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Mazda CX-5 review (2012 onwards)
What: Mazda CX-5
Date: April 2012
Price: £21,395 - £28,795
Available: On sale now, arrives May 2012
Key rivals:Audi Q3, BMW X3, Ford Kuga, Hyundai ix35, Kia Sportage, Mitsubishi ASX, Peugeot 3008, Volkswagen Tiguan
Summary: The Mazda CX-5 with Skyactiv Technology joins the crowded compact SUV sector as the greenest, most efficient car of its type you can buy. But how late is too late when you desperately need to make an impression?
We like: great engines perform well and promise high efficiency, spacious, intelligent design, good to drive, well equipped, refined
We don't like: petrol needs working hard, a little pricy, lacks stand out flair
You know how it is - you're running late for that all-important party, and so you've got a choice to make. Do you rush to get ready and arrive with everyone else? Or do you take your time and prepare yourself properly - which means you will definitely be tardy, but (hopefully) all the more spectacular?
Mazda has chosen to do it properly. The party in question is the compact SUV segment, which is experiencing significant growth in the UK and Europe. The CX-5 has arrived late, but it has the potential to be the brightest star under the showroom spotlights.
The most fuel-efficient car in its class
Thanks to a comprehensive, all-encompassing approach to its design and development, brought together under the holistic banner "Skyactiv Technology", the CX-5 is the lightest and most fuel-efficient vehicle this class has to offer - yet it is also the most spacious.
And there are no compromises in performance or safety. To achieve this, Mazda has looked at everything from the way the CX-5 is built to the engines under the bonnet. And then wants us to believe it's tried to make it handle corners like an MX-5.
We drove a CX-5 prototype last year that certainly showed promise. But with a regular three-year warranty, smart but vaguely identikit SUV looks and list prices that don't raise eyebrows in a good way, has the production version really got what it takes to knock the established opposition?
Performance is undoubtedly impressive. Available with a choice of 2.0-litre "Skyactiv G" petrol or 2.2-litre "Skyactiv D" turbodiesel, spec for spec the CX-5 offers best in class acceleration alongside what Mazda claims is best in class cabin refinement.
The diesel is excellent. It comes in 150hp and 175hp variants, revs cleanly right through to a remarkable 5,500rpm, and you're more likely to be troubled by the wind rustling round the door mirrors than the engine note. The 150hp version is fast enough, the 175hp like a rocket.
The petrol is slightly less convincing. As we'll see, Mazda has made amazing progress with the fuel efficiency without resorting to a turbocharger. But it sounds a little harsh from cold and you really have to work it hard to find all 165 available horses.
Whatever engine you choose, the gearboxes are exceptional. Using the MX-5 as a benchmark, Mazda has delivered a brilliantly sweet short-shift action for the six-speed manual, while the new six-speed auto is astonishingly fast and crisp. Like the rest of the car, the engines and gearboxes bring significant weight savings.
Ride and handling
There is no way you can make an SUV really handle like a sports car - there's too much physics involved. But Mazda has managed to get the CX-5's weight down to as little as 1,345kg, which in combination with a firmly damped suspension set-up means the driver always feels thoroughly in control.
To be honest, we were a little disappointed with the CX-5's handling at first. It doesn't seem as overtly sporty as the initial prototype drive lead us to hope it might be, and some horribly squally weather on the first day of the launch meant it had little chance to shine.
Mazda has achieved a fine balance here
But the longer you spend behind the wheel, the greater the sense that Mazda has achieved a fine balance here. It doesn't lean too much, it changes direction quickly, and the electrically assisted steering is carefully tuned to keep you informed about the available grip.
As a result, it's easy to correct the front-wheel drive versions when they push into understeer - which happens quite early in the wet - and you swiftly learn to exploit the power-shifting antics of the four-wheel drive system through faster bends.
What the ride quality will be like in the UK remains an open question, though. While it avoids ever being crashy, the CX-5 is undoubtedly firm - this is what makes it so stable in the turns. But faced with the UK's much more consistently broken tarmac there's a risk it will go from acceptable to annoying.
For the most part, the CX-5's interior eschews flashy design for simple, straight-forward quality and an impressive amount of room. The major instruments look great, and the higher-end climate control interface exudes BMW levels of class - but the best you can say about the upper dash panel is that it's uncluttered.
The recess that holds the optional TomTom-based touchscreen satellite navigation system is much more generic than we're used to seeing now - this is far from being a fully integrated feature. And Mazda has sadly followed Renault's lead in placing some of the controls for this down by the handbrake.
We found the seats a little hard
We found the seats a little hard, but the CX-5 is certainly spacious, and passengers in the back enjoy plenty of legroom. This is partially because the front seats don't go back that far - so if you're a taller driver you need to check you'll fit - but the compromise seems a sensible one.
The CX-5 leads the class again with its 503-litre boot, which is sensibly shaped with a low loading height (for an SUV). Really clever touches include the 4:2:4 split rear seats, each section of which can be made to fold flat individually by pulling levers mounted on the boot sides.
And since Mazda has somehow engineered the rear seat base to move out of the way when you do this, you're left with a genuinely flat load area, too. Total load volume is 1,620 litres, making the CX-5 usefully practical.
Visibility is also great, especially going round corners thanks to the deliberately skinny windscreen pillars and the carefully positioned door mirrors. Everything about this car is conscientiously intended to make your life easier, and it alsmost always succeeds.
Economy and safety
The CX-5 is the most economical car in its class, ousting the Subaru XV. The front-wheel drive 150hp diesel emits just 119g/km CO2 - that's less than most superminis - while returning a claimed 61.4mpg. The 175hp diesel auto with four-wheel drive manages an equally remarkable 144g/km and 51.3mpg claim.
150hp diesel emits less than most superminis
The petrol doesn't disappoint, either - meaning the entry-level front-wheel drive version emits 139g/km and returns 47.0mpg, the four-wheel drive auto 155g/km and 42.8mpg. How well you do in reality will depend on how and where you drive, but the potential is genuinely there for some strong results.
The CX-5 hasn't been subject to a Euro NCAP crash test yet. But record levels of ultra high strength steel and a structure that's designed to channel impact energy even more effectively suggests it should achieve the maximum five stars rating.
New safety gadgets include a city centre braking system - as seen on recent new Volvos and the Volkswagen Up! - more advanced blind spot monitoring and a lane keep assist system that works by making rumble strip sounds via the speakers on the relevant side of the car.
The MSN Cars verdict
The more we think about the Mazda CX-5, the better it gets. It's the most economical car in its class, the most spacious, the lightest, and it comes well equipped. The interior is both clever and well made, the refinement first-rate, the diesel engine outstanding and the gearboxes superb.
So why isn't it five stars? Somehow, the CX-5 isn't quite as strong as the sum of its parts. Something's missing, something unquantifiable, something that turns a very good car into an absolute must buy - and we suspect that something is related to the Mazda's late arrival.
The pricing doesn't help - top spec models are touching on £29k. But with so many great rivals to choose from already, the compact SUV party is in such full swing we're just not convinced the CX-5 has enough of the truly spectacular to make a significant impression.
Need to know
Engines (petrol): 2.0 (165 FWD, 160 AWD)
Engines (diesel): 2.2 (150, 175)
Power: 150 - 175hp
Torque: 153 - 310lb ft
0-62mph: 8.8 - 10.5s
Top speed: 116 - 128mph
Mpg combined: 42.8 - 61.4mpg
CO2, tax: 119 - 155g/km, 13 - 21%
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