MAZDA'S CX-5 is Australia's SUV superstar.
We've bought more of these mid-size high-riding five-seaters than any other SUV in each of the past four years: 118,000 in total since its early 2012 arrival.
Last year, for instance, nearly 25,000 CX-5s rolled out of Mazda showrooms, decisively trumping closest rivals Hyundai Tucson, Toyota RAV4 and Nissan X-Trail, all despite it being a five-year old design.
In bad news for the competition a new generation Mazda CX-5 has just arrived with fresher styling, improved specification and safety, a quieter and more refined cabin and more assured handling. Prices are up, but not by enough to cheer its rivals.
What will it all mean? Mazda expects to keep its number one ranking in the hotly competed mid-size SUV segment, gunning for return customers ready to chop in their old CX-5, upsize from the likes of a Mazda3, or nab anyone hopping on the SUV buying bandwagon for the first time (of which there are plenty).
There are five grades to choose from - Maxx, Maxx Sport, Touring, GT and Akera.
To get 'em in the showroom an opening salvo price of $28,690 looks good, but that means two-wheel-drive, six-speed manual, the lesser petrol engine and steel wheels.
Mazda's not expecting you to buy this one though. The Maxx Sport and Touring grades with 2.5-litre petrol, AWD and auto gearbox ($37,390 and $38,990) will be the volume sellers, and look the picks in terms of value versus included specification.
You'll notice the exterior styling is hardly revolutionary over the old CX-5, with program manager Masaya Kodama saying he wanted a simplistic design, a "less-is-more Japanese aesthetic" and an enhanced premium feel for the cabin. This has been achieved by dropping the black plastics in favour of soft touch materials, but most pertinent has been a dramatic decrease in cabin noise - a common grumble from drivers of the outgoing model.
On the base model you get LED headlamps, reclining rear seats, seven-inch colour touchscreen display with MZD Connect (it's good, but many buyers would still prefer Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), keyless push button start and safety kit including blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, smart city brake, rear parking sensors and reverse camera.
Maxx Sport models (from $34,390) add 17-inch alloys, LED fog lamps, auto headlights and wipers, dual zone climate, rear seats with a pair of USB inputs, sat nav and rear air vents.
CX-5 Tourings (from $38,990) bring a flip-up display showing your speed in your line of sight, leatherette seats with suede inserts, keyless entry, front parking sensors and traffic sign recognition technology.
The GT models (from $44,390) truly add the premium. On 17-inch alloys the CX-5 does look rather underwheeled, so the 19-inch offering here boosts the style, and the cabin benefits markedly with the black or white leather trim. Adaptive front lights, power tailgate, glass sunroof, power heated seats and Bose stereo also tempt you in.
The range-topping Akera (from $46,990) really only adds your fancy modern active safety gear like radar cruise control, lane departure warning, lane keep assist and side camera. If you love your safety, buying the Akera is the only way you can get these systems.
ON THE ROAD
Classy, unfussy and solidly finished, the CX-5's cabin successfully delivers an air of semi-premiumness no matter the model.
There's nothing gimmicky, showy or unnecessary, but nor is there anything to offer the wow factor. There's enough style however, plenty of soft touch surfaces and a solid feel to the switchgear. It feels "safe". As a high-volume family SUV should.
The Touring model's leatherette with suede seating ups the classiness, while full leather in the top grades looks and feels quite superb. You'd be brave (or childless) to go the white leather option.
A recline feature is a nice touch for the rear seats; there's excellent head room back there, average leg room and decent toe room under the seat in front. In all but the Maxx there are rear air vents and rear USB ports to make back-seat passengering more pleasurable.
There's 442-litres of boot space - 40-litres more than before - but it's still a fair whack smaller than a Toyota RAV4 or Nissan X-trail rival. Which engine you should choose depends on your usage.
Bargain-shoppers needing the CX-5 for the school run, town and highway drives only could manage with the 114kW petrol and two-wheel-drive, but it's worth stretching to the 140kW 2.5-litre petrol where you get all-wheel drive included and not much worse fuel economy.
The diesel offering still makes a lot of sense in the CX-5 though. We returned bang on the quoted 6.0-litres/100km, and its 420Nm of torque makes overtaking a breeze and is the pick should you choose to tow anything (up to 1800kg by the way).
None of the powerplants offer many thrills however, but proved competent (as did the unfussed six-speed auto gearbox) and quiet in their operation.
This is partly to do with the excellent improvements in cabin noise. New seals, bushings, insulation and a thicker windshield means the new car is as quiet at 100kmh as the old one was at 80kmh. It's a welcome change, boosting the CX-5's feeling of refinement.
The improvement continues with the CX-5's ride. Composed, safe and comfortable, our test cars on 17-inch wheels absorbed bumps with aplomb for an always-compliant ride.
Throw the SUV into a corner too and the balance is praiseworthy; it handles and steers with impressive predictability, partly due to the inclusion of Mazda's clever G-Vectring Control (as standard) where engine torque shifts loads between wheels as you corner, boosting responsiveness and stability and lessening the roll more noticed on higher centre of gravity SUVs.
VERDICT - 4 stars
The CX-5 isn't the cheapest, highest spec'd, most stylish, roomy, powerful, economical or dynamically brilliant mid-size SUV in the segment, but I'm in no doubt it will remain the best-seller.
Why? Because it does all of the above very well indeed. It's the consummate all-rounder, and there's the assurance of great build quality, strong cachet with the Mazda badge and brand loyalty built on positive previous ownership experiences.
It's not a giant leap forward from the old CX-5, but it didn't need to be.
What matters most
The good: Super blend of value, style, quality, dynamics and desirability, far less noise in the cabin than previous CX-5, brilliantly assured chassis, only $300 for special metallic paint like Soul Red.
The not so good: Needs a bit more joy and personality from the engine range, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is not offered, need the top spec Akera to get the full active safety suite, not a huge leap over the old model.
2017 Mazda CX-5
DETAILS: Five door 2WD or AWD mid-size SUV.
PRICE: From $28,690-$49,990 (plus on-roads).
WARRANTY: 3 years/unlimited km.
SERVICING: $921 over 3 years.
SERVICE INTERVAL: 12 months/10,000km.
SAFETY: Untested, 6 airbags.
ENGINES: 2.0-litre 4-cyl petrol, 114kW/200Nm; 2.5-litre 4-cyl petrol, 140kW/251Nm; 2.2-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel, 129kW/420Nm.
TRANSMISSIONS: 6-speed manual (Maxx only) or 6-speed auto; FWD or AWD.
THIRST: 6.0l/100km - 7.5l/100km.
DIMENSIONS: 4550mm(L), 1840mm(W), 1675mm(H), 2700(WB)
WEIGHT: 1511kg - 1744kg.
TOWING: 1800kg (braked).
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