Mazda CX-5

We try the Mazda CX-5 on UK roads to see if it's a contender in the compact SUV class

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

The compact SUV class is already crowded with attractive offerings, but the stylish, upmarket and fun to drive CX-5 is about to shake things up. Class-leading emissions and fuel economy will appeal to both private and fleet customers, while fantastic handling, impressive refinement and sharp looks mean the newcomer has real desirability, especially as the roomy and comfortable cabin has taken a step upmarket. Our only reservation is with prices – the entry-level model is £6,565 more than the cheapest Skoda Yeti -  but standard equipment is generous and running costs low. The front-wheel drive, low-output diesel will be the biggest seller in the UK, but whichever model you go for, the superb CX-5 is a stern rival for cars like the Kia Sportage and Volkswagen Tiguan.

The new Mazda CX-5 isn’t just the first compact SUV from the Japanese company, it also marks the debut of its fuel-saving SkyActive technology. With efficient engines, lightweight construction and stop/start as standard, the new CX-5 has class-leading emissions, yet promises to retain the engaging driving experience that Mazda is famous for.   

And with one petrol, a pair of diesels - which come with the option of two or four-wheel drive, plus manual or automatic gearboxes - there’s a lot of choice across 18 separate models.

We got behind the wheel of the flagship 172bhp 2.2-litre four-wheel-drive diesel in Sport trim for our first drive on UK roads. And first impressions are very good. For starters, with its sharp lines, smart detailing and taut proportions, the CX-5 looks fantastic. Inside, the high quality soft-touch materials and smart cabin design are a real step forward. 

Upmarket ebony trim, tactile rotary climate switches and a colour touchscreen are highlights. And at launch, all models get the £400 navigation upgrade for free. 

The driving position is spot on, thanks to a wide range of wheel and seat adjustment, while cabin stowage is good, with big door pockets and a large central bin between the front seats. 

In the back, aside from a slightly narrow middle seat, passenger room is excellent, and the 503-litre boot increases to 1,620 litres when you fold the 40:20:40 rear seats flat - something that’s done with ease from either the boot or the cabin. 

Standard equipment includes Bluetooth, a multifunction steering wheel, heated seats, a Bose stereo, full leather trim, keyless entry, xenon lights and a reversing camera. All of which go some way towards balancing out the £27,195 price tag, as do the impressively low running costs.

However, it’s under the skin where the CX-5 really sets itself apart. The 2.2-litre SkyActive-D engine is the world’s lowest compression ratio diesel, which means, even when matched to four-wheel drive, it only emits 136g/km - making it cleaner than most of its front-drive rivals. Opt for the front-wheel-drive 148bhp version, and this drops to an even more impressive 119g/km.

Fortunately, this fuel efficiency doesn’t come at the expense of performance. A two-stage turbocharger ensures power delivery is super smooth, and with an effortless surge of power at just over 2,000rpm, the engine is relaxed, fast and very refined. The gearbox feels great, with a short shift inspired by the MX-5, while the handling feels remarkably sporty. 

Mazda has made extensive use of high-tensile steel in the CX-5's platform, so it's surprisingly light, and it reacts with a keenness that’s missing from many compact SUV rivals. The well weighted steering has a light easy action, yet is precise and fast. Matched to superb body control the CX-5 shrinks around you on a twisty road, and the all-wheel drive ensures traction is superb, while overall grip is very high. 

The isolation of road noise at speed is the best in the class, while the ride is supple and well judged. Only nasty potholes and really rough surfaces cause the 19-inch wheels to thud slightly. 

Around town, the stop/start system operates very smoothly, while the tall seating position gives you a great view of the road. Also, Mazda’s Smart City Brake low-speed collision mitigation system is standard across the range. 

A superb all-rounder that’s great to drive, refined and impressively efficient: the CX-5 is sure to lure lots of new customers to the Mazda brand. 

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