Mazda CX-5 Reviewed

Having reviewed the brand new MX-5 at this time last year, it was time to test a car at the other end of Mazda’s range this January – the larger of their two “SUV” models, the CX-5. Given the only other SUV I’d driven to date was the Porsche Cayenne – that costs almost three times the price – it had a lot to live up to!

Parked up in Quainton village on a sunny winter morning, its front styling rather reminiscent of Jaguar’s entry in the SUV field, the F-PACE. Its not as angular – nor frankly as ugly – as similar offerings from the likes of Nissan (Juke) and Toyota (CH-R). My particular car was black but I think it would look better in the same colour the MX-5 looked great in – Soul Red.

With cream/black contrasting leather trim, the front seat adjustment is all-electric with two slot memory for the driver’s side. Its elevated driving position is accompanied by a head-up display of your current speed and the current speed limit, as detected automatically via forward-facing camera – clever stuff, eh? I struggled to get to grips with the same hateful “infotainment” system that I first encountered in the new MX-5, despite it boasting a big colour touch screen. You certainly don’t want to attempt to make any settings beyond volume while on the move.

A 2.2 litre diesel engine drives via a six-speed automatic transmission, which was incredibly smooth with almost imperceptible changes. In fact without switching the stick across to manual (there’s no paddle shift), you really could not tell what gear you were in. Auto stop/start was an almost expected fuel-saving feature, defeated if you prefer by a switch near the driver’s right knee. Being a modern Mazda, the quoted economy figures are typically impressive with this top-of-the-line model returning an amazing 52 miles per diesel gallon.

While certainly more capable over the bumps and pot holes common on our roads these days, the ride was none-the-less quite harsh; no adjustments were available for either the suspension of 4WD arrangement. Mazda really promote safety with all cars in their current range and the CX-5 comes with a wide range of features designed to make your transit as safe as possible – including a lane deviation warning, cruise control that detects range to the car in front, stability and traction control. There’s a reversing camera and sensors and the handbrake is electronic.

Its 19″ wheels came fitted with summer tyres, which would not have coped well with any off-road conditions and frankly would have struggled on the ice and show a potential buyer may well expect the car to cope with.

In conclusion, the CX-5 was not a car that I felt particularly attracted to, but it does demonstrate just how economical such a large car can be. My thanks though to Lodge Garage, Aylesbury for the loan of a car that, this time, I was happy to return.

BMW M Driving Experience at Bedford

I recently took up an invitation from BMW to join them for M range driving experience, held at MSV’s Bedford Autordrome circuit and in association with Shell V-Power, who provided their fuel for all of the cars on the day.

Apparently there were a total of £4M of cars for us to play with on the day, the most expensive of which were examples of the i8 hybrid supercar.

BMW celebrated their centenary last year and are now one of only three makes still taking part in the struggling DTM championship.

There were a few familiar figures from the world of motorsport there: ITV’s BTCC pitlane commentator Alan Hyde was master of ceremonies and the hot laps were provided by BTCC driver Andrew Jordan and Alexander Sims who races BMWs in the US. Photography was being done by Jakob Ebrey, who has until recently also raced a Porsche 924, albeit in a different series from myself.

The day started, for our group of 12, with a chance to drive all of the M range of saloons, namely the M2, M4, M6 and i8. I started with the M6, which really felt the accomplished GT car it is, then moved into the i8, which was being demonstrated by UK GT race driver Abbey Eaton; this particular car was a little flat so the petrol engine was doing a lot of the work. I then tried the M4, but couldn’t push this car too much as one of the other guests had nearly binned it earlier in the morning. Last up was the little M2, which actually proved the most fun. This part of the day was concluded by hot laps in a race M235i, driven by either Andrew or Alex. I shared the car with Alex and he really pushed it on its racing slicks, despite the track still being wet in places.

The second group experience was driving the M3 on a wet handling course, with the driver aids turned off, around cones including doughnuts, against the clock. Driving beyond the limit of grip isn’t something I’ve done a lot of but I did surprisingly well, only once losing control completely. I never did find out how well I’d done against the other drivers though.

The final – and for me most exciting – part of the experience was to drive one of the MSV Palmersport race-prepared M4s around Bedford’s South circuit, again against the clock, with a race instructor encouraging all drivers to improve on each lap. These cars are about 150kg heavier than the Boxster I started my racing in but at the same time have around 100 extra HP. My driving got a bit ragged in the second session but I did knock another second off my best lap. The instructor’s best lap on the day was 1:05.33; Martin Brundle does this circuit in 1:05; my best was 1:07.81.

My thanks to BMW UK for the invite, and the BMW and MSV instructors and staff for providing such a brilliant experience.

Mazda MX-5 Sport Road Test

I’ve had an association with Lodge Garage, an official Mazda dealership near Aylesbury, for a number of years now and they recently gave me a 24 hour loan of the latest release of the Mazda MX-5.

No mistaking this car. Mazda’s MX-5 made its debut in 1989 and continues to be extremely popular. Now I understand why.

This particular car is the top-of-the-range 2-litre Sport Nav version in optional Soul Red Metallic – a colour that I think suits the car really well. Powered by a unique-to-the-model straight 4, with a high compression ratio of 13:1, it puts out 200NM of torque – a full 33% up on the 1.5 litre variants – which explains why you’re able to start off in second, or do 30mph in 6th gear. You can reach its peak power of 160PS just before its red line at 6000rpm but the car pulls really well right across the rev range. Words like “pokey”, “eager” and “lively” spring readily to mind when describing its performance. The 6-speed gearbox is an absolute dream, the short shifter ideally placed for fast changes. 62mph appears in 7.3 second in ideal conditions and a clear Autobahn could see 133mph. Yet this car can easily return in excess of 50mpg on a motorway cruise.

The 2 litre Sport model features 17" wheels with grippy Bridgestone Potenza tyres
The 2 litre Sport model features 17″ wheels with grippy Bridgestone Potenza tyres

The car’s superb handling is at least partly explained by the presence of Bilstein shocks; the car also boasts a limited slip diff, which you’ll feel the benefit of if you’re one for booting the throttle on corner exits. The smart 205 17″ alloy wheels come with Bridgestone Potenza S001 tyres, which coped admirably with the damp and icy conditions of Buckinghamshire’s back roads in January, as well as three hours of motorway cruising.

Luxurious cabin space with leather a-plenty
Luxurious cabin space with leather almost everywhere on this variant

The cabin space is luxurious, with full leather 3-stage-heated seats, leather door cards and lower dash, plus a leather steering wheel. The manual fabric roof incorporates a glass rear window with a very efficient heating element. For potential owners who might be put off a proper “rag top”, a metal targa-style hard top variant launches shortly – Lodge have already taken 17 orders for a car no one has even seen yet.

Mazda's infotainment system I find hateful
Mazda’s infotainment system I find hateful!

Sadly you can’t get away from what I feel is a hateful “infotainment” system that’s deployed across the current Mazda range – its popup-looking-but-not touch screen dominating the centre of the dash, together with a joystick control aft of the gear change. I just can’t get used to using it but at least this one has sat nav built in, together with both Blue Tooth and USB connectivity for mobile devices. Selected gear is show in the rev counter, where the car can subtly suggest a higher gear to improve your economy. Cruise control or speed limiter is standard – handy with more and more of our motorways becoming “managed” – as is defeat-able “lane departure warning”, plus tyre pressure monitoring. A optional safety pack would also bring you blind spot monitoring (although visibility isn’t particular poor here anyway) and automatic high beam control – which I’m not a fan of.

Instrumentation is clear with no reflections

The MX-5 has been a total contrast the brand new but gutless 2 that I borrowed this time last year, which I wouldn’t even consider buying to replace my own 2, bought in January 2009. This car however I’d have in a heartbeat – if I didn’t already own a Porsche Boxster.

A massive thanks therefore to Lodge Garage, Aylesbury for the loan of this fabulous car.


Cayenne e-hybrid Road Test

At the invite of the Porsche dealership in Towcester, and as a stark contrast to the Boxster I am now very familiar with, a 2016 model year Cayenne S e-hybrid was my drive for a damp morning in late November. The face lift for next year is quite minor in comparison to the changes we’re going to see with the latest release of the 911 and externally its only the rear that sees much in the way of improvements, making the car appear lower.

This particular car had seen no expense spared on the options front, boasting a panorama roof, air suspension, 21″ turbo design wheels (glad I don’t have to clean those) and full leather sports memory seats which have larger bottom and side bolsters to keep you firmly in place as you navigate the back roads of today’s Britain.

The plethora of functions handled by steering wheel and stalks (including optional cruise control), combined with the Tiptronic paddle shifts, make the steering column a rather crowded affair and I managed to accidentally engage the heated steering wheel at one point.

The elevated ride height obviously leads to an improved view of the road ahead but I was rather disappointed by the rearward vision, which is partially obscured by the multiple rear seat headrests – its would certainly be worth requesting the optional Park Assist package, especially if you’re not already used to such a relatively large vehicle. Running boards helped with ingress and egress – handy when you’re more used to driving one of Porsche’s sports models.

The optional air suspension as you might expect does a fantastic job of smoothing out the pot holes – I did the entire drive with it set to its middle mode, now labelled ‘Sport’ and even on Northamptonshire’s bumpy B-roads the ride was superb. We were out and about for 50 minutes and I left the car as relaxed as I had got in it; its easy to see how well the Cayenne suits long range cruising.

This was my first ever drive in a Cayenne, only the second in a (part-)electric car (a BMW i3), and with a weight approaching 2.5 tonnes you might expect it to be a bit of a handful. Power comes from a combination of a 328bhp 3.0-litre supercharged V6 petrol backed up with a 94bhp electric motor so based on numbers alone you’d expect the performance to be fairly spectacular but yet I found myself employing 100% throttle on occasion because the first half of the pedal’s travel only engages the electric power. You would have to be mindful of this if you’ve come from almost any other vehicle because it does take a while to pick up the pace.  But there’s no denying the economy this vehicle is capable of: if your commute is short (less than around 22 miles) and you’re careful with the throttle, its entirely possible you’ll do the whole journey on electric power alone. In fact one of the OPC Silverstone staff told me that one customer of theirs has now owned one of these for six months and is yet to put any more fuel in it.

There is no manual transmission option here; instead you have an 8-speed Tiptronic automatic gearbox (interesting they don’t employ the double clutch PDK box in Cayenne yet). But don’t expect the ponderous auto boxes of old as here gear changes are rapid and almost silent in operation and the Hill Start Assist takes all of the effort out of starting off on a slope.

Would I buy the e-hybrid Cayenne? Certainly if I was in the market for a car equally suited to long-range commutes as it is towing a race car, the Cayenne would be very high on my list, but the apparent the lack of pace from the get-go would put me off buying the hybrid model. If you’re a London driver however, the currently available savings on new car duty and congestion charge could well make this car a lot cheaper to run than you’d expect.

My thanks to Porsche Silverstone for this opportunity, and to Fawlsey Hall Hotel for looking after us.