The Clarkson review: Mazda CX-5 2WD SE-L (2013)

Formula School Run

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Monaco bills itself as a glittering jewel in the south of France. But in reality it’s a mostly overcast collection of people who choose to live far from their friends and family, in a 1960s council tower block, under the control of an extremely weird royal family, among a squadron of arms dealers and prostitutes.

And all so they can save a pound in tax. This makes it the world’s largest open prison for lunatics. And then, once a year, the grand prix circus rolls into town — and it all gets worse.

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I stayed on a giant boat on what’s called the T-jetty. That’s pole position for the gin palaces, and you probably think that this would be heaven. Hot and cold running waitresses dropping tasty morsels into your mouth whenever you are breathing in the right direction. And some Formula One whizzkid and his almost completely naked girlfriend waiting next door for you to nip round and chew the fat. That’s the message you get from the television pictures.

The reality is somewhat different. You hear of a party on a neighbouring boat, so you think you’ll pop by for a drink. Alas, every single person in Monaco has heard of the party also and has a similar plan. So, to prevent them all from getting on board, the boat’s captain has hired a French security team that stands about with curly-wurly earpieces making sure nobody gets on board at all.

You watch the men pleading and explaining that they are personal friends with the boat’s owner, but this is no good because he’s not at his own party. That’s the key to being a proper billionaire. Throw a party and then have dinner somewhere else.

Then you have the women, who are selected for admission purely, it seemed, on the basis of how naked they are. Amazingly the party does somehow happen, although everyone on board spends their entire evening making sure that they are talking to the most important person in the room. An example. I thought I’d introduce myself to Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren’s boss. But he was chatting to an Indian chap who was more important than me, so I was ignored. In fact, I was ignored so spectacularly by everyone that I ended up talking to the cabin boy for most of the night.

The next day you wake with a sore head. And to make everything more terrible, someone has pushed a microphone into a beehive and is blasting the resulting sound through the Grateful Dead’s speaker system across the whole principality. So you stagger about looking for Nurofen, eventually sourcing something appropriate from someone who’d crashed on a sofa. She was a nice girl. Apart from her Adam’s apple.

You then think it would be nice to go over to the paddock. But between your boat and the vast F1 motor homes is a 15-yard strip of water. And to cross it in a knackered dinghy with a Kenwood mixer on the back costs €20. That works out at more than £1 a yard. I think it would have been cheaper to use a private jet.

And it’s pointless anyway, because to collect the passes that have been supplied by Bernie Ecclestone, you need to go through a security barrier for which you need your pass. “Non,” said the security guard.

This is one of the most important things about “doing” Monaco for the grand prix. Yes, you need to spend all day smoking cigars the size of telegraph poles and wearing red trousers. That’s important, of course. But mostly you must be festooned with so many passes that you are in danger of slipping a disc. A lot of passes shows a lot of connections. None means you are paying another €20 to go back to your boat.

Then the race starts. And even though the boat on which I was staying was about the height of Nelson’s Column, and even though I climbed right up to the radar mast, all I could see was the top of the cars’ air intakes, momentarily, as they sped past the swimming pool.

So I went into the cabin to watch it on TV, which was fine except I couldn’t hear what Martin Brundle was saying because of the din outside. It’s strange. Most sports are perfectly watchable without someone explaining what’s going on. But with motor racing you really do need Mr Brundle to tell you why no one is attempting to overtake the car in front. Or else it just looks like 22 thin young men driving around a town.

I’ll let you into a secret. Not one of the people on any of those boats saw the race. Nobody in the council blocks did either. In fact, the only people who could see more than a few feet of track were the real fans who’d arrived by train that morning in their branded Vodafone shirts and climbed the hill beneath the palace. They may have found it wasn’t worth the effort.

And increasingly that’s what I’m starting to think about F1. I love the idea of watching men race cars. But more and more I sense that, really, F1 is now merely televised science. It’s just earnest chaps staring at laptops. And then lodging protests against one another for the tiniest of things. And in Monaco, which is supposed to be the highlight of the season, it’s simply science in a big, daft wedding cake. I’d prefer to see a street race in Wakefield.

And there’s more. There was a time when we were told that F1 was the launch pad for new technology and new ideas that one day would filter down into our road cars. But I suspect it doesn’t even do that any more.

Which brings me to the Mazda CX-5. There are plenty of cars such as this on the market today. They’re called crossovers or soft-roaders and they are very popular with school-run mums and caravanners. And I struggle to think of a single thing they have in common with F1 racers.

In Britain the bestseller of the breed is the Nissan Kumquat — it’s not actually called that and I can’t be bothered to look up its real name. But the only reason it’s the biggest seller here is . . . that it’s built here.

On paper the best is the Mazda. It’s cheaper to buy, cheaper to insure, cheaper to fuel and cheaper to tax than most of its main rivals. It’s faster and more powerful than lots of them, too. On paper it’s a no-brainer. The winner.

And it’s not bad on the road either. The ride is very good. The steering wheel is connected to the front wheels, and when you change up, the 2.2-litre diesel engine becomes a little more quiet. This, I suppose, is its chief drawback. It’s a little boring. Actually, scratch that. It’s catastrophically boring. It’s Jane Austen with cruise control.

There’s no pomp at all. There’s no kinetic energy recovery system. No paddle-operated gearbox. No carbon fibre. No aero. It’s a thing for the real world. The Monaco Grand Prix, on the other hand, really, really isn’t.


Verdict ★★★☆☆

It puts the squeeze on the Kumquat


Mazda CX-5 2WD SE-L

Release date:
Out now
2191cc, 4 cylinders
148bhp @ 4500rpm
280 lb ft @ 1800rpm
6-speed manual
0-60mph in 9.2sec
Top speed:
Road tax band:
C (free for first year)
L 4555mm, W 1840mm, H 1710mm


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