What is it?
The all-new Mazda CX-5. And when we say 'all-new', we mean that every part of this car is seeing its maiden voyage into production, from the all-alloy 2.2-litre twin turbo-diesel engine and six-speed torque converter auto 'box to the lighter, more rigid architecture and the materials that line its cabin.
All of the new tech that has gone into this car is part of Mazda 'Skyactiv' programme, and the CX-5 is the first model to be created entirely using this new technology.
Which all sounds like so much marketing fluff until you pay attention to the figures. Here we’re testing the 173bhp diesel model, which with the auto 'box fitted should emit roughly 139g/km. We say 'roughly' because the cars we drive here are prototypes and Mazda are coy about giving out any figures ahead of the official announcement.
Suffice to say that a new exhaust system, lighter materials and benchmark compression ratio (as well as many other examples of technical wizardry) mean that the Mazda will undercut its rivals by a very significant margin in terms of emissions and economy. To put it in perspective, a 138bhp VW Tiguan with the DSG 'box emits 158g/km.
This high output turbodiesel will also be available in 148bhp, in which guise it will be capable of producing a mere 119g/km. Both diesels will be available with manual or automatic transmissions, and the lower-powered will also be available with a front-wheel drive powertrain as well as the four-wheel drive version tested here. A 2.0-litre petrol engine, only available as a manual two-wheel drive car, will form the entry-level model in the range.
What's it like?
Exceptionally good. Whilst we wouldn’t say that the driving experience is as dramatically ahead of its rivals as the technical advances might suggest, the CX-5 does offer one of the most rewarding drives in the compact SUV class. The powertrain is particularly impressive.
With two turbochargers – one small and one large – working sequentially, the 2.2-litre turbodiesel matches the best rivals in all ways that matter. With 310lb ft and 173bhp it pulls strongly and freely from very low revs, and the six-speed automatic we tested it with only served to make the experience more hassle-free without softening the quick responses on offer. Its shifts are barely noticeable and the ratios well judged, making this a smooth and cohesive drive.
If there are any criticisms it is that the electrically-assisted steering doesn’t quite live up the Mazda’s claims that the CX-5 is developed to be 'at one' with its driver. You will still find yourself correcting some entry angles due to a slight fuzziness immediately off the dead-ahead.
It’s as much a criticism of over-enthusiastic marketing as the car itself, because by any standards the CX-5 steers with a precise and predictable manner that fits with a hatchback as well as an SUV, and it’s unlikely that any prospective owner will want more than that.
The chassis is as much to credit for this as the steering system. Refreshingly there are none of the adaptive electronic enhancements common in modern cars, you simply get MacPherson struts up front, multilink at the rear and some well-judged passive dampers to top it off. The resulting set-up does a good job of balancing control with comfort.
Our test car rode on 19-inch wheels, which brought with them firm vertical body movement over our fairly fast and lumpy test route, but generally it was a good compromise between taut responses and cushioning ride.
Refinement is not class leading, with wind- and tyre-noise intruding noticeably at higher speeds, but engine rumble is well-repressed and generally the CX-5 makes for a very pleasant place to cover miles. Its interior layout is as much to thank for that as the impressive drivetrain. Despite being substantially smaller than the CX-7 (which will be run out following the CX-5's introduction), there is actually more leg room in the rear and the materials used in the cabin are much improved.
Should I buy one?
You can't yet; the car is yet to have its official public unveiling at Frankfurt this year.
When it does hit the showrooms, Mazda is hoping that the CX-5 will realise the company’s ambitions to promote a more upmarket appeal, so expect prices to reflect that. Even so, we’re assured that the CX-5 will undercut its rivals spec-for-spec, and those green credentials should set a new benchmark that will up its appeal in fleet as well as for private buyers.
Even if the CX-5 didn’t offer both financial and eco-incentives, it's one of the best cars in its class to drive and simply as a useful, high-riding family car.
Sharpest drive in class it falls just short of, but as a whole the Mazda should make for one of the most rounded and enjoyable ownership prospects of any rival.
Mazda CX-5 2.2D 4WD Auto
Price £26,000 (est); Top speed 128mph (est); 0-62mph 8.5sec (est); Economy 54mpg (est); Co2 139g/km (est); Kerb weight 1500kg (est); Engine type 2184cc, 4cyl, twin-turbodiesel; Power 173bhp at 4500rpm; Torque 310lb ft at 2000rpm; Gearbox 6-sd auto