All too often, when faced with a four-cylinder diesel engine and a reputable set of manufacturer’s economy figures, we’ve been underwhelmed by the experience on the ground. The Mazda CX-5 emphatically does not fall into that category.
It is a measure of the 148bhp 2.2-litre diesel’s performance that for a moment it appears briefly in the same sentence as the mighty 2.0-litre lump that helps to make the BMW 3 Series a five-star car when it first came out in 2012. A higher-power version of the same engine, which makes 173bhp and 309lb ft, impresses in isolation, but the effectiveness of the entry-level diesel brings its appeal into question.
In either of the diesel engines, there are three factors to highlight: outright speed, refinement and frugality. We clocked 9.4sec to 60mph in the low-power diesel, which is close to Mazda’s claims, but what sets it apart is its tractability and genuine sense of verve on the move. The turbo-heavy tug is lusty and assertive, and while its peak twist fades away, a healthy power band sees the engine into high revs with little reduction in enthusiasm.
The result is a fine set of figures. Not only does the 148bhp 2.2-litre CX-5 outperform the equivalent Kia Sportage across the board (50-70mph in sixth in 9.7sec compared with 12.2sec for the Kia is a standout figure), but within the confines of our one-mile straight it also pulled from beneath 20mph in fourth and up to 100mph without requiring a gearchange.
First-rate flexibility offered by both diesels is delivered hand in hand with strong mechanical refinement. The typical diesel hubbub has not been eradicated, but that low compression ratio figure helps to ensure a laudable drop in vibrations. Even at low revs there’s little judder from the drivetrain.
An early drive of a CX-5 fitted with the optional automatic gearbox showed it to be a competent performer. It was alert and quick, with little responsiveness having been sacrificed for the luxury of not changing gear yourself.
Finally, there’s the economy. We banked 54.7mpg on a strict touring run in the 148bhp diesel, which is inevitably short of the official figure. But when you consider that the 320d managed ‘only’ 56.8mpg in a slippery saloon silhouette, it’s not hard to see why the SkyActiv lump has been so well received.
Unusually, the petrol variant makes a strong case for itself. It is responsive and exceptionally refined and, thanks to a significant weight saving, its 9.2sec 0-62mph time makes it the joint fastest in the line-up. But despite producing lower CO2 emissions than the high-output diesel with an automatic gearbox, it is destined to be a niche product.