Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Multi-tasking SUV packs comfort clearance

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A couple of weeks ago, following the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada Eco-Run, I made a side trip to Nova Scotia. There was some work involved, plus a chance to visit friends, sail on a buddy's boat, enjoy some Halifax restaurants and spend a night in a somewhat-remote cabin.

On this trip, I was driving Mazda's updated version of the CX-5 sports utility, which was otherwise new last year. Haney Louka reviewed it recently in the Free Press, and found the new version considerably improved.

I liked last year's version -- which we had at the car of the year tests -- well enough. The new version is both more powerful and more efficient -- a nice combination. Mazda calls their current styling theme "Kodo" design, or "soul of motion." Them's fancy words, but it does look distinctive and uncluttered.

Back when I was working for the Skip Barber Racing School. I was the professional driver assigned to Mazda for their "Meaning of Life" tour. Yes, another headscratching label. It turned out to be a combination retrospective of Life magazine photos, gorgeous fashion models and meals at the best restaurants as we worked our way cross-country, plus whatever driving event I could conjure up at each location.

Mazda's "Zoom Zoom" campaign was in its infancy. At that point, the slogan was better than the cars. In one of those race occurrences, the vehicles gradually evolved to where they lived up the advertising. The red CX-5 I was driving proved a good example of this process.

In other articles, I've described driving test cars as being similar to a holiday romance. All the fun, none of the consequences. Good journalists have to try to get past this, but we do have our prejudices.

I live in the Pacific Northwest, and spend a lot of time outdoors. Because I don't have a multi-car garage, the main vehicle has to be a jack-of-all-trades, capable of dirt tracks as well as downtown, plus ploughing its way through fresh snow on the way to the ski hill. A lowered car would be as much use as high-heeled pumps for a marathon runner. Even mainstream sedans with good winter tires get bogged down when faced with 30 cm of fresh wet snow. You guessed it: I really appreciate ground clearance.

As I was negotiating some winding roads on the way to the cabin, it was easy to forget the CX-5 was an SUV. That seems such a clich©. I've read that line in adverts and reviews of other SUVs, but it is rarely true. The Mazda proved a pleasant surprise. Excellent suspension settings, OK steering if a bit numb on centre. Good grip, supportive seats, useful manual mode in the automatic gearbox. It's not a sports sedan, but it's close enough for normal driving.

Half an hour later, I swung the forestry gate closed and we headed down an old logging road. Nothing serious, because this is not a serious off-roader, but it was nice not to worry about a stray rock gutting the thing, or getting stuck on some of the muddy sections.

This is an automobile that does a lot of things well. Maybe there is hope for this class of vehicle after all, and they can outlive the soft-roader image. I could live with the CX-5 even after the holiday romance glow faded.

Alan Sidorov is an experienced automobile racer, product tester and freelance writer. You can reach him at www.spdt.ca.

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 12, 2013 A1

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