A few years ago, if you wanted a family-friendly SUV with engaging handling, reasonable running costs and sharp looks, then the Mazda CX-5 and Ford Kuga would have been your main considerations. Fast forward to 2017 and the landscape has changed somewhat.
Now, there's the the brilliant new Skoda Kodiaq (which is available in both five- and seven-seat form), along with a host of slightly smaller, but still suitably practical, choices, such as the Seat Ateca, Peugeot 5008 and Volkswagen Tiguan.
To counter this onslaught, Mazda has treated its large SUV to a comprehensive refresh. Marketed as an all-new model, the new CX-5 is effectively an evolution of a successful formula; the basic architecture of the car has been retained, allowing Mazda to focus on improving the ride quality, handling and sound deadening.
What has changed significantly, though, are its aesthetics. Despite sharing similar dimensions to the previous car, sleeker headlights, a wider front grille and sharper lines give it a more aggressive appearance. Combined with striking Soul Red Crystal paint (pictured) – which Mazda says is of motor show quality – and re-designed 19in alloys, the 2017 CX-5 looks much sharper than the car it replaces.
What's the 2017 Mazda CX-5 like to drive?
Relaxing. In a speech given before our test drive, Kiyoshi Hayashi, the man responsible for the CX-5’s dynamics, claimed that the biggest improvement made over the previous model was a quieter interior. This is a claim substantiated by the sheer amount of work that has gone into sound deadening: a thicker windscreen, tighter door gaps and streamlined windscreen pillars are just some of the measures taken to reduce noise.
The end result is a car that is noticeably quieter than the model it replaces. At high speeds, the previous CX-5 suffered from an excess of wind and road noise, but in the new car there are no such problems. Engine rumble is well repressed, wind noise is minimal and even on larger 19in wheels, tyre roar is no worse than you’d find in a similarly specced Kodiaq or 5008. Is the CX-5 class-leading in this regard? Well, it’s hard to say definitively at this stage without a back-to-back comparison, but there’s no doubt that the Mazda is a very pleasant car to cover miles in.
Where the CX-5 definitely does have the competition beaten, however, is in the way it deals with undulating and pockmarked rural roads. Keen to refine a ride that was previously jarring, Mazda has softened the front suspension. The result is a car that feels more forgicing than both the Kodiaq and 5008, while still delivering exceptional body control. Sudden crests and compressions are dealt with in one fluid, well-controlled movement, a characteristic that passengers prone to carsickness will be particularly grateful of.
The softer ride also does little to dampen the CX-5’s dynamic ability. Turn in to a quick corner and the car exhibits more body lean than you might expect from a sporty SUV, but once it's settled, the well-weighted steering gives you the confidence to place the car exactly where you want it. Combined with Mazda's G-Vectoring Control (GVC) – a system which shuffles power between individual wheels to help improve cornering responsiveness – the CX-5 compensates for its size and height surprisingly well.
That said, the CX-5 still falls short of the very best when it comes to driving fun. It is capable of generating serious amounts of grip, but once its tyres finally cry 'enough', it’s the front end that runs wide first. For the average driver this will prove reassuring, but for those who enjoy driving quickly, the smaller Seat Ateca's exceptional balance and more precise steering will be the more rewarding package.
Ultimately, the CX-5 is best enjoyed at a more relaxed pace. The 2.2-litre diesel engine we're testing here pulls strongly from very low revs, and the six-speed manual gearbox only serves to make the experience more enjoyable, thanks to its short throw and precise shift.
What's the 2017 Mazda CX-5 like inside?
In line with the CX-5’s 'dynamic’ focus, the interior has been designed around the driver, and boy does it look good. Aside from the 5008’s distinctly futuristic layout, the Mazda is a step above the competition. With a three-spoke steering wheel, a minimalist dashboard design and an abundance of soft-touch materials, it’s easy to forget that you are sitting in a circa-£25,000 car.
And the good news doesn’t stop there. As standard, you get a centrally mounted 7.0in infotainment screen with sat-nav and a high-resolution 4.6in driving information screen between the instrument dials. The former is operated via an BMW-style rotary controller, which makes navigating menus and inputting sat-nav destinations a relative breeze. The only notable omission from the package are the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring functions, although Mazda says these will be added soon.
In terms of practicality, Mazda's retention of the previous CX-5’s basic architecture has meant there has been no significant step forward, but no matter; there’s enough head and leg room, front and rear, for tall adults, and while the boot is smaller than a Honda CR-V’s, it still big enough for two large pushchairs. The driving position is also excellent.
Instead, Mazda has focused on improving the user experience by fitting more practical technological features. A powered tailgate is now available as an option, the rear seats offer two stages of recline and, once folded flat, you're treated to a flat boot floor with no annoying steps or ridges.
Storage cubbyholes dotted around the interior should also come in handy for families on the go, and children will likely appreciate the CX-5's four USB ports.
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