Climb Inside the Redesigned Mazda CX-5 With Its Chief Designer

Mazda CX-5 Kodo design
The 2018 Mazda CX-5 refines the Kodo design | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

If the Mazda CX-9 hadn’t already stolen our hearts from the start, then the all-new CX-5 might as well have stolen that and our soul at the 2016 Los Angeles Auto Show. While Mazda executives probably flinch at the thought of its latest SUV being referred to as a “baby CX-9,” the similarities between it and the bigger, three-rowed machine are impossible to ignore. And that’s a good thing.

We all knew this was coming, we just didn’t know exactly how strong of an influence the larger SUV would have on its smaller sibling. But when Mazda unveiled the all-new CX-5 in an old studio lot in Hollywood, we were thrilled to see how the redesigned crossover took many of the CX-9’s most striking cues and blended them with a fresh style unique to the chassis.

Mazda CX-5 LAAS
Mazda CX-5 at LAAS | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

First launched in 2012, the CX-5 has been a bit of a test mule for the unconventional automaker, with the first incarnation serving as both a platform for Mazda’s Skyactiv drivetrain technologies and for its Kodo design language. Almost half a decade later, the little SUV has more than earned its place within the core lineup and is sold in more than 120 countries, accounting for approximately a quarter of all Mazda global sales. Since then, the CX-5 has won almost 90 awards worldwide, including Japan Car of the Year in 2012-2013, and topped our list of must have SUVs after a week-long in depth review.

We spoke with chief designer Julien Montoussé on the floor of the LA Auto Show about the inspiration behind the CX-5 styling, where he assured us that the new model is no simple downsizing job. Mazda has a unique approach to crafting cars from scratch, with all their designs inspired by abstract art and minimalist Japanese influences. Everything from bottles of soy sauce and ceramic sake carafes to forged katana swords and the iconic rock gardens of Kyoto influence the eye and hand of Mazda designers and engineers, and French-born Montoussé embraces this unorthodox approach with open arms.

Every square millimeter of this SUV gets inspected by hand during the design process, proving that a hands-on approach to automaking is still alive. For Montoussé and his team, they have to first feel the lines for themselves in order to create a vehicle that encourages drivers and passengers to feel an emotional attachment to it; because when life gives you hands, you make handmade things.

From its split grille and elongated hood lines to the way in which its wheel arches feed into the lower rocker panels, every angle on this car has been designed to reflect the environment around it. Does it stand out in the freshly developed Soul Red Crystal paint? Without a doubt. But it also infuses a feeling that it belongs in whatever environment you put it in, and by purposefully sculpting the shell of the CX-5 to mirror its surroundings, Mazda has created a car that’s both stealthy and a stand-out at the same time.

Mazda interior
Mazda’s latest and perhaps greatest interior | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

On the performance side, powertrain options include the latest Skyactiv-G 2.0- and 2.5-liter motors, as well as a surprise upgrade option: a turbocharged Skyactiv-D 2.2-liter diesel motor. In a press release, the automaker says it will begin offering this torque-focused alternative in North American markets sometime during the second half of 2017, marking the first time in history Mazda diesel engines will be made available to U.S. buyers.

While power figures haven’t been released yet, Mazda says its 2.2-liter motor will provide “a torque-rich driving experience and revs freely to high RPMs,” and that it will be “one of the most fuel-efficient vehicles in its class.” We were also told this engine upgrade will utilize a pair of unique noise cancellation technologies designed to keep diesel knock to a minimum, making for a quieter ride, smoother start-up, and lower emissions.

Mazda Skyactiv-D diesel engine
Mazda Skyactiv-D diesel engine | Mazda

With the world’s lowest diesel-engine compression ratio on tap, this extremely efficient engine will meet all exhaust regulations globally without the need for expensive NOx (nitrogen oxide) aftertreatment systems. It also gets 20% better fuel efficiency over Mazda’s outgoing diesel engine thanks to a low 14.0:1 compression ratio.

Attach to it a new two-stage turbocharger setup (with one large and one small snail allowing for a more linear response from low to high engine speeds), and you get a torque curve that provides outstanding power all the way up to the 5,200 RPM rev limit. There will also be a G-Vectoring Control system for enhanced cornering capabilities and overall vehicle stability, making the next-gen CX-5 the first Mazda SUV to sport this unique technology.

So with its stunning external overhaul, luxury-grade interior offerings, torque vectoring drivetrain assistance, and trio of clever engines, there’s little doubt that the next big thing from Fukuoka is going to be a midsize crossover.