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Mazda CX-5 review – an involving and competent SUV

evo staff
12 Apr 2018
Verdict:

As well as being one of the best-looking SUVs thanks to a sharp line and concept-car nose, it’s also one of the best to drive

Evo Rating: 
Price: 
from £24,895
For 
Composed handling, keen engines, first-rate fit and finish
Against 
Not as roomy as some, limited engine line-up
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Ride and handling

As with all Mazda models, the CX-5 has been developed around the firm’s SkyActiv philosophy. This effectively means engineers have strived to make the car as light, efficient and fun to drive as possible. In the case of the CX-5, the use of the old car’s platform means the kerb weight is largely unchanged, but increased use of high-tensile steel means that torsional rigidity has been boosted by 15 per cent.

Work has also been undertaken on the suspension, too, with the MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear benefiting from plenty of revisions. The biggest changes revolve around new dampers with altered valving and the use of liquid-filled bushes for greater accuracy and reduced vibration.

As well as its SkyActiv philosophy, Mazda places great emphasis on its ‘Jinba Ittai’ theory. The literal translation of this phrase has something to do with horses and riders, but the brand has reappropriated the phrase and changed the meaning to ‘car and driver as one’.

Now, you can see where this driver-centric approach would work with the MX-5, or even one of the firm’s front-wheel-drive hatches, but can it really be successfully applied to an SUV? Surprisingly, the answer is yes.

From the moment you pull away, it’s clear the same team that created the MX-5 has developed this machine. Obviously you sit much higher and the view out is rather different, but the driving position is spot on for your surroundings, and the major controls have the same well-judged weighting.

Point the CX-5 down some typically twisted back roads and it responds remarkably well. The steering is precise and has a natural rate of response, making it easy to place the car exactly where you want it. There’s also more grip to lean on than you’d expect, so you can push harder than you’d dare in other similarly high-riding models.

More surprising is the excellent body control. Yes, there’s some roll through tighter corners, but it’s only when travelling quickly on really ragged roads that the Mazda starts to get a little flustered. Even then, the CX-5 never feels wayward, but then you’re never really going all that fast, anyway. Instead, the Mazda gently reminds you that this is a tall vehicle that tips the scales at nearly 1,700kg in diesel all-wheel-drive guise.

The CX-5 also gets the slickest application yet of Mazda’s G-Vectoring system. Unlike in the 6 saloon and 3 hatchback where you’re aware of the engine subtly throttling back the torque, in the CX-5 the set-up is seamless, with the driver’s only clue to its effectiveness being the unusually strong front-end bite when turning in.

And it’s not just the chassis’ composure in corners that marks the Mazda out as a surprisingly engaging choice. The pedals are perfectly spaced, while the brakes are progressive and offer decent stopping power. The CX-5 also smothers bumps well, avoiding the stiff-legged low speed ride that often affects cars like this. Factor in the decent suppression of wind and road noise, and the Mazda makes for refined and relaxed progress when all you want to do is take it easy.

If you’re in a position where you have no choice but to drive a compact off-roader that’ll spend most of its time on tarmac, then the CX-5 should be close to the top of your shortlist.

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