When is an urban SUV not an urban SUV? When it’s a Mazda CX-5 Activ?
Well not really, because it is. But actually it’s not. Because it’s much more than that.
It’s also a rural SUV, it’s an adventure SUV, I think it may have an alter ego, it’s not quite Superman, but it’s sure as hell not Clark Kent (or whoever the Marvel equivalents are).
So let’s talk a little about the Urban CX-5 Activ persona first.
While the styling facelift of the CX5 range may be quite extensive, especially around the grill and front guards, it’s still obviously a CX-5, just a bit sharper. And it still utilises Mazda’s Kodo design philosophy, allowing the play of light and reflections to accentuate curves and angles.
Likewise with the interior. It has always felt like quality, and is more than a match for a lot of its more expensive contemporaries. There wasn’t much to improve on really, and the new seats are just brilliant.
Mazda has stayed with the centre console “joystick” controls for the info and entertainment screen, arguing that it’s much less of a distraction than a touch screen, and you can do what you need to do without taking your attention away from the road.
Drive train tech has always been a huge attraction of the CX-5 range, Mazda call it Jinba Ittai (horse and rider as one), and have blended a number of driver aids into the chassis dynamics and engine response to develop G-vectoring which makes the CX-5 one of the best driving SUV’s out there.
In the new models, this driving experience has been enhanced by some materials upgrades, some redesigning of the suspension damping geometry, and extra rigidity to further improve turn-in response and NVH numbers.
Then the 2022 CX-5 introduces Mazda Intelligent Drive Select (Mi-Drive), with Normal and Sports settings across the range, and for the Activ and Takami models, a unique “Off-Road” setting.
And now, introducing Adventure CX-5 Activ.
Now Mazda are very quick to point out that the CX-5 is an SUV, and not a true off-roader, and the trickery that makes up the Mi-Drive Off-Road setting “is there to let our customers enjoy the outdoors safely, rather than take the outdoors on head-on!”
The example they used was when overnight rain had turned the dusty gravel road into a campsite into a muddy track back out.
It wasn’t quite what we had intended, but when we headed down a forestry road to check out an “outdoor recreation area” near Whangamata, we got wet. And so did a couple of tricky areas on the track where it exited back on to the road.
Mazda says the ‘Off-Road’ setting on the CX-5 Active Mi-Drive “optimises control characteristics for off-road driving: i-Activ AWD for high traction control and stability; TCS for smooth and direct performance of the Traction Control System; 6AT for smooth and continuous torque control; GVC-Plus enhanced for vertical load and grip for peace of mind. Various sensors and systems control the engine’s idling speed for enhanced uphill driving by increasing creep torque, suppressing slippage and supporting strong launches.”
So let’s dig a little deeper here. First thing is the i-Activ AWD, which sets up the trans PTO to direct at least 15% of the engines torque to the rear wheels at all times (well up to 160kph apparently), and applies braking to any wheels that are slipping (or off the ground at the limits of articulation) through the Traction Control System.
Then the engine and 6 speed auto get together to increase idle speed and decrease throttle response to help hold the car on uphill starts, and apply power much more smoothly. To reinforce the ability of the system to make this power as smooth as possible to help reduce wheelspin it increases torque converter slip off the line, and then slows down the 1st to 2nd gear change to minimise wheelspin again.
The Off-Road mode PTO unit built into the 6 speed trans is even designed with dampening built into its structure to sharpen up the response of that torque transfer.
All this is overseen by the Traction Control System as ultimate arbiter of what power goes where, with sensors reading ground speed, and wheel speed to gauge slippage, and decide which wheel gets what.
Now, we didn’t go out to check if it works, but after a bit of time picking our way back out through the mud and puddles, we can confirm that Mazdas Mi-drive Off-Road mode works a treat. It doesn’t quite turn the CX-5 into a hairy chested mud slinger, but it does a good job of getting an inexperienced driver out of trouble. Carefully and safely.
Actually it does much more than that, the CX-5 Activ is remarkably capable as a soft off-roader, but we didn’t tell you that.
Mazda have come up with a couple of little quirks that identify the Activ as being different from the rest of the CX-5 range, neither of which you would call subtle, but both of which you would probably not see if it wasn’t pointed out to you.
The first is green. Lime Green. In the new grill of the Activ there is a small pattern of bright green segments in the top left corner.
That bright green is carried inside as stitching and trim on the rather luxurious leatherette and suede seats, and then it leaps out and smacks you around the eyes as trim on the dashboard, and around the aircon vents.
Mazda has copped a bit of flack over the years about the greyness of their interiors, but they won’t with this. It actually looks much better than it may sound, and continues to grow on you with time in the car.
The second is brown. Mud brown. That’s the colour the background to the speedo numbers goes to tell you that you are in Off Road mode. I’m not sure of the aesthetics, but it makes you grin every time.
And that is why the CX-5 Active is just a bit more Superman than Clark Kent.
For more images check out the gallery below – HINT: click on the “full page” icon.