SUVs have become big business for Mazda despite the consistent association with the iconic roadster. SUVs accounted for more than a third of all UK sales between June last year and this March. Of those, nearly two-thirds (61 per cent) were the larger CX-5, which iNews are testing. The CX-5 comes in two trim levels with a choice of three engines – one petrol, two diesel – and two gearboxes. The test car combined all the bits that sell best in the CX-5 so it came with two-wheel-drive, the 148bhp diesel engine, a six-speed manual gearbox and the Sport Nav trim. It’s a pattern repeated across the segment, where people want the looks of a 4×4 without the complexity and weight of all-wheel-drive. The 2.2-litre engine is fine and smooth. You wouldn’t accuse it of being over-endowed in the power stakes but it’s got enough torque to suit most purposes and is on a par with units in rivals for refinement and pull. The manual gearbox, too, gives some credence to Mazda’s stated aim of letting the driver be at one with the car, it’s crisp and quick where many are vague. Reflecting that aim, Mazda set a lot of store by the way their cars drive and while the CX-5 is no sports car – it’s far too big – it does have good body control with lean kept well in check. How much so was demonstrated when I jumped from it into a larger SUV which I’d previously thought was well controlled and suddenly found it very wallowy indeed.
For passengers in the front the CX-5 nails the task of being a big, comfy vehicle with good visibility thanks to its elevated ride height. But for all that it’s a big car with plenty of space up front the rear bench is really narrow. It’s partly to do with the shaping of the outer two seats but for a purported five-seater the middle spot is really tight. There’s not much to complain about when it comes to the interior finish, though. The whole cabin is unfussy and clear with metallic highlights complementing the leather finish on the seats and doors, and an overall feeling of airiness. All CX-5s are well equipped but the Sport Nav is the higher of the two trim levels so adds the likes of 19-inch wheels, leather upholstery, head-up display and heated seats and steering wheel to the standard LED headlights, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, dual-zone climate control and seven-inch touchscreen with sat nav. Mazda see the CX-5 as a closer competitor to the VW TIguan than the likes of the Nissan Qashqai and that’s reflected in both its price and quality. The Tiguan might still edge the Mazda on premium feel but it’s a close thing and other rivals such as the Ford Kuga can’t match the CX-5’s style or driver involvement.