New Premium Choices in Mazda CX-5 Petrol Turbo and CX-8 Six-Seater Luxury

By Lee Pang Seng

MAZDA has firmly entrenched itself in the Malaysian market as a premium brand from Japan and this was recently boosted with more SUV (sport utility vehicle) model options to pander the growing pool of strong supporters. This includes the CX-8 that now comes locally assembled and the CX-6 Turbo that takes over as head honcho in its model portfolio.

The CX-8 tops the Mazda premium range by virtue of it being an SUV with model options that have six individual seats, carrying the boast of being the only one with such a seating arrangement in its price bracket of RM200,000 (to be approved at the time of its public announcement). To support that boast further is the high suppression of NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) and better driving dynamics with refinements approached through Mazda’s Skyactiv technology.

The confidence in the CX-8 local build assembly is clearly upheld with strong quality control that Mazda has diligently put in place at the Kulim plant. This is to ensure that the quality of vehicles is on par with that of Mazda vehicles manufactured in Japan. And that is fully endorsed by the fact that models put together here are also ‘exported’ to other countries in the region such as Thailand and the Philippines.

For the CX-5 series, the CX-5 Turbo AWD (All Wheel Drive) is introduced to take over from the CX-5 2.2D (turbodiesel) AWD, although the 2WD (two-wheel drive) version of the turbodiesel variant is retained as one of the five model options. Bermaz believes that the turbocharged petrol variant would find greater demand among its CX-5 customers.

What strikes the CX-5 Turbo model as unusual is the retention of the 2.5-litre engine that appears to be going against the norm. It is often noted that other car manufacturers would go for a smaller displacement engine when taking the turbo route and Mercedes-Benz is a case in point as its latest turbo variants even see engine displacements going as small as 1.4-litre!

The move to a smaller displacement engine is mainly to gain better fuel mileages that such an engine would deliver while turbo power would provide acceleration comparable to those achieved with bigger displacement units. However, Mazda feels that its 2.5-litre Skyactiv engine is already providing good fuel mileages comparable to those achieved with smaller engine displacements and has decided to retain status quo when taking the turbo route.

Perhaps Mazda took this decision with the consideration that the CX-5 is not exactly a light vehicle being a premium SUV and a smaller displacement engine might not have the initial grunt to move all that mass. Nevertheless, we would have expected them to choose the 2.0-litre engine that also powers the lower end models in the CX-5 series.

Nevertheless, the option to take the turbo route with the 2.5-litre is to allow this engine the capability to flex its muscles a bit more without the sacrifice in lower fuel mileages. In other words, the CX-5 Turbo owner could use the turbo power prudently for quick getaways and sufficiently fast highway drives without the engine consuming too much petrol.

Mazda distributor Bermaz Motor Sdn Bhd arranged for a drive recently in both these latest models; the CX-5 Turbo from KL to Penang and back, and the CX-8 over a shorter 30km-plus route that took us from the Kulim assembly plant to nearby urban centres before returning to the factory.

Mazda CX-8

The Mazda CX-8 that rolls off the assembly line in Kulim is placed between the CX-5 and CX-9 in model ranking. Apart from being a bigger SUV, it draws appeal from being a three-row six-seater and having more premium appointments. Depending on models, the second row could have a bench-type arrangement that seats three to make it a seven-seater (2.5L 2WD MID), Captain seats (2.5L 2WD MID Plus) with central walkway between second and third row, or centre console between the two seats (2.5L 2WD High and 2.2L AWD).

In body styling, the KODO aspect is clearly the key factor that the premium Mazda SUV models share. There is the common front grille in the somewhat hexagonal design flanked by slim cut headlamps, although the differentiation between the CX-8 and CX-5 is the grille content – horizontal slats for the former and mesh-type grille for the latter.

Dimensionally, the CX-8 is a bigger SUV than the CX-5 and the body details reflect this scenario; 4900mm body length for the CX-8 against 4550mm for the CX-5, 2930mm wheelbase against 2700mm and 1730mm height against 1675mm. The overall body width for the two models stays constant at 1840mm.

Weight-wise, the three CX-8 2WD models appear to be similar at 1781kg (kerb) with the AWD flagship tipping the scales at 1924kg because of the drivetrain. The CX-5, meanwhile, varies between 1575kg for the 2.0L 2WD variants and 1708kg for the AWD (which is the newly introduced CX-5 Turbo).

Much of the CX-8 development is focused on improving the NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) levels to complement its Nappa leather upholstery as well as better ride comfort. As a premium Mazda SUV in the RM200,000 price range, a quality ride was definitely top on the list. Mazda describes it as a human-centred design philosophy to create a ‘cabin environment that provides occupants in all three rows with a refined, comfortable ride’.

Mazda’s goal was to achieve a design that allows a person of any size to find an ideal driving position in the front row, offers roomy comfort for sizeable adults in the second row and still accommodates occupants up to 170cm in the third row. As we qualify in the third aspect, we found the third row much to our liking in comfort and space during the urban drive.

Adding to the convenience factor are the rear doors that open up to 80 degrees for taking on or unloading large items or attaching/removing a child seat. Likewise, these doors are made wide to allow easy ingress and egress from the third row. Another thing we found to our liking was the window screen that could be drawn up on the rear doors for some privacy and to catch a nap on the go.

The NVH measures to attain a quiet cabin environment for all on board include vibration-dampening material in the rear fender panels to suppress vibration that might be a source of noise for the third row, reduction in the gap between the roof moulding and roof spoiler to reduce wind noise and sound-absorbing material being applied at the base of the D-pillars to reduce the level of noise at the rear cabin.

Our drive impression was done in the top AWD model, the 2.2L with Skyactiv-D turbodiesel engine. This is the undersquare engine (86mm bore and 94.3mm stroke) that was used to power the CX-5 AWD 2.2L before it was replaced by the 2.5-litre petrol turbo variant. The 2191cc Euro 5 engine delivers 185hp at 4500rpm and 450Nm at 2000rpm. The transmission is a Skyactiv Drive six-speed automatic with manual shift option.

To reduce body lean or roll, Mazda engineers modifyied the MacPherson strut suspension by placing the coil springs at a sharper angle to the damper strut. This was found through road trials to cancel lateral forces and achieve more controlled rebound action that led to less body lean, complementing the anti-roll bar. The flatter ride through corners and sweepers would thus be a more comfortable one.

Our relatively short drive from the factory to Kulim and back didn’t provide winding road sections to test this out but we did take the CX-8 fast enough through a few sweepers when the road was clear. The CX-8 held its poise well for a vehicle of its height and dimensions, aided well by the array of electronic traction and dynamic grip controls.

During the few times that we could put our foot down to the metal to enjoy its acceleration prowess, we found the 2.2-litre turbodiesel somewhat wanting. Perhaps, it was because we found the 2.5-litre petrol turbo unit more willing to pick up speed or that the CX-8 AWD was more than 200kg heavier and a drag on the 2.2-litre turbodiesel.

There was however no qualms about the ride or comfort factor as we took turns to enjoy the quiet and pleasant ride as passengers during the drive. The 225/55 R19 Toyo Proxes R46 tyres complemented the MacPherson strut front and rear multi-link suspension well in ride, dynamics and comfort.

We did encounter a few glitches though. A warning guidance showed up on the 7-inch information display on the centre dash that said ‘Engine System Malfunction’. However, the Mazda team that accompanied us on the drive couldn’t figure out what had triggered the warning. It didn’t appear to affect the driving experience though.

Another one was the ‘Take a Short Break’ warning on the instrument panel that was also projected on the heads-up display. We must have a very tired face that the system instruments could detect as the drive was a short one. Coincidentally, we also encountered this message during the drive from KL to Penang and on the return run in the CX-5 Turbo!

CX-5 Turbo

The 2019 CX-5 range sees better connectivity with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto being a standard item across the model variants (which is also featured in the CX-8). What’s more interesting is the petrol-engine CX-5 Turbo AWD topping the range now. The sole 2.2-litre turbodiesel model is now a 2WD High variant instead of AWD.

The 2.5-litre petrol turbo is also an undersquare engine with 100m stroke and 89mm bore, much like the normally aspirated variant. It produces more at 228hp at 5000rpm and 420Nm from 2000rpm against the non-turbo 2.5-litre (192hp/6000rpm and 258Nm/400rpm) but shares the same Skyactiv Drive six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift option.

Apart from the difference in driving wheels (AWD against 2WD), the 2.5-litre turbo engine has a lower compression ratio of 10.5 against 13.0 for the non-turbo unit. However, this is still considered a high compression ratio for a turbocharged engine. Mazda engineers have made this possible through a series of ‘innovative’ Skyactiv technology.

This includes an oil pump with continuously variable displacement, multi-hole injectors, Mazda’s Dynamic Pressure Turbo and cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR). Mazda explains the working mechanics: “The Dynamic Pressure Turbo builds boost at low engine revs by using a small inlet port to accelerate exhaust gases hitting the turbine, akin to how water velocity increases when one holds a thumb over a hose. From there, a secondary valve opens up at higher rpm for increased airflow and maximum horsepower. A pulse scavenging 4-3-1 manifold prevents exhaust gas from restricting airflow through the engine and helps the engine breathe freely.”

Mazda also says that turbocharged engines are mated to continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) in many instances and this leads to them operating in a narrow band of efficiency. This is said to sacrifice the feeling of connectedness between driver and car, described as a ‘valued characteristics of all Mazda cars called Jinba-Ittai’.

With the Skyactiv Drive six-speed automatic transmission, Mazda says this pairing arrangement keeps the transmission torque converter locked through most of its operation to give a better ‘connected sense of controllability’ and provide a more spirited drive.

Well, we couldn’t disagree with that as we found the drive from KL to Penang and back a comfortable and pleasant one. We took some liberties with the speed when the highway opened up and flowed with traffic along denser sections. The CX-5 Turbo picked up speed easily as is expected of a bigger displacement engine and we like the strong build-up of power when we wanted to pick up the pace for quick overtaking.

It cruised nicely at 130-140km/h with the engine turning easily in the early to mid-2000rpm and when we pushed the speedo needle to above 180km/h, the engine was still working at an easy pace in the mid to upper 3000rpm range. The drive was a quiet one in that we could partake in small talk easily and the only noise was the varying subdued pitch of road roar over the respective road surfaces. Wind noise was generally low at all the usual turbulent places around the vehicle body.

The CX-5 felt well planted on the road when driving at robust speeds and the new G-Vectoring Control Plus (GVC) feature that comes as standard probably helped in the confident driving. This is a Mazda-exclusive technology that makes steering more precise by using small changes in the engine torque to shift weight to the front tyres when the driver turns the wheel in the original system. In the updated version, GVC Plus improves steering response as the driver straightens the wheel ‘by adding a hint of braking to the wheels’.

However, we weren’t fond of the lane discipline feature because each time we strayed, the system would pull us back. It is quite an odd feeling as the steering wheel stiffened up and we felt a momentary loss of directional status that we were not comfortable with. While we lived with it on the drive from KL to Penang, we decided to forego this safety feature by switching it off for the return drive the following day.

There was also the i-Stop feature that works almost like a hybrid car system; it turns the engine off during urban drives and restarts it when we take off. This is to save fuel and we learnt later that this could be turned off as well. We could also minimise its operation by turning the air-conditioner blower to the lowest level so that the stress on the engine is reduced and less fuel is required to run it at a higher rpm.

The CX-5 Turbo also seemed relatively sparing on fuel consumption as we covered the Penang-KL drive on about three-quarters of the 56-litre tank. This included the robust driving and a detour here and there for a rest and food. Incidentally, the CX-5 Turbo runs on the same 225/55 R19 Toyo Proxess R46 tyres as those on the CX-8 and they did their job well during the drive, especially in the rain and running over stagnant puddles.

As the top honcho in the CX-5 model range, the CX-5 Turbo is the priciest at RM181,770.40 on the road without insurance. This makes it about RM9300 more than the 2.2L 2WD High and RM14,000 more than the 2.5L 2WD High, which is not that much more for someone in this premium price range. It certainly makes an appealing option for those who desire a greater kick in acceleration.

Link here.
2019 All-New Mazda CX-8 Specification Sheet_All Variants.pdf
2019 New Mazda CX-5 Spec Sheet Ver.1.pdf
2019 New Mazda CX-5 Price List.pdf