SUV Review: 2019 Mazda CX-5 Skyactiv-D

SUV Review: 2019 Mazda CX-5 Skyactiv-D
To paraphrase the immortal Patty Duke, I think that automotive sales success, like successful relationships, requires more than a little good luck, good fortune and, most especially, good timing.

Unfortunately, six years ago when Mazda Canada originally wanted to introduce its first diesel to North America, it had none of the first, precious little of the second and, if it is at all possible, it’s timing was even worse than AIG’s famed $1,000-a-night retreat just weeks after it received its infamous $85 billion bail-out .

Making a short story long, Mazda has wanted to bring a compression-ignition engine to Canada for quite some time. The company prides itself on its ability to wring more kilometres out of a litre than pretty much anyone else, so it was natural, logical even, that they’d eventually look to fuel-sipping diesel technology to shore up its low consumption bona fides.

Unfortunately — and I’m not sure if this falls under bad luck or bad fortune — Mazda is a prideful company. So, when Volkswagen announced that it could meet North American emissions standards without resorting to urea injection — officially called selective catalytic reduction — the company’s engineers were determined to prove that its engineers, the equal of any from Germany, could do so as well.

Well, as we all know, Volkswagen’s technological Holy Grail turned out to be an illusion, Dieselgate knocking not only Volkswagen, but the future of diesels — nay, all of internal combustion — for a loop. Mazda had been chasing a pipe dream, its delay not only unwarranted but unnecessary.

All of which begs the question of whether Mazda’s decision to bring its Skyactiv-D — again, some six years later than first anticipated — is a worthwhile addition to its lineup or just more we’ll-show-you-what-we-can-do hubris.

The short answer, at least to those that have a predilection to both Mazdas and diesels is an only slightly qualified yes. In fact, my initial evaluation is that the new 2.2-litre oil burner is a better “premium” powertrain than the Signature’s version of the 2.5-litre gas-fed turbo that’s garnered so much praise as of late. Yes, the diesel sacrifices horsepower — the oil burner claims but 168 ponies while the Signature’s 2.5-litre gas-fed Turbo boasts 227 hp (250 hp on premium gas). But what it sacrifices in top-end revvability, it more than makes up for in comportment, the 2.2-litre SkyActiv-D’s 290 pound-feet of torque at 2,000 rpm further proof of the benefits of the high compression needed to self-ignite diesel fuel. Whether it was passing a long semi on the highway or scooting away from a stoplight a little more quickly than John Law recommends, I never found the Skyactiv-D to be short on power. Horsepower may make supercars fast, but torque renders ordinary vehicles peppy. That diesel grunt also allows the SkyActiv-D version of the CX-5 to tow more — 1,586 kilograms (3,500 lb) versus 907 kg (2,000 lb) — than the nominally more powerful 2.5L Turbo gas engine.

BMW expects to build diesel engines for another 20 years

It’s also a pretty sophisticated engine, noticeably quieter than comparable small diesels, but still a bit of ignition “clatter.” It is well contained and doesn’t detract in the slightest from the CX-5’s demeanour. And the fact that the Skyactiv-D doesn’t have the rush of power of the gasoline engine’s turbocharger coming on stream, the diesel’s more tempered throttle response makes the drive that much more relaxing. Mated to the rest of the CX-5 Signature’s attributes — an uncommonly luxurious interior for this segment, G-Vectoring Control and a stylish exterior — there’s something more “grown up” about the diesel CX-5, an attribute the 2.5L version was somehow missing.

As for a diesel’s long suit, once again methinks that Lady Luck is not smiling on Mazda’s oil-burning SkyActiv. Ever since its testing oversights were exposed by the Volkswagen fiasco, the EPA has been insistently diligent in their testing of anything lacking a spark plug. Ditto its partner in crime… oops, I mean emissions reduction, Transport Canada. Officially, then, the CX-5 is rated at 7.9 L/100 km on the highway. If you’re thinking that seems a trifle extravagant for a diesel — it’s exactly the same rating the government gives the base, non-turbocharged 2.5-litre CX-5 — you’re not alone. I certainly expected a lower rating, something in the region of 6.5 or, at worst, 7 flat.

Well, coincidentally, those 7.9 L/100 km is exactly what I recorded in the Skyactiv-D CX-5 while averaging an OPP-baiting 125 km/h on Ontario’s relatively flat 401, Cruising at a more representative  — of both real-world use and also official testing — 110 km/h, fuel consumption was about another litre per 100 klicks lower. I’m not sure why the little 2.2L didn’t do better in Transport Canada’s testing, but, despite a seemingly unfavourable rating, the Skyactiv-D does produce the economies promised by diesel technology.

Where those economies fall a little flat, however, is that Mazda Canada wants $45,950 for its (admittedly well-equipped) diesel. And while that’s decent pricing compared with some competitive models — especially those with as fine an interior as this Mazda boasts — it is exactly $5,000 more than the model it will be compared with most, the CX-5 Signature. Essentially, the same vehicle save for the powertrain, that means Mazda Canada must convince Canadians that its SkyActiv-D engine is worth a $5,000 uptick.
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