First Drive: Mazda CX-5

Attractive, great to drive, economical and good value. More of the same then from Mazda, but that’s no bad thing.

You might not think it, but this really is the new Mazda CX-5. If you’re thinking it looks a little like the old one, but there’s something missing, then you’d be right – Mazda’s ‘beauty through subtraction’ philosophy means the number of creases and folds around the car have been minimised, while other details have been smoothed over, giving the new CX-5 a far sleeker appearance.

It’s still a distinctly Japanese design, the aesthetic provided by what Mazda calls the Kodo design language. It translates to something that’s more cohesive in appearance, with a fine balance between solidity and grace. Of course, it might just be because it’s lower and wider than the outgoing model, something that promises to make it more engaging to drive. It was never a bad car to drive anyway, but the new model resists body roll nicely and the car changes direction without protest, although the steering feels rather lifeless at times. It’s as good as any other crossover on the road, including the newly revised Nissan Qashqai.

Driving the most popular front-wheel drive model, I was missing out on four-wheel drive traction, something that would have been handy on the desperately wet roads at launch. Then the front end can scrabble around under power as the engine’s torque reserves are unleashed, but pleasingly the traction control doesn’t get involved unless the situation has got out of control – it’s better to have a little wheel-slip when pulling out across traffic than find that all power has been cut in the name of traction.

Fine handling usually comes at a price, and for the CX-5 that means the low-speed ride is only just acceptable. Poorly maintained UK roads crash and bang their way through to the cabin, but ride quality improves as speeds rise, and it’s easy to get to higher speeds with the eager engine and pleasing handling. By the time it’s at motorway speeds, it’s as smooth and refined as anything else.

The same refinement permeates the cabin, too. The design has caught up with the best in class, and there’s a tangible increase in quality. The infotainment screen now floats above the centre stack, while the controls for heating and ventilation have been moved closer to hand. Material choice has improved as well, with less brittle plastic and more premium feeling accoutrements.

Mazda claim to have spent time reducing vibrations and noise as much as possible, managed by the addition of 50kg of new materials to absorb or stiffen the car. It’s not been entirely successful as the CX-5 still feels quite loud inside, mainly due to tyre roar making its way into the cabin. It’s better in the dry than the wet conditions faced, but I would imagine that there’ll be more work done on this at the inevitable mid-life facelift.

Still, the cabin is practical, with the increased size (if not height) of the CX-5 producing a little more leg, knee and shoulder room, with the rear seats reclining to fully cosset the back seat passengers.

What’s not changed is Mazda’s engine philosophy. While everybody else downsizes, the CX-5 remains fitted with a 2.2-litre diesel, the 148bhp it produces enough for the majority to cope with. By choosing a large, unstressed engine, economy actually improves, with an official figure of 56.5mpg promised. A more powerful 173bhp option is available for those wanting to go a little quicker while using a little more fuel.

It all sounds good enough to go to the top of the class, but Volkswagen’s Tiguan is sitting there. The German rival is a little more refined, but Mazda has undercut it by thousands of pounds, certainly enough to sway many the way of the Mazda.

Model Tested: Mazda CX-5 Sport Nav 2.2 SKYACTIV-D 2WD
Price: £28,695
Engine: 2.2-litre turbo diesel
Top speed: 127 mph
0-62 mph: 9.4 seconds
Power: 150 PS (148 bhp)
Torque: 380 Nm (280 ft lb)
Monthly PCP*: £421
Official fuel economy: 56.5mpg
Road test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 132g/km
Car Tax: £140 (£200 in Year 1)
Insurance group: 19E
* Monthly PCP estimate based on 20% deposit, 36 month term, 5% APR, final payment of 36%.