Mazda CX5 2.2 TDI AWD
Talking to the Mazda team, it's interesting to hear how the company views itself, and even more interesting to hear how the firm is introducing some pretty interesting engineering techniques to make its cars better, and its production lines even more efficient.
The CX5 is the first in a line of many cars that have new engines, and a new way of thinking. The car, which sits in the "crossover" category - between a normal compact car and a full-blown SUV - is intended to appeal to drivers who love driving, rather than people who are content with a Eurobox laden with equipment and storage space, but devoid of driving personality.
The CX5 is a grower, thankfully. Our first glance at it was pleasing, but as we spent more time with the car we became more enamoured with its interesting looks. Front-on, it's striking. There's a big grille, which dominates, along with some stylish lights with a slightly pinched design.
Side-on, the car has a familiar SUV styling. The rear windows are smallish, but in the front there's a lot of glass, and as a result a very reasonable view of the road around you. The taillights are especially unusual, and from the side give the car a pretty funky look. This is no Nissan Juke, but you could argue that's no bad thing - it's certainly more conventional, and much less likely to scare children.
Inside, and we see a new approach for Mazda, which admits that it hasn't always had the most inspiring quality when it comes to the cabin. Things here are good, though. The dashboard is neatly designed. The rev counter and speedometer are traditional dials, while on the right is a digital display and graphical fuel gauge.
Things do fall apart a little when you come to the centre console. Here, there's a bit of a mix of old and new. In our test car, the TomTom gives a high-tech highlight with a multi-function touchscreen, which also doubles as a radio and CD player display. This works well, and is actually quite clearly laid out.
Below this though, there are the climate controls. There's nothing at all wrong here, but the colour of the displays - orange - doesn't fit at all with the darker and more modern style of the dashboard. We'd have like to have seen everything match, and it just doesn't. It all works fine, and the climate control is easier to use than Audi's dreadful "clicker" model used on the current A3. Here, you dial in the temperature you want and there's the option to turn dual-zone on, or off, at the press of a button. This is very useful, and it's missing on other cars.
Upholstery is well-designed too, there are cloth and leather options, and our car had a delightful red stitching that you possibly wouldn't expect to find on this sort of car. It might seem like a small thing, but we really liked it. The driver's seat of our car was also fully electric and allowed us to get into a comfortable driving position very easily. Once set up, we stayed comfortable all day. This car is incredibly pleasant to drive.
The height gives you a good vantage point, but the car never feels too big for British roads. The suspension is hard enough to make the car feel stable, but not so hard as to rattle your bones out through your mouth.
On-wheel controls mean easy access to cruise control and the stereo without having to reach over to play with the touchscreen interface. There is also a physical dial, set near the handbrake. This offers another navigation method, but it's pointless with the touchscreen and more likely to distract than an on-dash system.
Mazda offers a 2-litre petrol engine, and a 2.2-litre diesel in either two-wheel drive, or all-wheel drive configurations.
The more powerful AWD Sports version is a hoot. Low down the rev range, it's not all that inspiring, but drive it hard, up toward the red line, and it becomes a very different beast. There's loads of torque and while this is a large vehicle, it often feels more sprightly than a smaller car.
Even on tight, windy roads in the Scottish Highlands, the CX5 felt solid and well-planted. This is obviously not a sports car, but it also doesn't feel like an SUV when you're hurtling around at 60mph on single-track roads that stretch off into the mountains ahead.
The lower power 2.2 litre engine is, however, the one to chose. It's not significantly less fun than the bigger engine, and you still need to drive it high up the revs to have a good time, but it's cheaper to buy, gets better fuel economy when driven sensibly and comes in on a lower tax bracket.
You might prefer the security of the all-wheel-drive car too, but we'd suggest sticking to the two-wheel-drive model. You're unlikely to need the extra wheels driving, and it reduces fuel economy and won't help you actually to go off-road - this car really isn't designed for that.
Mazda is also proud of its short-shift gearbox, which it says pushes this car in the direction of the MX5. We have to say, its gearbox is actually very pleasant indeed to use, and when shifting around, it does feel responsive, and it's never too easy to flick the stick into the wrong gear. It's certainly more fun than you'll have in most vehicles in this class.
Plenty of technology
We really must insist, if you're buying a CX5, please make sure you take the TomTom option. it's very well integrated, gives you incredibly slick maps, with access to TomTom Live, if you're prepared to pay for it, and it has nice features such as lane guidance. If you get the CX5 now, Mazda is throwing the satnav in for free, but it's only £400 more if you miss this offer.
Other options include metallic paint for £500 and, on the AWD sport model, lane departure warning and rear vehicle monitoring. The sport model also has an improved Bose sound system, should music be your weapon of choice against screaming toddlers. Plus, there's a reversing camera too, which comes in handy when you consider that there's not a lot of rear visibility on this car.
One feature we do love, is the Smart City Breaking. Here, if you're moving at less than 20mph, and the car detects that you're about to crash into the back of someone, it will automatically apply the brakes, and bring you to an alarming, but swift halt. If you've ever had "that" accident at a junction, you'll, no doubt, be pleased by the inclusion of this feature.
There's also a lane departure warning, which sounds a loud and slightly flatulent noise if you stray from the lane in which you are supposed to be driving. This should stop drivers from falling asleep at the wheel, but it should also help those who sometimes drift out of their lane suddenly, and nearly cause an accident.
While we usually avoid talk of engine design and spec here, we do want to mention Mazda's Skyactiv briefly.
These new engines are important to the company, which says that there is no point building hybrid cars, unless your underlying technology is as efficient as possible first. It is therefore making its engines lighter and simpler, and aiming to increase efficiency by 30 per cent over the next couple of years.
The net result of this is that the engine is 10 per cent lighter in this car, has 15 per cent better fuel consumption and 15 per cent more torque. Those are all just numbers, but in the time we spent with the car, it is certainly one of the most impressive diesel powered vehicles we've used.
And best of all, because the engines in the petrol and diesel models are so close to each other in size and weight, it's far easier for the cars to be assembled on the same lines. That means reduced costs, which can hopefully be passed on to us, the consumers.
The Mazda CX5 is certainly one of the more fun SUVs you can buy. It's very likely to appeal to parents who have a couple of ankle-biters, but still want a car that feels like it's driver-oriented, rather than family-oriented. It is, therefore, possible to have a lot of fun in the diesel CX5. Far more fun than you'd think actually.
When it comes to practicalities though, there are some issues. There aren't as many seats as you can get in some Euro SUVs from the likes of Citroen, Renault and VW. There are also not as many storage areas as the cubby-hole obsessed French cars offer. It has a decent-sized boot, but it's not enormous once you've chucked a pushchair and a suitcase in and if you're also ferrying a big dog too, it's not quite large enough.
But for day-to-day driving it's one of the most quiet and refined diesel engines we've seen. The new production method has produced a diesel engine that's far lighter than any which has gone before it. This brings all manner of cost savings, and helps this to achieve one of the best economy ratings of all its SUV brethren.
We didn't expect to be, but when it comes to the CX5, 2WD 2.2 diesel. We're utterly sold.