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Steve Sharpe drives Mazda’s super-efficient SUV

When Mazda’s SUV made its debut in 2012, it was the first of the Japanese manufacturer’s model to feature its SKYACTIV technology, the term coined for increased levels of efficiency, performance, safety and enjoyment from improved engines, transmissions, body and chassis.

Mazda described it as “the dawning of a new era for Mazda, the first of a new generation of vehicles, a compact crossover SUV that embodies a balance between the best of all worlds: fun, safety and sustainability, all in a compelling package”.

Although car manufacturers are no strangers to hyperbole, this was a bold statement. What do they say about pride coming before a fall?

However, nearly two years later, the CX-5’s awards cabinet is full to overflowing, and Mazda’s claims have been justified.

The CX-5’s levels of performance and economy have bowled over judging panels and car-buyers alike, and the SUV has picked up category wins and Car of the Year awards both here in Europe and in the Far East.

While many manufacturers have travelled the petrol-electric hybrid road for improved efficiency and greener engines, Mazda have rolled out the SKYAVCTIV technology which debuted in the CX-5 all across the Mazda range, and for good reason.

The CX-5 combined power and economy in a winning combination. There are some truly impressive figures throughout the range – even the top-spec 2.2 diesel version I drove, which powers to 60mph in less than nine seconds, has official fuel figures in the mid- 50s, while the lower powered diesels top the 60mpg mark.

CO2 emission figures are also class-leading, giving low road tax bills (and helping save the planet, of course).

And when you throw in a roomy interior, a quality build and good looks, you have an SUV that is a front-runner in the sector.

Although pleasing on the eye with its curves in the right places, the CX-5 doesn’t look radically different to many others of its ilk, although the large grille which is being adopted into the Mazda family gives the front end a striking appearance.

Inside the interior is up to Mazda’s usual standard. Build quality is high, with soft touch plastics in abundance in the upper sections of the cabin, while hard-wearing tougher materials are used towards the floor to cope with the majority of punishment.

With black, soft leather seats and black plastics all around, the cabin is a sombre affair, but the important dials are clear and positioned well, while the heating controls are child’s play to operate, which is refreshing considering how many cars feature controls which require a huge amount of manipulation on a cold, wet and misted up winter 

The satnav is a decent size and clear, although it’s of a design where it won’t be long before it appears dated. There’s a dial which controls its functions between the driver and passenger.

This Mazda is a large car and so there is a lot of room both in the front and back.

Two adults people can travel in comfort in the back seats, while the centre seat is big enough for many, and there is plenty of headroom and legroom throughout.

The boot is huge, with the rear seats springing down to offer an almost flat load space for transporting sizeable items.

Only the door pockets disappoint, being of a size and shape that struggle to fit in a CD case.

The CX-5 comes with either a 2litre or 2.2litre petrol or diesel engine, with varying degrees of power and a choice of two-wheel or AWD.

I drove the 2.2litre diesel in top spec, and it was soon evident that Mazda’s faith in SKYACTIV technology hasn’t been misplaced.

Although large amounts of weight have been lopped off to improve efficiency, the CX-5 is still a large SUV.

But the way the engine pulls you’d think you were in a hatchback.

It’s not just the 0-60 figure which is important – and sub nine seconds for a big SUV is more than decent – it’s the overall performance which impresses most.

The SUV will respond whichever gear you’re in, making not only straightline from standing acceleration and motorway overtaking easy, but also all through the gears. During everyday driving I never found myself struggling in a gear.

Add to this a slick, accurate, well-geared transmission which flits though the gears seamlessly, and you get a big family car that’s a real pleasure to drive.

Mazda’s men in the white coats have also done a great job in the CX-5’s handling.

It’s a tall vehicle but it corners well with little body lean. The steering is accurate and well weighted, and the big tyres grip the tarmac solidly.

There’s no feeling of sliding or leaning even at higher speeds, which is no mean feat.

With the suspension set up for this kind of control it’s inevitable that the ride will be a little on the firm side but it’s hardly noticeable and certainly not uncomfortable.

Owning a big SUV used to be a big undertaking (and still is with some) but new levels of economy have made it more of a practical proposition.

The CX-5 will happily cruise at motorway speeds in comfort. The engine is extremely refined at all speeds, although this hush does make some wind whistling in more apparent. There’s also some road noise coming through, due to the large wheels and the firm suspension.

This SUV handles well around town, with a good turning circle and decent visibility, although the rear view is hampered by thick rear columns.

The range starts at around £21,000 for the entry-level 2litre petrol engine, with the cheapest diesel coming in at £1,500 more. The top-spec Sport diesel is considerably more, at £28,000.

This pricing places it in the higher price range as far as competitors like the Qashqai, Kuga, Yeti and Sportage go.

But you don’t have to shell out the higher prices for luxuries, as Mazda have included a fine amount of kit as standard,

Even entry-level SE-L trim comes with alloys, four powered windows, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth capability, automatic lights and wipers, and cruise control.

But if you can’t live without leather trim, xenon headlamps, a reversing camera and a top-quality media system, you’ll want to go for Sport trim.

There’s also a large list of safety and security equipment as standard, including stability control and six airbags, plus a City Braking system that stops the car automatically if it senses a likely collision when you’re travelling at low speeds, and a lane departure alert system.

If this accident prevention isn’t enough, the CX-5 achieved a five-star crash rating from Euro NCAP.

The leaps and bounds made in efficiency and performance make the CX-5 a real winner in this class.

Although a relative newcomer, you can’t argue with its levels of performance, power and economy.

It’s a real all-rounder that’s comfortable, good to drive on a long-distance haul or a trip to the shops, while you get the sure-footedness from AWD on many versions.

It’s a hotly-contested sector but the CX-5 deserves a place at the forefront.

Fact file

Mazda CX-5 2.2D

Engine: 2.2litre diesel.

Transmission: Six-speed manual.

0-62: 8.8 seconds.

Top Speed: 129mph.

Economy: Avg 54.3mpg

Price: £28,215.