Things certainly look good at first glance. The outgoing CX-5’s soft, cuddly exterior has been swapped for a sharper, more mature design that borrows lines from the stunning RX Vision concept shown at the 2015 Tokyo motor show. This trend continues inside, where clean Japanese design and soft-touch materials are located alongside a generous list of standard tech that includes a 7.0in touchscreen with sat-nav as standard.
UK trim levels are yet to be confirmed, but the ‘high-spec’ model we sampled – likely to retain the Sport Nav moniker - features a leather-covered dash and door trims, leather seats with contrasting stitching, four heated seats and two USB ports in the front with two more in the back. There’s also a head-up display, which projects useful driving information onto the windscreen in front of the driver.
Interior quality is good, and the dashboard in particular is a great example of simplistic design. However, the CX-5’s interior just falls short of class-leading rivals in other areas, with the standard of stitching on parts of the seats, for example, not quite up there with the Tiguan. However, Mazda says quality will be improved slightly when the car enters production in April.
Overall, the CX-5 covers the boring stuff off well, with plenty of leg room in the back and lots of head room. There's also an electric tailgate on certain models.
But where the new CX-5 really excels is on the road. There's less wind and road noise than in its predecessor, and the new CX-5 responds well to being hustled along a country road – something Mazda is keen to stress was a priority during development.
Compared to the firmer-riding Tiguan, the CX-5 is more supple over bumps and on par with the Nissan Qashqai, but when pushed it flaunts better body control than the cheaper Nissan and ultimately this makes it feel more like a warm hatchback than an SUV. There is some body roll in corners, of course, but the CX-5’s handling is composed and its ride comfortable.
The new car’s structure is 15% stiffer than the old CX-5’s and the chassis gets the brand’s clever G-Vectoring Control (GVC) technology. The system adjusts engine torque in response to steering angle to optimise the vertical load on each wheel, lessening the need for the driver to make steering corrections. It also makes the car feel agile and quick to respond to direction changes and, when coupled with the optional four-wheel drive, means cross-country pace is highly impressive.
Our test car had 19in alloys with Toyo Proxes R36 tyres, which gripped surprisingly hard. We were able to send the car charging into corners on our Italian test route, and the nose always went where it was pointed, albeit with the gentlest hint of understeer.
Admittedly, versions riding on 17in wheels and Yokohama won't be able to corner as quickly, but the CX-5’s inherent composure and predictability remain intact, which is rather good going for a big SUV.
The 173bhp 2.2-litre diesel Skyactiv-D engine we're driving here suits the car’s character best. It produces 310lb ft of torque at 2000rpm to give flexible and muscular performance, and it sounds good too (for a diesel) projecting a deep growl into the cabin that’s satisfyingly sporty.
The less rev-happy 148bhp and 280lb ft version of this engine is almost identical in character and is the most frugal powertrain with a claimed 56mpg possible - making it the top contender to be the best-seller in Britain.
The CX-5's biggest flaw actually comes with its petrol engine, which is a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre four-cylinder called Skyactiv-G. Enthusiasts might assume this motor, with its 158bhp arriving at a peaky 6000rpm, would be rewarding, but it feels wheezy and gutless through the mid-range and therefore not suited to an SUV.
Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic gearboxes are available. The former features a rubbery, slick change, while the latter is surprisingly quick-shifting. When driven at pace in Sport mode, the auto can be a little slow to pick a gear, but if pushed into manual mode – in which you click the lever forward or backward to change gear – it responds more swiftly.