Mazda's revised CX-5 pollutes less, but taxes your pocket more
Gentler crossover The Mazda CX-5 crossover features cylinder deactivation technology, which shuts down two of four cylinders under light-load cruising. ST PHOTO: BENJAMIN SEETOR

Mazda has become the first Japanese brand here to introduce engines with cylinder deactivation in its mass market models, starting with the CX-5 crossover.

The system shuts down two of four cylinders in the CX-5's engine under light-load cruising. Increasingly common among European brands, it saves fuel and reduces emissions.

But strangely, the brochure provided by Mazda says fuel economy remains unchanged at 7.2 litres/100km for the 2.5-litre variant tested here. Zero-to-100 also remains unchanged at 8.9 seconds, while top speed inexplicably goes up by 5kmh to 201kmh.

The normally aspirated, high compression engine still produces 194hp as previously. Peak torque remains at 258Nm, but it is attainable at a higher engine speed of 4,000rpm (up from 3,250rpm).

Equally inexplicable is how the particulate matter reading for the 2.5-litre has gone down from 1.1mg/km to 0.08mg/km - a reduction of more than 90 per cent.

Unlike the 2-litre version, the 2.5-litre's compression ratio remains unchanged at 13:1. (For the 2-litre, this was upped last year to 14:1, but is now back to 13:1.)

These changes do not affect the car's Vehicular Emissions Scheme banding. The 2.5-litre will still be liable for a $10,000 tax surcharge come July 1, while the 2-litre remains in the neutral band (no rebate, no surcharge).

So why did Mazda bother to include cylinder deactivation, which clearly costs more? (The 2.5-litre is about $20,000 costlier than last year, despite certificate of entitlement prices having fallen noticeably since.)

Perhaps it is to be gentler on the earth when the driver is light on the throttle. Cylinder deactivation takes place when the car is cruising at a constant speed of between 40 and 80kmh. Mazda says that at 40kmh, it saves 20 per cent fuel, with the savings gradually diminishing to 5 per cent at 80kmh.

All well and good, but how does the new car feel on the go?

Sadly, it feels a little constipated. Throttle response is a little wooden initially, but gets better as the revs pile on.

Still, you get lumpy acceleration, unlike the smooth and linear progress which recent Mazda cars have little trouble dishing out.

The slower availability of torque is obvious. Most times, the engine feels strained as the car tries to deliver what you want it to deliver. Often, you feel you are in a heftier car. So much so that you find yourself resorting to using the cruise control to drive. Thankfully, the CX-5's steering-mounted auto cruise switches are fairly easy to toggle.

Other than this, the CX-5 is as competent as before. It offers premium features such as motorised tailgate, navigation, head-up display and keyless system with walk-away self-locking.

Electronic parking brake with auto-hold function is also onboard.

At the helm, its steering is as sharp and direct as before. Ride quality is above average and noise insulation is adequate.

In the handling department, the car shines with its taut and well-tuned chassis. Around corners, it is as surefooted as its best European equivalents. Clearly, it is a chassis that can be better exploited with a more responsive drivetrain.

But you cannot have all that and still save the earth, can you?