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Mazda’s first compact SUV ushers in new hi-tec design philosophy.

Billed as a useable alternative to hybrid and electric vehicle technology, Mazda’s SKYACTIV centers on three key design areas: sophisticated lightweight chassis, advanced engines and new transmissions.

The completely new Mazda all-alloy 2.2-litre SKYACTIV-D turbo diesel unit delivers 150ps and thanks to an unusually low 14:1 compression ratio, and Mazda’s i-Stop fuel-saving idle-stop system, combines increased efficiency and reduced emissions, which meet EU Stage 6 emission regulations due to come into force in 2014. Other engines in the range include a 175ps diesel and 165ps petrol.

ON THE ROAD
The 2-wheel drive (2WD) CX5 tested here is joined by all-wheel drive (AWD) models, available with manual and automatic transmissions.

On the road the diesel engine impresses. Its common-rail injection with low-friction and lightweight all-alloy construction combine to give very impressive refinement for a 4-cyclinder oil burner, remaining sweet even at 5000 rpm – usually not considered diesel territory. The 380 NM of torque aided by the twin-turbos means plenty of mid-range punch for overtaking, with the sort of effortless power delivery typified by a decent diesel motor, although typically of a turbo diesel unit, the majority of pull is available between 1500 and 3800 rpm.

SKYACTIV technology means that performance is combined with economy: the 2.2 diesel managing a class leading 61.4mpg and 119g/km of CO2.These figures and the resulting low-road tax and Benefit In Kind mean this 2.2 2WD manual is expected to account for 85 percent of UK sales.

In terms of handling Mazda’s new SUV impresses for a car of its ilk, remaining composed and surefooted, even when pressing-on. Brakes are responsive and bring the car to a stop reassuringly quickly and steering has a good balance of weight and feel. Of course, it’s no sports car and will understeer if pushed very hard into corners, but for normal road use the CX5 can be considered a capable performer. The slight trade off for the tidy road manners is a ride that is on the firm side, although it can never be considered uncomfortable. Overall refinement is also good with suspension and road noise being well isolated.

This high-spec Sport model came well equipped and with keyless entry, full-leather trim, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, integrated Bluetooth® system, cruise control, 5.8-inch colour display screen and Mazda’s Multimedia Commander incorporating Bose® CD audio system with nine speakers and USB and iPod connectivity.

Along with the full complement of airbags, CX5 also comes with the usual array of safety kit and electronic driving aids, including Smart City Brake Support (SCBS) system; which monitors vehicles in front and if it detects the driver isn’t responding to an imminent collision, applies the brakes, to either prevent or reduced the intensity of impact at speeds up to 18 mph.

If a driver is unfortunate to have an accident, they stand a very good chance of surviving, thanks to the CX5 receiving five-stars – the highest possible safety rating – from Euro NCAP.

IN THE CABIN
CX5’s spacious and airy cabin boasts a commanding and comfortable driving position that caters for all size of drivers - although the ‘anti-whiplash’ headrests tilt downwards and may prove irritating for some.

Legroom is generous too and the seating can accommodate five adults meaning CX5 is more than able to take care of family trips. The backrests are also configured with a 40/20/40-split arrangement to accommodate long or bulky luggage. All three portions can be released from boot area, which also offers additional under-floor storage.

Boot space, at 503 litres seats up and 1,620 litres with rear seats folded flat, puts it amongst the best in class.

Quality of fixtures and fittings are also very good and not far off VW or Audi levels.

Only niggles are a shallow glovebox and unusually small front door storage trays. The clean, stylish and ergonomic dashboard layout houses easy to use and intuitive controls. The conciseness of the multimedia screen means there aren’t a surplus of buttons everywhere and the Tom-Tom powered satellite navigation (on Sat Models) impresses with its clarity and simple touch-screen operation.

VERDICT
CX5 impresses as a capable all rounder, with only a slightly fidgety ride causing complaint. Rivals like the Ford Kuga, Nissan Qashqai and Skoda Yeti are available for less money, but they’re not able to offer the same combination of equipment, performance and efficiency.

For buyers in the market for a compact SUV, this new offering from Mazda should undoubtedly be on their short list.