From £23,6958

New version of Mazda's established family SUV looks to hone its driver appeal further and move upmarket in a rapidly expanding segment

Six years after the launch of the original Mazda CX-5 SUV, Mazda’s SkyActiv model revolution has come full circle.

Having touched the Mazda 3 hatchback and saloon, the bigger Mazda 6 saloon, the Mazda 2 supermini, the Mazda CX-3 crossover and even the fourth-generation Mazda MX-5 sports car, this curiously named programme of technological overhaul – which has brought new platforms, new engines and new thinking to the Japanese firm – has returned its focus to this: the second-generation CX-5.

Based on an overhauled version of the previous model’s platform, the CX-5 is 15% more torsionally rigid than its forebear

Predictably, there’s less of a gleam of radical newness to this car than there was to its predecessor, as Mazda inevitably enters a period of consolidation and refinement.

But there’s now a weight of expectation on the CX-5’s shoulders created by the success of the car that it’s replacing.

The first CX-5 got in fairly early on the current craze for SUVs and of which a remarkable 1.5 million units were built and sold around the world over a six-year lifespan. The CX-5 now accounts for 25 percent of Mazda’s global sales volume.

Such popularity could be significant for this replacement, since a stronger established business case will likely have markedly increased the money and resource Mazda was willing to sink into this car than might have been invested otherwise.

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There’s no expensive new platform to eat up the lion’s share of that development budget, either: the car sits on an updated version of its predecessor’s mechanical underpinnings, although an extensive model replacement programme has – according to Mazda – altered the car’s dimensions and exterior styling, made it more rigid, improved its steering, suspension and braking systems and given it a completely new interior.

This time around, Mazda is promising the same taut and agile handling that made the previous CX-5 so appealing to keener drivers shopping for a typically soft compact SUV, but partnered with a much more expensive-feeling and better-equipped interior and much improved cabin refinement.

The company plainly has the SUV segment’s premium and ‘semi-premium’ brand players in its sights but is setting out to undercut them by several thousand pounds in some cases once equipment level is taken into account. So where’s the catch?

Mazda CX-5 design & styling

The dimensions of the second-generation CX-5 silently confirm its relationship with its predecessor.

The new car is within 5mm of the old one on overall length – you’ll often see a bigger difference than that on a facelifted car as a result of a mere bumper styling alteration – and is identical on overall width and wheelbase.

Where it does differ is on overall height, the new car standing 30mm shorter than its antecedent – and quite possibly benefiting visually from the aesthetic advantages that a lower roofline confers.

Mazda’s new look for the car adds slimmer headlights and a larger helping of chrome trim and certainly creates a smarter, more serious and more upmarket-looking car.

Revisions to the CX-5’s body-in-white may have added 15 percent to the car’s torsional rigidity by the inclusion of 3 percent more ultra-high-tensile steel, but they haven’t made it significantly lighter.

Mazda’s claim, however, is that 50 percent of the components that make up the car’s monocoque (by number) are new. The joins between the front suspension and the body have been reinforced, as have the body sills and the A-pillars.

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Elsewhere, the steering bushes have been stiffened, the lower suspension arm bushings uprated, and the dampers respecified and retuned for smoother roll characteristics and better mid-corner stability.

On the electronic side, the car features new dynamic stability software called G-Vectoring Control, which uses integrated control of the engine, transmission and chassis to monitor the car’s pitch as it progresses from turn-in to apex and then exit and makes subtle modulations to the engine’s delivery of torque to juggle the car’s weight around between its axles.

This, Mazda claims, is automatic load transfer and the consequent maximising of grip, steering response and stability done imperceptibly: an interesting idea.

The CX-5’s engines have been carried over for the most part, with detail changes made to Mazda’s 2.2-litre diesel lump in particular aimed at improving refinement.

We tested the volume-selling 148bhp 2.2-litre diesel in front-wheel-drive manual form. A 163bhp 2.0-litre petrol is also available, as is a 173bhp 2.2-litre diesel.

Four-wheel drive is offered on the 148bhp diesel as an option and on the 173bhp one as standard, and a six-speed automatic gearbox can be had with either diesel.

Mazda CX-5 First drives