Sky’s the LIMIT Sky­ac­tiv tech­nol­ogy keeps Mazda CX-5 fit at high al­ti­tude

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - FRONT PAGE -

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — It was sur­pris­ing how com­par­a­tively lit­tle horse­power the 2014 Mazda CX-5 lost traips­ing around Utah’s moun­tain­ous peaks like a four-wheeled billy goat.

Al­ti­tude, as any­one who’s ever driven over any moun­tain range can at­test, saps power. The air — as my strain­ing lungs re­minded me — be­comes less dense the higher up the trail you go. This de­creased den­sity means each cylin­der gets less air to com­press and the en­gine has to com­pen­sate by in­ject­ing less fuel into the com­bus­tion cham­ber.

The end re­sult is each of the “bangs” that make up an in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine’s mo­tive force is a lit­tle less ro­bust than it would be were the en­gine breath­ing closer to sea level.

The stan­dard so­lu­tion for in­ter­nal com­bus­tion’s al­ti­tude sick­ness has al­ways been tur­bocharg­ing. Tur­bos force-feed air to an en­gine and are able to over­come moun­tain-high oxy­gen de­pri­va­tion.

It’s a tac­tic that worked for avi­a­tion pis­ton en­gines back when jets were just a gleam in Hans von Ohain’s eye and it works just as well for au­to­mo­biles climb­ing to­ward cloud-cov­ered sum­mits.

Un­for­tu­nately, the CX-5, un­like many of new com­pact cars and sport utes hit­ting the mar­ket, is not tur­bocharged, Mazda tak­ing a soli­tary road to­ward greater fuel econ­omy that in­cludes (so far) nei­ther tur­bocharg­ing nor hy­bridiza­tion. And yet, the CX-5 ac­quit­ted it­self some­what bet­ter than the CX-9 that ac­com­pa­nied it up the mid-western ski slopes.

In­deed, while the CX-9’s 3.7-litre V6 felt like it lost the an­tic­i­pated 30 to 40 per cent of power from the al­ti­tude (that peaked at well over 3,500 me­tres), the CX-5 seemed to only lose per­haps 20 per cent.

Why? Per­haps it’s the mir­a­cle of Sky­ac­tiv. Mazda’s trade­mark “rev­o­lu­tion” in in­ter­nal com­bus­tion claims all man­ner of tech­no­log­i­cal en­hance­ments, but the one that con­stantly catches my eye is the strato­spher­i­cally high 13.0:1 com­pres­sion ra­tio.

For those un­fa­mil­iar with in­ter­nal com­bus­tion ter­mi­nol­ogy, that’s a mea­sure of how much air is com­pressed in­side a cylin­der be­fore the ex­plo­sion that is in­ter­nal com­bus­tion is ig­nited. The more the air is squeezed, the greater the re­sul­tant ex­plo­sion and 13.0:1 is usu­ally the kind of tun­ing re­served for rac­ing cars and the high, naked ovals of NAS­CAR.

Seem­ingly, it also helps the CX-5’s new 2.5L four-cylin­der en­gine over­come al­ti­tude sick­ness.

Of course, pranc­ing about like a moun­tain goat was not Mazda’s man­date for Sky­ac­tiv tech­nol­ogy, but rather good old-fash­ioned per­for­mance fuel econ­omy. On the first front, the new 2.5L Sky­ac­tiv four-cylin­der is largely suc­cess­ful be­cause it is sig­nif­i­cantly more pow­er­ful — 29 horse­power and 36 pound-feet — than the 2.0L four that still pow­ers the base CX-5 GX ($22,995).

Its max­i­mum 184 horse­power may not quite match the more than 200 horse­power of some of the 2.0L tur­bocharged sport cutes — Audi’s Q5 and the BMW X1 come to mind — but it’s more than pow­er­ful enough and eas­ily the match of Toy­ota’s new RAV4 and Honda’s CR-V.

More im­por­tantly, it eas­ily bests those tur­bocharged com­peti­tors when it comes to real-world fuel econ­omy. Oh, Nat­u­ral Re­source Canada’s of­fi­cial fuel-econ­omy rat­ings are only marginally bet­ter for the CX-5 — 8.5 litres per 100 kilo­me­tres in the city and 6.6 L/100 km on the open road ver­sus the BMW’s 9.1 and 6.2 L/100 km — but the Sky­ac­tiv tech­nol­ogy re­ally shines on the road. De­spite sig­nif­i­cant time spent rol­lick­ing about off-road trails — usu­ally a killer of fuel econ­omy — our CX-S GT av­er­aged less than 9.0 L/100 km, stellar num­bers con­sid­er­ing the con­di­tions.

Like­wise, for some­thing not pre­tend­ing to be a Land Rover, the CX-5 ac­quit­ted it­self quite well off-road. No, it doesn’t have the wheel ar­tic­u­la­tion of an LR4 or the lock­ing dif­fer­en­tials of a De­fender, but our traipse across the Cot­ton­wood Pass did not overly chal­lenge the lit­tle Mazda. Con­sid­er­ing the wilder­ness we cov­ered, I sus­pect few will need more off-road abil­ity than the CX.

Most of the rest of the Mazda re­mains the same for 2014. Be­sides the en­gine up­grade in the $28,650 GS and $33,250 GT, there’s a new Smart City Brake Sup­port (SCBS) sys­tem avail­able, which will au­to­mat­i­cally brake the CX-5 to a stand­still if it de­tects an im­mi­nent col­li­sion.

Oth­er­wise, the CX-5 re­mains un­changed for 2014. It re­mains a sporty han­dling, fairly roomy and a de­cid­edly pretty com­pact sport ute. It of­fers su­pe­rior per­for­mance to its di­rect com­peti­tors and, com­pared with the tur­bocharged fours that rule the com­pact pre­mium seg­ment, bet­ter fuel econ­omy.

Many lamented Mazda’s de­ci­sion to stop pro­duc­ing its CX-7. The new CX-5 is a more than wor­thy re­place­ment.

The new Mazda CX-5 is a sporty han­dling, fairly roomy and a de­cid­edly pretty com­pact sport ute.

A well-equipped 2014 Mazda CX-5 can be pur­chased for un­der $30,000.

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