This month in our Hands-On-Tech (HOT) reporting series, we put Mazda’s MZD-Connect to the test. Taking you through the top-spec connectivity features offered by manufacturers in detail, this HOT report series looks to benchmark the connectivity functionality of each manufacturer based on various test criteria. Disappointingly, the MZD-Connect’s stylish design only temporarily hides much deeper usability issues. 

For a premium car, Mazda has hit a sweet spot with its infotainment provision. The 7″ display screen sits high on the centre console design. Free of buttons cluttering the surround, navigating around the system is done directly onto the touchscreen with or without wool-gloved fingers (leather worked but only if the button selected was pushed uncomfortably hard and even then there was no consistency in response), or with a rotary dial, termed ‘multimedia controller’ by Mazda, located to the gear stick side of the driver. This is very much like the one found in BMWs. In fact, the dial design is so similar, albeit smaller in the Mazda, it’s undoubtedly provided by the same supplier.  

The cluster arrangement shows a conventional speedometer in the centre, the rev counter to the left and a smaller circular display to the right—a modern iteration of a familiar Mazda design. Rather than a conventional centred cluster display, this right-hand circular display shows trip information, service information, cruise control and lane departure indication, displacing key information found in other manufacturers’ systems to a windscreen-projected head-up display (HUD). Here, the driver can see navigation prompts, digital speed and road limits—all of which can be simplified to the driver preference.

The touchscreen disables when the car is in motion.

Voice Control
Using a tethered connect, the Nuance-based voice control package is a little basic. It can be used for media, telephony and navigation but not for climate control. There’s some 50 preprogrammed instructions and no voice response facility, i.e. to indicate what the system thinks the driver has said.

It is here where the illusion of a premium system starts to flicker and reveal the base level reality of the MZD-Connect system. We rated it three out of five for accuracy, where it would understand most commands and three out of five for natural use, where it would respond quickly to basic syntax. This highlights the difference between having an integrated 4G system, where basic commands can be stored on-board and additional commands can be stored in the cloud and referred to when required. 

The Mazda CX-5’s MZD-Connect system didn’t automatically import contacts and as a result, this affected the voice control feature’s capability to place a call; relying on number rather than name. However, the menu to instruct the system to import was nested intuitively and worked instantly. Looking down the list, it was clear the system had imported every contact in duplicate and triplicate. Bizarrely, where there are multiple numbers for a particular contact, the number is not shown on the menu and so you are asked to select from Line 1 or Line 2, where both lines are exactly the same. This is clearly not helpful and more distracting than it need be.

Using a Lithuanian surname—on which other brands’ voice command systems have successfully executed, cross-referencing against the imported contacts—the Mazda system didn’t recognise the name and told us it would process the information and we were to try back in a little while. However, it also said it was processing the ‘foner book’, clearly meaning ‘phonebook’. It then got stuck in this process for every subsequent request, even for simpler names, which affected the score we could offer. We rated the Mazda’s telephony system five out of five for clarity of call, where the dampening and connection are sufficient enough to make in-cabin calling completely effective. However, for ease-of-use and usability, we scored the MZD-Connect three out of five, where five indicates complete ease and one indicates severe difficulty. At this basic level, this premium system should be flawless.

With decoding software provided by Fraunhofer IIS and Thomson, the Mazda’s sweet 10-speaker Bose system provides a premium audio suite complete with Audiopilot and Centerpoint technology. These automatically enhance the audio in the vehicle, based on the background noise and vehicle speed—an arguably undetectable nicety to us laymen. However, the choice of levels is a basic manual choice and does not offer preset ‘Concert’, ‘Studio’-type refinement, as in the Volvo XC90. However, there is an AUX input bringing the total media options to seven.

Switchgear and hardware
Though there are no buttons around the centre display, there are a few around the rotary dial control. This panel consists of the dial itself—in the Mazda CX-5 a larger dial above a smaller one, the volume control—which can be pushed to mute. There are five shortcut buttons, denoted by small icons of a music note (audio), house (Home), NAV (Navigations), go back arrow (return) and star, which can be programmed for the driver’s preference.

This is an intuitive way to navigate a screen, similar to an Amazon Fire Stick remote control, it requires scrolling but can be operate without the eyes leaving the road, thus minimising distraction. It sits in a natural place, an extension of traditional switchgear, like climate control and close to whichever hand is vailable to operate the gearstick, without leaning forward or stretching to tap a screen. It’s not lazy to say it’s much easier to use this system, as with many things it takes some getting used to, in order to develop the muscle memory needed not to double check. This is less safe. 

In order to disable the car alarm or lock/unlock the vehicle, the button is on the key fob, which, for the latter, is less accessible than a button located on the door or next to the climate control, as in other vehicles. It was pleasing to see two USB ports and two 12V ports in the Mazda CX-5.

There is no standardised embedded data connection in the Mazda CX-5, which contributes to the ‘premium appearance, mid-range functionality’ impression. Reliance on a tethered connection to use apps such as Stitcher and Aha—which must be pre-downloaded onto the driver’s handset—offers more limited options that it first seems. It also means there is less opportunity for Mazda to update remotely in future or offer mobile hotspotting.

The integrated sat-nav system does allow drivers to enable live traffic updates via subscription, but this data connection does not extend to media. 

Unlike many manufacturers, here in the UK, Mazda has a suite of connectivity as standard on its trim levels, though in other countries, only the top GT trim comes with navigation option as standard. The navigation is European-wide but only comes with three years of free updates, after which a driver must subscribe. 

The nesting to set the destination is as arduous. Or should that be “as comprehensive” as the BMW one? A whole nine steps takes you through a process where the postcode does not auto split. Strangely, though the system accurately pinpointed our desired destinations, for one test, its predictive design offered the numbers 1, 3, 4, then—after 3 was selected—6 and 8. We were looking to input 34. Hmm. 

This process is further extended if a user wants to double check the route options—worth doing since one of our journeys calculated the journey to be 58 miles via the M25, but then 31 miles on the A-roads and the ETA reduced by two minutes. This is no doubt because the M25 is interpreted within “fastest” and the A-road route will be “shortest”, but this highlights how these calculations are preprogrammed, rather than being real-time interpretations of the road speeds at a given time of day—in this case, 9pm. 

The POIs aren’t particularly easy to use since the user has to search. The ‘assistance’ POIs, (e.g. police, health, car repair), are set aside for easier access, and other POIs can be searched through by defining category, (e.g. shopping, eating, etc.). Sadly, public toilets is not listed and filtering by name using the following search terms does not produce the right results; ‘public amenities’ throws up parks, ‘toilet’ finds toiletries stores and ‘services’ returns every business with ‘services’ in their name. POIs can be searched for around your location, along your route, at your destination or in a town, which was in fact helpful.

We scored the Mazda CX-5 MZD Connect navigation system three out of five for intuitive design, where three offers average nesting, a mix of natural and unnatural user experience and good presentation. For route accuracy, where we programmed a series of journeys taken in all other test cars across 200 miles, the Mazda rated two out of three, where in the majority of attempts, the system found the destination but not without problems.

Mazda has a broad suite of ADAS systems, termed ‘Active Safety Technology, which includes adaptive headlights, high-beam control, driver attention alert, lane-keep assist, forward collision assist and emergency braking. In the main, these worked as expected in the CX-5, though the lane depart warning has no sensitivity toggle—we found it really late in responding.

Companion App and telematics
MyMazda is the brand’s companion app. Its data privacy approach is to be commended, asking users if they are happy for their details to be shared with Google Analytics directly, and not simply bundled up in one ambiguous opaque agreement. The app itself however is limited in its functions. There is no connectivity with the vehicle itself. Documents relating to the vehicle can be uploaded for digital storage and customer services can be contacted more easily.

On the face of its the Mazda CX-5 is a smart, stylish vehicle, with a cabin worth spending time in. A stripped-down version of the BMW suite, the user experience gives an initial impression of ease and luxury. However, digging deeper, there were issues with the Mazda’s MZD Connect system that over time, would begin to develop from minor irritations to vexatious problems. The fact the design of this system cannot be easily, or remotely, updated weakens its position in a very competitive market. 

*This article is an extract from a report that first appeared in our QUBE service. The QUBE article is accompanied by a comprehensive data sheet with our full evaluation of the Mazda’s connectivity and HMI. 

Other summary articles published on just-auto in the ‘Hands-On Tech’ series