All-round talents of Mazda CX-5 are no hard-sell

Motoring editor Andy Russell did a good job of selling Mazda's CX-5 as his cousin bought one.

I often get asked about cars so it did not come as a surprise when my cousin asked me about the new Mazda CX-5.

We speak regularly on the phone – he lives in Australia – so he knew I was going to the sport utility vehicle's launch in the Scottish Highlands. On our next call it was natural he should ask how I had got on and what the car was like.

I enthused about the great, empty roads, waxed lyrical about the scenery, praised the car and thought no more about it. The next time we spoke he told me he had changed his car, having driven the CX-5, and bought one having been impressed.

Thank goodness! It is so easy, amid great roads and magnificent scenery on a launch, to see the car in a better light than if you are facing the daily grind on roads you drive everyday… to work, to the supermarket and generally just trying to be in two places at the same as is the way with those of us who lead busy lives.

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So with my cousin driving a 165PS 2.0-litre petrol model with the automatic gearbox (the petrol is manual only in the UK) in Australia, I thought I had better reacquaint myself with the CX-5 – one of the best-lookers in this segment with its flowing, muscular styling and bold lines and contours.

While petrol makes sense Down Under with cheaper fuel prices, diesel is the obvious choice here with a 2.2-litre in 150 and 175PS guises and, having driven both, the lower-powered engine is the pick.

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The CX-5 was the first Mazda to feature its new Skyactiv technology, which focuses on three key areas –sophisticated lightweight chassis technology, advanced engines with world-beating compression ratios and highly-efficient six-speed manual and automatic transmissions. The technology is also in the all-new Mazda6 which goes on sale next month.

The result is that the 150PS diesel two-wheel drive manual CX-5 boasts class-leading emissions and economy at 119g/km and 61mpg on the combined cycle but I opted for the automatic, again with two rather than four-wheel drive, which doesn't suffer too much of a penalty with figures of 139g/km and 53mpg combined – still pretty impressive for a big sport utility vehicle.

The diesel is ideally suited to an automatic gearbox, pulling strongly from 1,500rpm and the power just keeps coming with no tailing off or coarseness towards the top end. You don't have to rev it to make good progress – keep on a light throttle and let the auto box seamlessly shift up and down and I saw 45mpg overall in mixed driving while a fast run returned just over 50mpg.

The CX-5 is also one of the more entertaining SUVs to drive. Taut, well-mannered handling belies its size and inspires confidence with good grip even in two-wheel drive models. The ride is firm, more so on Sport models which get 19in wheels rather than the SE-L's 17in ones, but copes well with bumps and lumps.

If you regularly carry people and large loads the CX-5 will impress with lots of headroom and generous legroom in the back where you can seat three adults in comfort with no high central transmission tunnel.

The vast 503-litre boot is well-shaped but the sill is higher than a conventional estate. Levers each side of the boot move the cushions of the 40/20/40 split rear seats forward and drop the back rests to create a long flat, floor and 1,620-litre load bay.

The fascia is smart and modern without being over fussy. Higher up in view, where it matters most, trim materials are soft-touch and appealing with piano black inserts and brightwork highlights raising the image – lower down plastics are hard but they'll prove durable and as you'd expect of Mazda it's all well screwed together.

It's not difficult to feel at home in the driving seat with a good range of seat and steering wheel adjustments, big, clear instruments and logically laid-out controls. Versions with satellite-navigation have a simple central controller between the front seats for the infotainment system.

Equipment is generous and most people will find SE-L meets their needs with an automatic braking system to stop the car if its senses an impending collision under 10mph and slows it under 19mph, stability and traction control, hill-hold assist, tyre pressure monitoring, six airbags, 17in alloy, daytime running lights and front fog lights, automatic lights and wipers, power heated folding mirrors, keyless ignition, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth, cruise control and MP3 player jackpoint, USB and iPod connectivity. Sport adds 19in alloys, brighter, adaptive front lights, reversing camera, leather seats, power driver's seat, heated front seats, upgraded Bose sound system and keyless entry. Nav versions add integrated TomTom sat-nav.

I really like the CX-5 and as my cousin still calls me from Australia so does he... shame I'm not on commission.

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