars; and reducing the gaps of the doors to a minimum. They even tucked the windshield wipers to below the hoodline to be out of the airflow when driving. And the list goes on… Oh, and while they were at it, they thought they might as well block what they’ve dubbed as potential ‘sound paths’ from the vehicle’s floorplan in the cargo area by switching sound-reflective surfaces to absorptive materials, thus channelling air through a special sound path on its way out of the vehicle. Gasp!

This new generation CX-5 feels very much like it is flying the ‘icon car’ flag for Mazda. It’s a smash hit, from its sleek, sporty style and pleasantly cloistered cabin, to its refined, agile handling and state-of-the-art technologies. It might present as an understated redesign on the surface, but dig a touch deeper and you quickly realise how eye-watering an embodiment of the Japanese car maker’s ‘every tiny detail counts’ ethos it is.

The heart and soul – or perhaps blood, sweat and tears is more apt – that went into this compact crossover’s meticulous creation, from the door handles to the manipulation of ignition spark, is nothing short of outstanding – all coming back to that old chestnut of Mazda’s quest for Jinba Ittai or horse and rider as one. Now that’s what we’re talking about.