Jim Bray's Car & Tech rants - publishing online exclusively since 1995
Mazda CX-5 Suna

Mazda's Suna trim offers engaging variations on a turbocharged theme

By Jim Bray
April 25, 2024

Mazda may have retired its "Zoom-Zoom" slogan, but that doesn't mean its products have become stodgy or any less fun to drive.

In fact, as evidenced by my recent time in a CX-5 and a 3 Sport hatchback, both "sporting" Mazda's new Suna trim level, they're as much or more fun than they've ever been.

The Suna edition, also available on the MX-30 EV and the CX-30, "share styling elements with the previously released Kuro Edition lineup, both offering a sense of sportiness blended with upscale styling," according to Mazda's press blurb. And as with the Kuro Edition models, the new Suna Editions feature gloss black exterior flourishes (black metallic aluminum alloy wheels, side mirrors, and front grille, for example), but with its own unique colour scheme to stand out from other models.

Click on the images to access Mazda's slideshow.

And they sure do! My samples of the Suna editions wore the edition's Zircon Sand Metallic exterior paint colour and, while it certainly isn't my particular cup of tea, it's reminiscent of that interesting glossy grey finish that's cropping up all over the place – except that there's more green in it. And the interiors feature stuff like terracotta upholstery with black suede inserts and gunmetal accents to, as Mazda claims, "give these models a timeless feel that still appeals to the modern world."

I dunno about that, but I know I loved both the CX-5 and 3 Sport. I'd just prefer a different colour – and a butt tuck on the 3 Sport's plus sized bum, which is by far this great car's weakest part. That has nothing to do with the Suna trim level, of course, just a brain fart on the part of the designers who took the last generation's gorgeous hatchback and shot mucho botox into it.

That said, as I've noted many times, beauty is in the eye of the keyholder.

Mazda 3 Sport SunaBoth of Mazda's samples came with basically the same underpinnings, and they're lovely. Both feature Mazda's great four-cylinder turbo engine, all wheel drive, and a nicely shifting six speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters and a manual mode that lets you play right up to the red line. That's the standard engine for the Suna edition, but it's also available on some other trim levels. If you can afford it, this is the most interesting engine choice for either the 3 or the CX-5.

Click on the images to access Mazda's slideshow.

That 2.5 litre Skyactiv G turbo four really rocks and it loves to be pushed. Oh, there's a bit of turbo lag at the beginning of your assault on the gas pedal, but it goes away quickly and, as it goes, it plants a silly grin onto the face of the piece of meat initiating the acceleration. Mazda rates its output at 256 horsepower and 320 lb.-ft. of torque when you feed it premium 93 octane fuel, which I never did (though my best friend sometimes treats his CX-5 turbo to it, and both he and the SUV love it). On regular fuel, which is what I used, that hp/torque figure drops to 227 horsepower and 310 lb.-ft. of torque. As much as I'd love to try the premium fuel, I don't want to pay for it – and it doesn't really matter a lot because this engine works just fine on regular 87 octane gasoline.

There are differences between the CX-5 and the 3 Sport beyond vehicle height and storage space. Obviously, the 3 is lower and can't hold as much, and its seat memory buttons are in different places. The interfaces are also a tad different between the two vehicles. None of this is a big deal, though.

One minor difference that made me prefer the 3 is that you can get a digital speedometer on the instrument panel, while it's only available (at least, that I could figure out!) on the CX-5's head's up display (the 3 has an HUD, too, but also offers the extra speedo, and I just like having extra choices). I like HUD's, but sometimes they're hard to read when I'm wearing my sunglasses. This isn't a Mazda thing, because I experience it with other brands as well.

Both vehicles feel light and nimble to drive. Naturally, the lower and lighter 3 is even better in this department, but even the "stodgier" CX-5 feels like a race car (okay, a tall one!) compared to much of the competition. This is clearly because Mazda takes drivers seriously.

This may also be why all those damn nannies – Mazda offers all the same lane departure, adaptive cruise, etc. etc. that any other manufacturer does – can be shut off and they STAY OFF without you having to cull them every time you get into the car. This is how it should be, though I'd still rather see all this stuff as optional rather than having to pay for them and then deactivate them, which seems like a waste of money and effort.

Though available in eight in"car"nations, the CX-5's Suna edition sits second from the top-of-the-line Signature trim level. It also includes most of the Signature's stuff, though it's not quite as "high end".

The base CX-5 GX starts at $32,250 and the line continues past the GS ($36,100) and the GS Comfort Package ($38,100). There's also the Kuro ($39,700), GT ($41,050), Sport Design ($43,950), the nearly identically priced Suna ($44,200) and Signature ($44,950). I'd probably opt for the Signature, if only because you can get nicer exterior colours, including the lovely Soul Red Crystal Metallic, which is the most expensive optional paint offered – and it only adds $500 to the price.

Mazda says the CX-5 was its first vehicle to earn a Good rating in the new, and supposedly tougher side impact test, so the company has made all the features that earned that honour standard equipment for 2024. This means you get all the stuff I hate – including Radar Cruise Control with Stop and Go and Lane Departure Warning with Lane Keep Assist. You also get Smart Brake Support Front, Smart City Brake Support Front, Pedestrian Detection (forward sensing – so you can see who you're mowing down!), Advanced Blind Spot Monitoring, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert (one of the few of these features that I think is great). 

Naturally, this all gets stuffed into the 3 as well.

Speaking of the 3, this car has for a long time been my favourite mainstream small car, in both sedan and hatchback versions. I'm usually a hatchback/wagon-type of guy but for this current generation of the 3 I actually prefer the sedan, because it doesn't look as if it just finished off several hundred boxes of chocolates and applied them to its rear end.

It's a shame, because the last generation was exquisite.

But if you want the turbo and the Suna edition, you're stuck with this – can I say "butt ugly" version?

Fortunately, there's so much more stuff to like!

Stuff such as it being a terrific car to drive. Oh, it may not handle or accelerate like a Porsche, but it's probably as close as you can get without adding tens of thousands of dollars to the price. And like its SUV sibling, it's full of luxurious touches (at least in higher trim levels) that belie its mainstream mien.

Mazda3's Sports start with the GX 6AT ($24,950) and the GS 6AT ($27,450), both of which are only front-wheel-drive. There's, also the GS Luxury Package 6AT ($29,650 for front drive and $31,650 for AWD), the GT6 Manual (Woo-Hoo! $32,450), the GT 6AT ($33,750 for FWD and $35,750 for AWD), and the top line Suna edition ($38,900).

However you slice it, it's a lot of fun car for the money.

Now, some people might notice that the LCD screen atop the centre stacks isn't a touch screen. I certainly did. But I don't care. And sure, the Mazdas' interfaces are a tad long in the tooth, in both the 3 and the CX-5, but they work well. You can use voice, which can be problematic in any vehicle I've driven, but even better are the steering wheel-mounted controls and the knob on the centre console.

It's easy to figure out. And I'd rather use this tried-and-true system than hop on the "let's keep adding stuff and changing stuff" bandwagon I see so often in today's new vehicles.

So, while Mazda may be a bit behind the time in this way, I'm kind of glad. Besides, the screen is mounted too far away in both vehicles for my stubby little arms to reach it were it actually a touch screen.

One thing I would wish for in the 3 Sport in any edition is a manual transmission, something that's as rare as honesty in the mainstream news media these days. You can get one on the Sport GT trim level, but I want the TURBO and the other extra features!

You don't even get that choice if you want a stick shift in the CX-5. It's verboten, which is a darn shame in such a great drivers' vehicle. That said, you do get a really nice manual mode in both vehicles (it's the same transmission).

The CX-5 also offers an off-road mode I didn't have a chance to try. The 3 doesn't.

If you opt for paddle shifting with the six-speed automatic, be prepared to drive it that way – and if you slide the gear shift lever over to manual, it'll act almost as if you had a Porsche PDK dual clutch automatic. Oh, the shifts aren't as fast and you still won't confuse the Mazda for a Porsche, but it's one of the most satisfying "conventional automatic" drives I can remember.

Since both of these vehicles come with AWD, any torque steer you might anticipate will be minimal, if in evidence at all. The system is front-biased (as are most these days), but power goes to the rear – and the sides as well when necessary, thanks to torque vectoring.

It's a far cry from the MazdaSpeed 3 I drove many years ago that was an absolute blast, but which had so much torque steer that when you stepped on it you pretty well had to hang on for dear life. It was fun, but frightening!

Competitors for the CX-5 include the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, VW Tiguan, etc.. Despite my family owning a RAV4, I'd take the Mazda any day. But I'm married…

The 3 goes head-to-head with such cars as the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, VW Jetta, etc. I'd choose it over any of them, possibly excepting the "hot hatch" versions such as the VW GTI or Honda Civic Type R (though I haven't driven either of those in their current versions).

Once again, we have a dilemma. My wife and I love both vehicles but, as is typical of our relationship, she'd opt for the CX-5 (if I could pry the excellent RAV4 from her hands…) while I'd pour my ponderous posterior into the 3 Sport, even with its ponderous posterior.

As long as I remembered to approach it from the front to avoid being struck blind…

Copyright 2024 Jim Bray

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