Mazda has been teasing diesel engines for too long. It’s now available in the Mazda CX-5 but is it too little too late?
Actually, too expensive too late may be the better way to phrase it. The 2019 Mazda CX-5 Diesel unveiled at the last New York International Auto Show is available exclusively in the Signature trim at a significant price point of $45,950. Rarely do we start a first drive review by talking about price, but in this case we have to.
See, as I was heading over to Toronto to drive the Mazda CX-5 Diesel for the first time, the only thing I was really curious about was how Mazda intended to position its diesel. I expected the diesel-powered Mazda CX-5 to perform very well. I expected it to be more enjoyable than a GMC Terrain diesel or Chevrolet Equinox diesel (more on those two later) and a quick comparison test during the first drive event confirmed it. I didn’t have a single worry about the vehicle itself, just the market it’s about to enter.
Mazda says there are still diesel enthusiasts out there and right now, they have nowhere to turn. They are right about that. If you really, really wanted a diesel compact SUV, your only options were the aforementioned GM products which probably didn’t resonate with the diesel crowd. Mazda being known for its driving dynamics and inherent sportiness within its products has a better chance of seducing diesel lovers who also tend to be driving lovers as well.
So, the 2019 Mazda CX-5 Diesel makes sense in that way, but it would have made even more sense if priced at a more reasonable point.
Being a Signature model, the CX-5 Diesel is loaded and comes with all of the goodies including 19-inch wheels, Abachi wood, Cocoa Nappa leather seats, heated and cooled seats, dual-zone climate, Bose Premium Sound System, i-Activesense active safety, power seat and basically everything else you could need in your CX-5.
But, it’s still $45,000 which is over $4,000 more than the CX-5 GT. That’s a lot of coin for a compact SUV and will probably turn off many buyers who were waiting to learn more about the diesel before making a final decision. Those that will be left are the hardcore diesel enthusiasts with an above-average budget and are willing to spend to enjoy their favorite engine. Just how many of those people there are is anyone’s guess. Mazda doesn’t even know. You can tell that Mazda will be playing a waiting game with the CX-5 Diesel. They are bringing it to market and will adjust supply based on the demand. Now, let’s talk about the vehicle itself.
On the Road in the 2019 Mazda CX-5 Diesel
The 2019 Mazda CX-5 Diesel is powered by a 2.2-liter SkyActiv-D engine making 168 horsepower and 290 pound-feet of torque. Mazda’s philosophy has always been to try and extract the most out of each engine by fine-tuning each component and the SkyActiv diesel powertrain is no different.
By reducing crankshaft weight by 25 %, piston weight by 25 %, and making the engine block aluminium versus cast iron to save an extra 25 kg, Mazda has developed a very efficient diesel motor that uses a very low 14.4:1 compression ratio to get the most out of every drop of diesel. They have also worked to eliminate knocking and make the engine quieter by developing what it calls a natural sound smoother inserted in the piston head.
The engine uses a sequential turbocharged setup that calls upon a small turbocharger to deliver low rpm performance and a larger variable vane turbo as the revs climb. There’s a lot of science and a lot of tweaking in the new SkyActiv-D 2.2-liter engine, but what really matters is how it feels on the road.
It feels fast, actually. Not at all as fast as any of the SkyActiv-G engines found in other 2019 Mazda CX-5 models especially the turbo four-cylinder, but it certainly feels faster than anything GMC or Chevrolet have put in the Terrain and Equinox. The CX-5 Diesel is as sharp and agile as any other CX-5 and like its brothers it ranks among the most connected and sportiest compact utility vehicles you can buy.
As for power, it’s not bad off the line but it lacks any sort of kick at highway speeds. On the other hand, a 5-hour drive from Toronto to Montreal confirmed the quietness of the engine and cabin overall. The CX-5 in any version is as comfy as it is fun to drive and the CX-5 Diesel is no exception.
The long highway drive also confirmed the CX-5 Diesel’s fuel economy benefits. Average diesel consumption was rated at 7.1 liters per 100 kilometers which is always great to see in a vehicle with nearly 900 liters of cargo capacity. That said, Mazda confirms it tuned the CX-5 Diesel for driving fun first, fuel economy second. That means it doesn’t get the same efficiency as a GMC Terrain diesel.
That doesn’t really matter, however, because the GMC Terrain diesel is no more. General Motors confirmed it was taking the diesel powertrain out of its compact SUVs days before our test drive of the Mazda CX-5 Diesel. That means that the latter is basically alone in its segment now and the only diesel option in the compact SUV segment.
Will that translate into sales? Not sure. The 2019 Mazda CX-5 Diesel is a great vehicle and the fuel economy is impressive, but the rest of the CX-5 lineup is also great and efficient. The only real tangible advantage to the diesel is its 3,500-lb towing capacity, 1,500 pounds more than other CX-5 models. Aside from that, you really have to want a diesel.
And so, all that’s left is to see how many people really want a diesel.