Little things add up

The Gram Strategy. It’s an engineering belief that making a car lighter makes them fun-to-drive. It’s something commonly associated with Lotus’s Colin Chapman, and more recently, Mazda. And while it’s typically associated with their two-seater MX-5, the Gram Strategy is present in pretty much their entire line-up, including the CX-5.

It’s a pleasant surprise actually given that compact SUVs aren’t necessarily known for their weight-saving measures. But weighing in at 1,510 kilograms, the CX-5 2WD Sport is some 116 kilograms lighter than its all-wheel drive sibling, and as a result is a much better drive with better fuel economy to boot. This is the compact SUV that has its cake and eats it too.

Part of Mazda’s 2020 refresh for its CX-5 range, this 2WD Sport joins the range as a fourth variant offering. Sitting below the AWD line-up, it brings its convenience features and pairs it with the powertrain of the entry-level 2WD. From the outside though, there’s absolutely no way to tell the difference. Everything looks the same as the lower-end 2WD Pro — down to the same 17-inch alloy wheel design.

It doesn’t rock the boat aesthetics-wise, but then again, the CX-5 didn’t need to rewrite its design book either as it’s still one of the best-looking compact SUVs out there. Open the door, and the high-class Mazda look and feel remain unmistakable. The absence of the sunroof aside, this 2WD Sport has all the trappings of the AWD model — from the leather seats with contrasting stitching, power tailgate, and even the 10-speaker Bose sound system (with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto now to boot). For the driver, he also gets all sorts of comfort-boosting features like power seats with memory (the front passenger gets power adjustment too), heads-up display, and even a new gauge cluster that incorporates a 7-inch TFT display (ala the refreshed Mazda6 more than the all-new Mazda3).

Speaking of the Mazda3, there have been attempts to bring in some bits from their newer models into the CX-5, and sadly, they’re off-putting. For instance, the new climate control knobs look great by itself, but next to the rest of the dash, it doesn’t look like an elegant solution. Not to mention, the smaller knobs actually make them slightly harder to use compared to the previous one’s chunkier design. The same can be said about the new standard 360-degree camera which is great in principle, but negated by the fact that the display’s already small size and low-resolution splits the feed into two (360-degree plus front or rear view) making everything look so miniscule and almost undecipherable.

As with the other CX-5 variants, this 2WD Sport remains arguably the driver’s choice in the compact SUV segment. If life has you being dragged kicking and screaming out of a fun car and into a family vehicle, this one ultimately brings that sense of fun back.

Compared to its AWD counterparts, this 2WD Sport is actually far superior in terms of driving fun. It feels nimbler and more responsive; a full show of the aforementioned Gram Strategy at work. With less weight over its nose (and less weight overall), it’s pointier and sharper, aided by its natural and lighter steering. It shifts its mass very well, giving it a feel closer to that of a compact hatchback than a high-riding crossover.

Newfound agility aside, the 2020 CX-5 gets its suspension tweaked for an improved ride, too. The front dampers are now larger, while the rear has a new geometry, with some new vibration-absorbing material put in for good measure. Driven back-to-back with a 2019, the differences are subtle, but noticeable, especially when going over small cracks and bumps.

Equipped with a 2.0-liter Skyactiv-G engine, it gives up some 34 horsepower and 50 Nm of torque over its gasoline-powered AWD sibling. That said, its 156 horsepower and 200 Nm of torque outputs remain pretty stout compared to others in its class. But since it also gives up a considerable amount of weight, the outputs are just 10 percent less horsepower per metric ton. As a result, it feels lighter on its feet with a better off-the-line feel. Without a stopwatch, this CX-5 feels faster in city confines. Naturally, high-speed runs reveal the chinks in its armor as the lack of low-end grunt requires the engine to rev considerably more. Thankfully then that this is a rev-happy engine, and the six-speed automatic obliges.

Undoubtedly though, the best part of the entire CX-5 2WD experience is the fuel economy. Driven purely in city traffic, it easily does 10.3 km/L in heavy, and 12.3 km/L in light traffic — an impressive 30-percent improvement over the 2.5 AWD Sport.

The 2WD Sport’s efficiency gain is just one of the reasons why this is perhaps the best all-rounded CX-5 model out there. The meshing of the AWD’s features with the practicality of the base 2WD’s drivetrain doesn’t makes for headline-grabbing changes, but the multitude of smaller, and sometimes imperceptible tweaks add up to a much better CX-5 — one that makes it more attractive to a larger set of buyers. With stingy discounts and relatively high pricing, the P 100,000 difference between this and the next-rung 2.5 AWD Sport amounts to a lot. There will be those who’d advocate going for the bigger engine for sure, but the vast majority, this new 2WD Sport nails everything right on the head.

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