Joe called me last week and asked me to jump on a plane from Luton to Inverness to do a first drive of the new 2013 Mazda CX-5, Mazda’s new compact SUV. I can’t say I was initially excited about the proposition. Luton Airport is rarely one of my favourite places and the weather in Inverness was not looking as inviting as I would have liked. Not to mention the fact that SUVs, even small ones are rarely fun to drive around the sort of roads I was expecting to find in the highlands of Scotland. I would later learn how wrong I could be, well about the new Mazda CX-5, not about Luton Airport.

Mazda CX-5 First Drive

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Interior

Within minutes of landing at Inverness we were already in a car and being briefed on our days itinerary. The first thing that struck me about the car was how well it was made. Some high quality plastics, a splash of piano black trim across the dash and a generous helping of leather made the cabin feel distinctly un-Japanese and right up there with its German rivals. Our car was well specced too with Sat-Nav, Bluetooth, iPod control, Bose speakers and heated seats. It was nice to see that Mazda has opted for a TomTom based navigation unit rather than a more complicated, less well made internal system.

The Mazda CX-5 is a reasonably large sized car compared to a something like a VW Golf (obviously) but for an SUV it is quite compact and will slot in nicely to the new growing range of small SUVs. It offers impressive space in the back, and the boot is big enough for most peoples needs. The raised stance gives a good view of the road ahead but you never feel like you are driving anything too big and when the going gets twisty you forget what you’re driving altogether.

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On the Road

When we first started our journey towards the Isle of Skye, it was hard to properly review the car. The first leg of the journey was spent driving along the A82 which just happens to run right along the edge of Loch Ness. The scenery was breathtaking which meant being objective about the car at that point was fairly difficult. Once we hit some more engaging roads then I forgot about the scenery and started to understand what this car was all about.

After a few minutes on a good road you start to forget that this is a big car and you start throwing it at corners like its something half the size. The steering is well weighted and progressive. The feedback you get through the steering wheel and the comfortable leather seats is impressive. Pitch it into a tight corner and front wheels grip the road with far less understeer than you would expect, and the grunt from the 2.2 diesel is more than enough to pull you out of the corner fairly rapidly.

Once into the groove with the CX-5, you really start to have fun. So much so that we took the long way back to the hotel once we had swapped into the cheaper and less powerful 2WD version. This would actually be the model that I would buy. The engine may be down 24bhp on the top model but the it revs keenly for a Diesel and has more than enough puff to get you across country at a fair pace. With just two wheels providing the power it feels more agile too.

Technology

Once I’d handed the car back I started to wonder how this car could be so good. Mazda make a big deal of their Skyactiv Technology and once you start to put it all together it really makes sense. The recipe is simple really, make it lighter, more efficient and you end up with a car that is almost as big as a Land Rover Freelander but has emissions so low that it is exempt from road tax.

The recipe may be simple but the ingredients are far from it. Skyactiv covers three main aspects of the car; Engine, Transmission and the Platform. The new petrol engines offer the highest compression ratio of any petrol engine on the market and the diesel engines offer a very low compression ratio. What does this mean? Both engines can be produced on one production line and both have blocks made from aluminium with reduces weight. Other advances give improvements in fuel consumption and reductions in CO2 output. It does stack up in the real world; I managed an average of 36.9mpg in the diesel. That may not sound amazing but bear in mind that was achieved going up and down mountain passes with my foot welded to the carpet. It is truly impressive. Couple this with a platform that is lighter & stiffer than a traditional body structure and you get an efficient and dynamic vehicle.

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2013 Mazda CX-5 First Drive Verdict

I didn’t expect to like this car. I like Mazdas, I’ve had three of them in the past but this segment is not one of my favourites. But I do like this car, I really like it. It’s fun, practical, well built, economical and well priced. I would buy this car if I was in the market for something of this size and I imagine it would bring an unexpected smile to my face on a regular basis. If I had to criticise something then I would say that it’s not as nice to look at as some of its rivals but it is far from ugly.

This kind of car is our immediate future. Not electric vehicles or hybrids. Just fun efficient vehicles. Mazda have a great future ahead of them as they roll the Skyactiv technology out across the range.

Let us know what you think about the new 2013 Mazda CX-5 below, and don’t forget we have been forced to join Google+ by the search engine giant.

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