The Mazda CX-5 is the company’s new rival for cars such as the Audi Q3 and VW Tiguan. More than that, it’s also the first car to use Mazda’s new Skyactiv technology, which saves fuel and cuts emissions thanks to a combination of new engines, efficient transmissions and lightweight construction.
Buyers can choose from a 2.0-litre petrol engine and two versions of a 2.2-litre diesel, with the lower-powered model also available with a choice of two- or four-wheel drive. The petrol models are two-wheel-drive only, while the stronger diesels all have four-wheel drive (an electronically controlled system that works in two-wheel drive most of the time, but sends power to all four wheels when extra traction is needed).
Prices start at £21,395 for a basic petrol model and £22,995 for the entry-level diesel – which is very competitive – but it’s the impressive fuel economy and emissions that may well be the real attraction.
Petrol-engined CX-5s emit just 139g/km of CO2 – as good as a diesel Bluemotion Tiguan – while the best diesel CX-5 ducks under 120g/km. Even the worst (a four-wheel-drive model with automatic transmission) puts out just 144g/km.
What’s the 2012 Mazda CX-5 like to drive?
This is one Sports Utility Vehicle that lives up to the S in its name – at least in terms of performance.
Both versions of the diesel engine are thoroughly impressive: smooth, refined and pulling strongly from well below 2000rpm and going all the way to a very un-diesel-like 5500rpm. Mind you, so strong is the pull between 2000rpm and 3000rpm, there’s little point in working them hard.
Even with the 147bhp engine, you can keep a respectable pace without going beyond 3000rpm. In fact, we'd question the need for upgrading to the 173bhp version, which is dearer to buy and run.
With both diesels, it's easy to pootle around town with the minimum of gearchanges, and you can keep up with the ebb and flow of traffic on the open road with little more than a flex of the right ankle. Ironically – given how rarely you’ll need to use it – the CX-5 also has a fine, slick gearchange, but at least it ensures that, when an overtaking opportunity comes your way, you can take advantage of it with the minimum of drama.
All models come with six-speed transmissions, and even when you choose the automatic rather than the manual, there’s only a minor reduction in performance. There are certainly no problems with how smoothly it slurs its way from one gear to the next.
Admittedly, the CX-5 isn’t the most sporting or agile of SUVs through the bends, but you can still keep up a good pace thanks to its strong grip and reasonable body control. Only in a series of tight turns will the car struggle to control the shifting weight caused by the sudden changes in direction. For the majority of the time, it’s a very pleasant car to drive.
There’s little difference between the two- and four-wheel-drive versions in practice. However, we found that the two-wheel-drive versions turned into corners a little more sharply; four-wheel-drive models needed more effort than we expected.
However, there are a couple of areas where the CX-5 is rather less impressive: its refinement and its ride.
At the motorway limit, there's far too much noise - a combination of wind noise from around the door mirrors and general road noise. Meanwhile, the ride has a distinctly firm feel to it on British roads.
There’s no doubt that it’s less comfortable on Sport models, which have 19-inch wheels, but on the other models (which have 17-inch wheels), there’s a little more bounce on poor roads. That will frustrate some drivers, but for us it’s the better compromise.
What’s the 2012 Mazda CX-5 like inside?
It’s all rather dark inside the CX-5, and there’s too much scratchy, cheap-feeling plastic within easy reach for our liking, but you won’t complain about the ergonomics. The dashboard gets relatively few buttons and controls, and the ones it does have are chunky and user-friendly. The new infotainment system, which features a BMW iDrive-style controller, is also pretty easy to use.
At the same time, there’s also no faulting the space the car provides. Head- and legroom for the driver and front passenger are excellent, and a couple of six-footers will be comfortable in the back.
It’s more of a squeeze with three across the back seat, but even though the centre seat is raised and narrower than the outer two, and the transmission tunnel in the floor does limit foot space, three in the back is still a possibility.
What six-footers won’t like is the fact that the tailgate doesn’t open very high. You won’t need to be much over six feet tall to run the risk of catching your head on the locking mechanism.
Still, the boot is well sized, with no awkward lip to lift luggage over, and it features Mazda’s neat Karakuri seat-folding mechanism. You release the split-folding seats using a handle in the boot (or a button on the seat itself), and they drop automatically, leaving a near-flat boot floor.
Should I buy one?
Even without the cost-cutting appeal of its fine diesel engines, the CX-5 would be one of our favourite SUVs thanks to its decent drive and impressive practicality.
When you factor in those low running costs, it's clear that anyone in the market for a £20-25k SUV should put the CX-5 on their shortlist. That said, we do reckon you should think twice about going for the firmer-riding (and dearer) Sport model.
Our reviews are based on hard data and thorough testing in the real world.
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