Creating an SUV that handles like a hatchback without making uncomfortable comprises is a feat few manufacturers have achieved.
Blessed with good looks, practicality and dynamic driving characteristics, the new Mazda CX-5 is one such car.
Priced from £23,695 – £33,195, it’s up against formidable rivals in its sector, including the Volkswagen Tiguan, Ford Edge, Seat Ateca, Nissan X-Trail, new Skoda Kodiaq and Renault Koleos.
The trim level structure for the CX-5 is refreshingly simple – you either select SE-L Nav or Sport Nav, plus there’s a choice of 2.0-litre petrol and 2.2-litre diesel engines, and 2WD or AWD.
The petrol engine is only available as a 165PS and 2WD, while the diesel can also be bought as an all-wheel drive and there are two power outputs – 150PS or 170PS.
I tested the 2.2D 150ps 2WD SE-L Nav, which for me is a sweet spot in the range, unless you need 4WD (priced from £27,195).
Now I might as well put my cards on the table, because I was a big fan of the original CX-5 which was launched in late 2011 and sold more than 1.5 million globally.
The new version is an evolution in terms of design with a distinctive new front end complete with imposing grille, sleeker sides and a lower roofline, giving it a more muscular stance.
Inside, it’s more of the same with subtle and stylish changes. The familiar recessed dials are still there, and everything seems logical and clearly presented.
Perhaps, the biggest change is that the touchscreen infotainment system now pops up from the top of the dashboard, and thankfully, a rotary controller (next to the gear-shifter) is still there to access frequently used functions.
There’s still a commanding driving position up front, but it feels sportier than most SUVs. It has a classy air about it too, thanks to plenty of soft-touch plastics and brushed chrome.
There’s bags of room up front and ample for full-size adults at the back, though it’s not quite so comfortable for the person in the middle as is often the case thanks to the recessed armrest. The boot is a respectable 506 litres, or 1,620 litres.
Standard equipment across the range includes LED headlights, dual-zone climate control, DAB radio, excellent 7-inch infotainment touchscreen and auto power-folding door mirrors.
Sport Nav cars also get a reversing camera, 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat and Smart keyless entry, plus heated front seats and steering wheel, plus a power-lift tailgate and a head-up display (HUD) featuring Traffic Sign Recognition.
The revelation begins when you start up the CX-5. Mazda been working hard on its Skyactiv-D diesel engines, introducing noise-reducing “Natural Sound Smoother” technology which damps down the familiar diesel rattle into a much more refined affair.
Head off and another Mazda development -“Transient Control” – kicks in, sharpening throttle response.
Tackle more challenging roads and it’s clear that the CX-5 drives even better with minimal body roll, giving more spirited drivers the enjoyment factor missing in so many SUVs.
All this extra dynamism is partly due to a claimed 15% stiffer torsional body rigidity than the outgoing model, plus the introduction of G-Vectoring Control (GVC) which improves cornering response and stability.
Everything seems right – the steering from the satisfyingly sporty wheel is accurate and nicely weighted, there’s good traction and plenty of grunt from the engine, while Mazda’s slick six-speed manual box is a joy to use.
For the record, the 150PS 2.2D can reach 60mph from standstill in a very decent 9.4 seconds and go on to a top speed of 127mph. Fuel economy is a claimed 57mpg, while CO2 emissions are 132g/km.
Frankly, the CX-5 is hard to fault. If I had to nit-pick, I’d say the 7-inch touchscreen is slightly meagre in the middle of such a big centre console, while the average MPG during my week stayed stubbornly around the 43-mark which is OK, but not outstanding.
Verdict: With head-turning looks and a comfortable, classy interior, the athletic new Mazda CX-5 gets top marks for refinement and driving engagement, making it one of the best all-round SUV packages on the market.