When it arrived on the market earlier this year, the headline news about the Mazda CX-5 SUV was that one model in the range had a spectacularly low CO2 rating of 119g/km. This astonishing figure, made possible by Mazda's SKYACTIV technology which is making its debut in the CX-5, is unmatched by several small hatchbacks, and means that annual VED payments from year two onwards are less than you might expect to pay for an only moderately enjoyable dinner for two.
Jolly good. But if that's what you want, you have to make do with the least powerful engine in the range (a 148bhp 2.2-litre turbo diesel) and front-wheel drive. There's nothing wrong with that engine, but despite all the SKYACTIV hoo-hah the CX-5 is one of those SUVs which - like the Nissan Qashqai until its suspension was revised two years ago - needs its power to be transferred through all four wheels if it's to feel stable in all but the most extreme conditions.
The car reviewed here was fitted with the 173bhp version of the same engine (the most powerful currently available in the CX-5, ahead of a 163bhp petrol unit) which Mazda has wisely ensured is available only with four-wheel drive. The CO2 emissions are understandably nowhere near those of the cleanest model, but the 136g/km rating, and 54.3mpg combined fuel economy, are nevertheless things of wonder in this class.
There is only one diesel SUV of comparable size with manual transmission which can beat them, and that's the BMW X1 EfficientDynamics. But it's less powerful, and it doesn't have four-wheel drive, so it doesn't really count.
Admittedly - and this situation is by no means peculiar to the CX-5 - the economy figure seems unrealistic, though the mid-40s mpg consumption I managed seems pretty good for a car of this shape and power. It might have been better still if the start/stop system fitted as standard to all CX-5s worked more often than it did, but during this test it only rarely shut down the engine when the car came to a halt.
All that aside, the CX-5 is not a bad SUV, but by no means the best. It has plenty of room for four large adults, luggage capacity of 503 litres (rear seats up) or 1620 litres (rear seats down) is useful if not amazing, and the low rear sill makes it easy to load heavy objects.
On the downside, the rear window design is a disgrace, and the ride and handling, though much better in this car than a lower-spec model I drove at the media launch, are nothing special, even though some of the SKYACTIV technology should have helped both. There's just no substitute for getting the springing and damping right.
Every CX-5 comes as standard with the excellent Smart City Brake Support system, which can stop the car from speeds of up to 20mph if it senses an impending collision and you don't, plus dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, rear privacy glass, front and rear parking sensors, an auto-dimming interior mirror and leather-covered the steering wheel and gearknob.
There was more to that with the test car, however, since it was in Sport rather than the more basic SE-L trim. Choosing Sport costs you an extra £2500, for which you get 19" wheels rather than the SE-L's 17s, adaptive bi-xenon headlights, leather seat and door trim, a more adjustable driver's seat, front-seat heating, a reversing camera, keyless entry and a Bose audio system with nine speakers.
Although it's not a particularly fine SUV, the CX-5 is impressive in terms of safety, at least according to Euro NCAP. Having gone through that organisation's crash test programme, the car comfortably qualified for a five-star rating, and was notably marked in the highest category for whiplash protection.
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