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Quick Spin: Mazda refines CX-5's formula for success

Julien Montousse, North America director of design at Mazda Motor Corp., speaks at the unveiling of the company's CX-5 compact sports utility vehicle (SUV) during an event in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016.

Troy Harvey/Bloomberg

Mazda's KODO (soul in motion) philosophy is finding its latest expression in the redesigned CX-5, unveiled at this week's Los Angeles Auto Show.

The five-passenger SUV crossover has been Mazda Canada's top seller this year and accounts for a quarter of the auto maker's global sales. It's especially important in North America, where SUVs have cut deeply into its sedan and hatchback sales.

With the introduction of the new compact CX-3 last year and second-generation seven-passenger CX-9 this year, Mazda now has a full complement of fresh sport-utes.

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But good SUVs are thick on the ground, so Mazda hopes its "humancentric" approach to design will tug at buyers' emotions – and wallets.

Computers rule auto making, but "there is a search for authenticity within a customer that wants a hand-made approach," Julien Montousse, Mazda North America's design director, said in an interview at a CX-5 preview in advance of its official debut.

The emotional element was evident in the way light played off the CX-5's subtle curves. The display model featured a striking new body colour – Soul Red Crystal, an evolution of Mazda's Soul Red but with much more depth and lustre to flatter the KODO design.

The human-centred approach carries over to the interior detailing with metal and natural wood accents and soft-touch materials anywhere an occupant is likely to lay their hand. The driver gets special attention with revised ergonomics and improved lateral vision thanks to repositioned A-pillars.

The CX-5 gets head-up nav information projected onto the windshield and a high-res 4.6-inch colour LCD screen next to the instrument cluster, the seven-inch infotainment screen has been moved to the top of the dashboard to reduce the driver's eye movement.

The seats provide better support and improved damping against any jolts. Reshaped rear seats will have a two-step reclining mechanism.

Mechanically, CX-5 gets Mazda's full SkyActiv treatment, aimed at co-ordinating drivetrain, chassis and body design to produce a better driving experience. Tweaks include rigid steering mounts to improve the electric power steering's linearity and a 15.5 per cent increase in the body's torsional rigidity.

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The CX-5 will feature a 2.0-litre and 2.5-litre gasoline engines – the latter a direct-injection unit. In the second half of 2017 a 2.2-litre SkyActive diesel, combining fuel efficiency, strong torque and a higher rev range and quieter operation than normal for oil burners.  Mazda offered no data on any of its engines.

A Mazda Canada spokesperson said specific power and fuel economy numbers will be released closer to the CX-5's Canadian launch. The diesel's performance will be comparable to Mazda diesels sold in other markets, with torque on par with gasoline engines twice its size and class-leading real-world fuel economy.

The Volkswagen/Audi diesel-emissions scandal has not poisoned the well for new diesel products in Canada and the U.S., said Masahiro Moro, Mazda's CEO of North American operations.

"Certainly the consumer might have lost some trust, but I think in the U.S. diesel technology has not been so popular yet," he said in an interview. "So we have a great chance to provide a great value to the customer who is looking for the great value that diesel can provide."

The CX-5 diesel is arriving in the North American market at a tough time, Akira Marumoto, executive vice-president of Mazda Motor Corp., conceded at the debut press conference.

"But we have a great product, uniquely positioned in the SUV segment," he said. "We're confident there is sufficient latent demand from consumers who want the fuel economy and driving performance that only a modern diesel engine can provide."

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Mazda's growing SUV/crossover sales at the cost of its conventional vehicles does not mean it will beggar development of future sedans or hatchbacks, Moro said. All of Mazda's vehicles share basic platform architecture and mechanical components.

"It's just a matter of sheet metal, how you can change the shape," he said. "So we don't have any intention to shift resources to crossovers from sedans. We think they are both important."

The CX-5 goes on sale in Japan in February, followed by a global rollout. Canadians are likely to see it in the spring. Pricing was not announced. A 2016 CX-5 starts around $23,000.

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