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£28,525 when new
Right, this new Mazda CX-5. Crossover, or SUV? Good question. It’s a bluff, tough-looking machine with a proper, old-school BMW-style sharknose profile to the front, and you can have a four-wheel drive system, so the smart money says SUV. It’s just that bit too butch to be a crossover. Then again, the front-drive model – the one we’re testing – is more efficient, cheaper and surely fits most crossover-bent folks needs. There is no off-road bias, no hill-descent this or adding-depth that. All but the most paranoid about winter cold snaps and British summer drizzle should feel safe. So, it’s on the rough-tough end of crossover, then? Tell you what, not once you’re up inside the CX-5. The overall cabin layout is pretty much exactly the same as the old car’s – the climate controls have been carried over, and you still get two physical instrument dials and one virtual one. But atop the new ‘3D’ air vents, there’s a standalone ‘floating’ screen to annoy all of you that think screens should be integrated into a dashboard. This redesign drops the rest of the dash lower, so visibility is improved and you feel a bit more regal. More Range Rover-ish, up high with the ‘proper’ SUVs. The materials are of a far higher quality than the ropey plastics in the old CX-5. The ‘is it wood/is it alien skin?’ trim of our Sport Nav car is a bit suspect, but the leather’s supple and feels like it might actually have once been attached to a cow, the seats themselves are comfortable, the driving position sound and the ergonomics pretty peerless, actually. It’s a well-designed place to spend time, and there’s space for three passengers across the back, and six-foot adults behind six-foot adults.
Infotainment is as usual, a bugbear. Come on Mazda, a new system double-quick, please. The nav gets lost, the DAB signal drops off more often than a hungover student and the screen itself has an inch of blank bezel at both ends, like an early smartphone. As a focal point in an otherwise really pleasant cockpit, it’s a letdown. What about driving it? Does the CX-5 feel all tall and ungainly then? Actually, this is (yet) another Mazda that doesn’t just drive well – it drives a damn sight better than it strictly needs to. How so? It’s sure-footed and stable for a tall car, but can be coaxed along at a rapid lick without getting out of sorts. That right there is pretty much the family car holy grail, whether you’re a crossover, SUV, hatch or anything else. The CX-5 corners without undue roll, its steers accurately, the ride is superb at smothering bad surfaces – more so than the old car, which was equally agile but sometimes felt like its wheels and tyres weighed more than the body they were attached to – and even the gearchange is slick and weighty, hot hatch-style. The CX-5 and Seat Ateca stand proud as the crossover-UVs that you’d actually shortlist purely for being fun to drive. But with those big tyre sidewalls, the Mazda’s got an extra layer of comfort. Engine any good? More efficient, certainly. A couple of years ago I spent a few months running around in a CX-5 2.2, and it recorded a resolute 38mpg most of the time. That was probably nobbled by the chassis being so unexpectedly good, so it tended to get driven quicker than is usual for a diesel school bus. Well, several days of similar treatment for the new 148bhp CX-5 returned 45mpg, and just the right amount of punch to make motorway cruising effortless. Just as well, given this is the only diesel option, complete with 280lb ft and good for 0-62mph in 9.4 seconds. I suspect the other power choice, a 163bhp petrol, will struggle for its lack of turbocharged torque. It’s even reasonably polite, this 2.2-litre diesel. It revs as smoothly as you could probably hope a four-pot turbodiesel to spin, and though it’s not as hushed as an Audi Q5 (little else is), it’d embarrass a Merc GLC for engine noise, vibration and harshness. Just anther subtle way the CX-5 doesn’t bowl you over, but earns your resect as a really solid all-rounder. Straight to the top of the class then, for Mazda? It’s right up there, the CX-5, but there is that faint sense that the CX-5 will only be up your street if its priorities agree with yours. Yes, it is very good to drive, and acquits itself rather professionally on shoddy roads. Thing is, for similar money as this £28,695 CX-5 Sport Nav, you can now have a Skoda Kodiaq with similar equipment but the added utility of seven seats. No CX-5 offers this large-family swallowing ability, and if you’re after a properly flexible family car, having more passenger capacity might swing it over making sure the driver is pleasantly surprised. As far as five-seater rivals go, however, this CX-5 has got the mainstream set covered off. More upmarket and better laid out than a Ford Kuga, more refined than an Nissan X-Trail or Kia Sportage, and, better sorted to drive than the rest. It’s another quietly good Mazda, which has, for the time being, forgotten how to make a bad car.
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