First Drive: Mazda CX-5

The last time Mazda made such a well received entry in to a market segment was with the original MX-5 in 1989. The CX-5 won’t go on to be held in such high regard 20 years later, but it’s an impressive bit of kit that should worry those that produce mid size crossovers – we’re looking at you, Ford and Nissan.

Clearly taking its styling cues from its attractive larger sibling the CX-7, the Mazda’s CX-5 looks smooth and sophisticated, although appears bulkier than it really is. A mix of sweeping curves and sharp edges gives a purposeful edge to the car, while the optional (at least for now) daytime running lights set very low at the front, well under the bumper, add a bit of aggression to the mix.

Round the back it’s all a bit more normal, with some ‘sporty’ lights being the highlight of an otherwise anonymous tail end. It’s almost as if the designers got the front end right and gradually lost interest as they went further back. Perhaps it was late on a Friday.

The CX-5 shows the path of future Mazda models; the new design language, called Kodo, is unlike anything else on the market and will grace all future cars from the Japanese firm.

Free of influence from Ford, there’s also an entirely new platform underneath the skin. Fresh from the ground up, the CX-5 encompasses Skyactiv Technology, Mazda’s made-up name for their high-tech design process that intends to make cars lighter, stronger, safer, faster and more efficient.

Built mostly from high-strength steel, rather than expensive aluminium, the CX-5 is certainly lighter; with the petrol engine model teetering just over 1.4 tonnes, it’s some 200kg lighter than a Ford Kuga and that can really be felt in both performance and economy.

The 2.2 diesel version we had certainly seemed swift but, oddly, the figures suggest otherwise. With 175 ps (173 bhp) on hand the 0-60 mph sprint is despatched in a leisurely 9.4 seconds, although it feels quicker than that, while mid-range pull is significant once you’ve waited for the auto box to catch up.

The official economy figures suggest 54 mpg should be achievable, although we only managed 36 mpg in our time with the car. Bear in mind, however, that we were making ‘swift’ progress and would expect the economy to improve in normal driving. CO2 emissions are 144 g/km, so that’s a road tax rate of £135 a year. Stick with the 150 ps version (148 bhp), manual gearbox, let the option of four wheel drive go, and your economy will improve to 61.4 mpg, with road tax at just £30 a year thanks to the 119 g/km CO2 figures.

Out on the road it’s surprisingly agile, again no doubt thanks to the lower weight, which means the suspension doesn’t have to be quite so firm in order to keep the body roll in check. It’s not a vehicle that will see you wallowing from bump to bump though, as the suspension is still firm enough to let crashes and thuds through to the cabin on particularly rough urban roads, but it feels stable and planted enough to attack corners with a bit more verve than might otherwise be recommended in such a large vehicle. It’s not quite ‘sporty’, but it’s a long way ahead of its competitors on the road.

Even if you find yourself off the road, it’s pretty handy, although we’re talking village fete rather than Kilimanjaro. Under normal driving conditions the CX-5 remains front wheel drive, reducing load on the engine and therefore reducing fuel usage. Once things get a little messy, the computers start shifting the power around to all four wheels, a transition we could feel happening as we drifted gently wide on an unexpectedly muddy corner.

Once in the more relaxed environment of a quiet M1 motorway we could appreciate better the strongest part of the CX-5, the interior. Sitting in the driver’s seat, which has been perfectly judged to balance comfort and support, the dashboard ahead looks as good as anything you’ll find from the usual German trio. The quality of materials, the intricate detailing and the standard of construction are superb. Ergonomically it’s top notch, with only a handful of seldom used buttons requiring anything more than a glance.

The sat-nav fitted to our model was from TomTom, a move more manufacturers should take; one rivals system was so unfathomable that we needed to pull over to set the destination, and that was with a passenger on board. Why spend millions developing a second rate system when the same money could be spent licensing something that works, is familiar to millions and therefore safer.

This model also came fitted with a blind spot system, alerting you to vehicles you may not have seen to your side. Unlike some other systems, Mazda’s system doesn’t alert you to vehicles you’ve just overtaken, which is a very good thing. A lane departure system was also available, alerting the driver with a hideous buzz that they’re straying close to white lines on a motorway.

There’s plenty of space available in the CX-5 too. Up front it’s relaxed and spacious, with dark plastics and leather, but in the rear there’s enough leg and head room for virtually anybody; even with the passenger seat back as far is it will go, there was enough room for an average man to remain comfortable for more than a quick jaunt to the shops. Put the seats in their more usual positions and it’s almost limo-like, mostly due to the fact that the CX-5 is very nearly as big as its larger CX-7 sibling, and partly because the privacy glass at the rear helps separate you from the outside world.

So the conclusion appears to be obvious. The design is interesting without being offensive and it drives exceptionally well, better than any of its competitors. It’s lighter, stronger, cleaner and safer than others, and is both the quickest and most economical. It should be the best option out there.

But there’s one problem. It’s expensive. The 2.2 175ps AWD Sport NAV AUTO model we borrowed retails at £28,795, and there’s little in the way of discounts. That’s just £500 off the cost of a larger BMW X3 xDrive 20d and £2,000 more than a BMW X1 xDrive 20d. However, discounts are surely only a matter of time – if you can wait a little while for the cost to drop then you’ll be getting the best crossover vehicle on the market and at the right price.

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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, DAD.info and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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