Usually when a motoring hack is invited up to Scotland to drive a new car it is to test a sportscar or an SUV. The Scottish Highlands are the perfect combination of twisting roads and dramatic backdrops for sporting road cars, and provide off-road high jinks for rugged off-roaders on some private estate or other.
But the launch of Mazda’s new CX-5 was a little different. Here is a car that is officially a SUV but which was launched north of the border to show just how good it is on the road. This new compact crossover is a really big deal for Mazda because it is the first of a forthcoming range of cars that has been entirely developed using new technologies called SkyActiv. The Japanese company believes its SkyActiv range of new engines, transmissions and lightweight chassis and body technologies will set its products apart by being up to 30 per cent more lightweight, efficient and economical. While other manufacturers bolt on hybrid components to achieve better economy and emissions, Mazda believes it can produce similar performance by further improving conventional systems.
For the UK market the CX-5 is available with a choice of two engines – a 2.0-litre petrol and a 2.2-litre diesel. The diesel engine comes with two power output choices of 150PS or 175PS. Lower-powered diesel is offered with the option of 2WD, as is the petrol version. Having tested the 2WD petrol, 2WD diesel and the higher-powered diesel 4WD model, I found I liked the cheaper 2WD diesel CX-5 the most.
The CX-5 proved impressive on the beautiful roads around Torredon and the Isle of Skye because it is one of the most car-like SUVs I’ve ever driven. This is a very good thing if you prefer your SUVs on-road. The elevated seating position results in great visibility and the car felt speedy enough and the engine compliant. The acceleration time of 0-62mph in 9.2 seconds is not particularly fast but the manner in which the new SkyActiv-D engine delivers its power is impressive. It pulls from low down and the engine is surprisingly smooth, which means progress feels effortless. For a <a href="http://www.mazda.co.uk/showroom/cx-5/overview/" target="_new">compact SUV</a>, the CX-5 also feels pretty nimble. It was keen through the bends and body roll was reasonable as we sped along the winding roads around Loch Ness and onto Skye. Both the automatic and manual gearboxes are very good, though I just preferred the manual. Engine refinement is so good I can think of no real reason to plumb for the petrol version.
So the CX-5 drives well...now take a look at its fuel economy and emissions figures. The 2WD model offers the best economy (61.4mpg) and best emissions of the CX-5 range. These are extremely good figures for a car in this segment but it beats even some small city cars. Mazda’s new approach seems to be working then.
From the outside, the CX-5 is a pretty stylish, if understated, design. It doesn’t have the slightly swollen looks of some of its SUV competitors and manages to pull off a feline face, thanks to its nose-like grille and eye-like headlamps. A lot of work has gone into improving the interior refinement. There’s a pleasing amount of leather around, including the steering wheel, and the cabin is spacious and comfortable. A controller in the centre console manipulates the infotainment system and enhances the premium feel. The boot is also sizeable at 503 litres.
I found CX-5 immensely likeable because when you’re driving it, it’s very easy to forget you’re behind the wheel of an SUV. It seems Mazda’s plan to produce a lighter car has worked and these changes extend to pedestrian safety too. Each CX-5 is fitted with low-speed safety tech which means the car can brake itself automatically at slower speeds to avoid or minimise an impact.
This is yet another example of the kind of thinking for which Mazda should be applauded.
THE FACTS: MAZDA CX-5 SUV
0-62MPH: 9.2 secs
TOP SPEED: 126 mph
CO2 G/KM: 119g/km
MPG COMBINED: 61.4mpg
VALUE FOR MONEY ****