With SUVs taking over the new car market and new high-riding options seemingly arriving every other Tuesday, existing models have to evolve to keep up. And that's exactly what Mazda has done with its CX-5 family SUV, offering a little refresh for 2022 to ensure it keeps its spot among the very best in the class. To find out whether the (admittedly minor) upgrades have worked, we took to the roads in a high-spec model with the 184hp diesel engine and all-wheel drive.
In the metal
Even when you see the new CX-5 alongside its predecessor, it isn't especially easy to tell which is which. Look closely and you might spot the slightly revamped grille, redesigned taillights and lightly revised bumpers, but otherwise it's pretty much identical. Even Mazda admits the highlights of the 2022 car include some new paint colours and fresh trim levels - hardly ground-breaking stuff.
But it doesn't need to be, because the CX-5 has always been a very good-looking car. The sharp creases and sculpted panels give it a sense of class that those unfamiliar with Mazda products might not immediately associate with the Japanese brand.
The interior backs that impression up, although even from the driving seat it's still difficult to separate the old and new cars. As before, there's a soft, tactile dashboard with some snazzy trims (especially in more luxurious variants) and supportive, comfortable seats. The build quality is generally very good, although the odd piece of plastic looks a little cheaper than the rest, and that spoils the impression slightly.
A case in point is the button-addled steering wheel, which feels great in your hands, but some of the plastic on the spokes and buttons just feels a tiny but cheap, with some sharp edges on display. Nevertheless, it all works very well, it's logically laid out and there's a sense that it's robust enough to last the course.
Behind the wheel is a clear, classic, easy-to-read instrument display, and although the binnacle houses a digital screen in place of traditional dials, the display just shows you some virtual instruments with an old-school white-on-black colour scheme. It might not sound high-tech, but it's very effective and, when paired with the head-up display available on most trim levels, it works really well.
The same can be said for the central touchscreen infotainment system. It's much the same as before, with logical menus and a reasonably sharp but hardly exciting display. Although you can use your fingertips to control the system, it's much better to use the rotary control on the centre console, which you can operate with minimal distraction. Once you've learned your way around the system, you'll be able to access plenty of features without taking your eyes off the road at all.
On a similar note, Mazda has resisted the trend for hiding heating and ventilation controls in the screen, and left them lower down in the dash, where some solid-feeling rotary dials allow you to adjust the temperature without taking your eyes off the road.
Equally commendable is the amount of space on offer, with a competitively sized cabin and an equally sizeable boot. Those in the back will have plenty of headroom and adequate legroom - even if you have four tall adults on board - and the boot is equally appealing, with 510 litres of space. That's about the same as you'd get in a SEAT Ateca, Ford Kuga or Peugeot 3008.
But while all this sounds great - and it is - it's still nothing new. As with the exterior, Mazda has kept the cabin more or less the same, with the main changes found in the new trim levels. The Newground model (as pictured here), for example, gets lurid green trim in the air vents and matching piping on the seats. If you want to see the real changes for this 2022 car, you have to look under the skin.
The obvious stuff - engines, gearboxes and the like - has remained the same, with a range comprising 2.0-litre, 165hp and 194hp 2.5-litre petrol engines, along with two versions of the 2.2-litre diesel, offering a choice of 150- or 184hp. Front- and four-wheel-drive options are available, and there's a choice of manual and automatic gearboxes.
Electric or hybrid options are conspicuous by their absence, which might put some people off, but the diesels are so good that they're difficult to overlook. Four-wheel drive is the way to go, because they seem to handle best and offer more off-road capability while still being impressively efficient, so we'd opt for the 184hp diesel tested here. That said, we'd stick with the fantastic manual gearbox, rather than the six-speed automatic that occasionally makes some odd gear selections and costs quite a lot more.
With nothing new to see in the engine bay, you'll have to dig deeper to find changes to the suspension, which has been re-tuned to improve comfort and refinement. It has certainly worked, because while the CX-5 rode smartly anyway, the new model feels even better. It isn't marshmallow-soft, but it manages to smooth out almost every imperfection in the road while still letting you know exactly what surface you're traversing. It's very informative, but it manages to be comfortable at the same time. Even broken back roads are absorbed relatively well, and the car always feels composed and stable.
That security comes in handy, because the CX-5's real strength is not its comfort or its premium feel, but its handling. Mazda likes to bang on about its mantra of Jinba Ittai - the relationship between car and driver - and our cynical side rails against such guff. But there's no doubting the fact Mazda's cars are almost universally brilliant to drive.
That the CX-5 is one such vehicle is testament to the brilliance of Mazda's engineers, who have managed to make this big, high-riding SUV drive like a family hatchback. Body lean is well controlled - more so in all-wheel-drive models than their front-drive counterparts - and the speed at which the CX-5 can take corners is faintly ridiculous. Grip is plentiful, the steering is precise and the inherent competence makes it feel less hurried than the figures on the speedo might suggest. Of all the family SUVs on the market, this is easily the best choice for keen drivers.
Yet again, however, we'd have said much the same thing about the old CX-5, and the difference between the two is not enormous. Perhaps the ride is a tad smoother, and the road noise is certainly less noticeable, but these are small upgrades, rather than major improvements.
There is a new off-road mode, though, which is only fitted to top-end all-wheel-drive petrol models and adjusts the on-board systems to make it more competent over rough terrain. Not that it's really necessary. Few drivers are going to do serious off-roading in a CX-5, and experience tells us the standard all-wheel-drive diesels (which miss out on the off-road setting) are perfectly competent on farm tracks or in the snow.
What you get for your money
The CX-5 range kicks off at a competitive €36,745, which pays for the basic GS-L model. But despite being at the foot of the range, that car still comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration software and automatic climate control. Automatic wipers are standard, too, and you get plenty of safety kit. It really isn't bad value at all.
Further up the range is the new Newground model with its lurid trim, but that adds plenty of equipment and only €2,000 to the price. GT trim costs the same as the Newground, though, and it's probably the sweet spot in the range, with leather upholstery and other useful goodies. Then there's the GT Sport, Homura and GT Lux models, which add varying amounts of luxury and extra styling features but bump the starting price up to well over €40,000.
The engine choice makes a big difference to the price, too, with diesel power costing up to €10,000 more than a petrol equivalent and there's a €5,000 penalty for picking an automatic gearbox. Thankfully, the manual is so good that such outlay seems unnecessary.
We're big fans of the old 'if it ain't broke...' philosophy, so while the 2022 Mazda CX-5 doesn't feel much different to its predecessor, that's no bad thing in our book. So if you've just taken delivery of the outgoing model, don't despair. You aren't missing much. There was nothing wrong with the old car, and the new version comes with a few small improvements that keep it up with the very best in its class.