Small SUVs are big business in Ireland - more so in the current suppressed economy, where buyers of large cars opt for a cheaper, compact SUV in a bid to reduce costs while maintaining a semblance of status on their driveways. Mazda is quite late to the party, but its new CX-5 is full of promise.
Inside & Out: 4/5
The dimensions of the CX-5 reveal that it's significantly bigger than the Nissan Qashqai - and it looks it. This helps justify its positioning in the market to a certain extent. The exterior is restrained in terms of its overall profile, but it does feature loads of neat detailing - the way the sides of the front grille extend into the headlights for instance. It fits right into the compact SUV landscape and looks modern without alienating potential buyers.
Inside it's more saloon car than SUV, which is no bad thing. It's one of the best Mazda cabins in a while with decent space for five adults and a large boot. The instrumentation and switchgear feel good and it's a high quality interior, while the driving position offers that all-important commanding view of the road ahead.
Engine & Transmission: 4/5
Mazda markets the CX-5 as the sporting option in the class, which explains why the only diesel engine offered is a 2.2-litre unit. In the front-wheel drive versions (as tested), this produces 150hp and a very useful 380Nm of torque. The latter means you never need to rev this engine very high and it endows the car with effortless performance. It really is quite quick in everyday situations. Along with that the diesel engine is remarkably quiet. The six-speed manual gearbox is a good partner, if not as sporty as Mazda likes to make out. Fancy a little more? There's a 175hp model with four-wheel drive.
Ride & Handling: 4/5
If your only chance to test the Mazda CX-5 is at low speed in town you may come away disappointed, as there's a mild bounciness to the ride in this situation depending on the surface. Up the speed and this is eradicated so the car is comfortable on the motorway and elsewhere. Despite that it's a wieldy car, with more agility than most alternatives in the class. While you're unlikely to drive it down a twisty road for the sake of it, it is enjoyable to drive and its relatively compact size means it's easy to place.
Equipment, Economy & Value for Money: 4/5
Mazda offers Executive, Sport and Sport SE grades, manual and automatic gearboxes, two- and four-wheel drive options and even a 2.0-litre petrol engine that sits in Band B for tax. The front-wheel drive Sport model we tested, with a manual transmission and the diesel engine, is expected to be the biggest seller thanks to a decent specification and Band A taxation.
Standard across the line-up are alloy wheels, air conditioning, electric windows all round, integrated TomTom satnav, USB and aux-in connections, Bluetooth and stereo controls on the steering wheel. The price walk from Executive to Sport in this car is just €1,200 and that adds Smart City Brake Support, front fog lights, privacy glass, electric folding door mirrors, automatic lights and wipers, dual-zone climate control, split rear seats (with handles in the boot to open them) and cruise control. Well worth the extra outlay.
For the record, we averaged 6.9 litres/100km (40.9mpg) in a week in the CX-5, with very little motorway cruising.