The CX-5 replaces the CX-7 and comes in front drive and all-wheel drive with petrol and diesel engines. To keep up with demand the Japanese manufacturer has increased production by 40,000 units a year to 240,000.
Orders are far surpassing initial estimates with the annual global sales target being upgraded from 160,000 to 190,000 units for the 2012 financial year.
In Australia the CX-5 helped Mazda set a record of 9593 sales in June with the SUV topping the sales charts in the medium SUV segment with 1955. It has nearly tripled sales of the CX-7 and is well ahead of Toyota RAV4, Nissan X-Trail and the Subaru Forester.
The CX-5 has nearly 20 per cent of the segment where sales are 30 per cent ahead for the month and more than 20 per cent for the year.
The test vehicle was the Grand Touring diesel with six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive for a drive-away price tag of $52,657.
Standard fare is dual-zone climate control airconditioning, Bluetooth handsfree and audio streaming, cruise control, USB input, MP3/WMA compatible premium Bose 231-watt amplifier with nine speakers and steering wheel-mounted audio controls.
It has power windows and mirrors, remote central locking, keyless push-button start, tilt and telescopic adjustable steering wheel, trip computer, tyre pressure monitoring system, variable intermittent wipers and a rear spoiler.
It has automatic headlamps and wipers, leather-wrapped gear shift knob, handbrake and steering wheel, front fog lamps, satellite navigation, 19-inch alloy wheels, bi-xenon headlamps with cornering system, daytime running lamps, power sliding and tilt glass sunroof, rear view mirror with auto dimming function and parking sensors (front and rear).
For added comfort there's leather seat trim, heated front seats and the driver's seat has eight-way power adjustment and power lumbar support. The test car also came with the $1900 tech pack of a blind spot monitoring, automatic high beam and lane departure warning system.
The turbo-diesel is the pick of the CX-5 range, the petrol being "underwhelming" even if the oil burner is only available in the top specification grades.
With 129kW of power at 4500rpm and 420Nm of torque at 2000rpm for a claimed 0-100km/h sprint time of 9.4 seconds (the same as the petrol), the 2.2-litre SkyActiv-D four-cylinder turbodiesel features a relatively low compression ratio and a twin-stage turbocharger for a good spread of performance.
The stop-start function unobtrusively cuts the engine at idle to save fuel and cut emissions. My average was eight litres/100km over a wide range of driving and a spirited run from Mareeba to Mt Carbine. Mazda suggests 5.7 litres/100km.
A lot of the switchgear and buttons are too low in the centre stack. A good driving position is easy to find due to the reach and height-adjustable column and driver's seat, while the sporty three-spoke steering wheel covered in leather is a beauty.
The Mazda has the traditional three-barrel instrument canister design for the analogue speedometer and tachometer, with the third for the digitised fuel gauge, trip computer and outside temperature displays. They look classy back-lit in white but the centre console clashes with its red lighting. There's plenty of room front and rear and a 403-litre cargo area with a retractable parcel shelf that is connected to the tailgate.
Safety systems include Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), Traction Control System (TCS), Emergency Brake Assist (EBA), Emergency Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Hill Launch Assist (HLA), Emergency Stop Signal (ESS), front, side and curtain SRS airbags, whiplash-minimising front seats and a reversing camera.
It likes to rev but it's not raucous and is extremely refined. The new SkyActiv-Drive six-speed automatic works terrifically with this engine, providing instant and seamless response. The gearbox flicks between each ratio quickly and precisely. There's just a slight hesitation from standstill and then the 2.2D's torrential torque flows rapidly.
It's quite exhilarating for a compact SUV and from 1800rpm is strong and steady to the 5200rpm redline. The CX-5 is almost perfect in any traffic situation, from stop-start urban crawl, up a hilly incline or on the open road.
It's a quiet engine with minimal road noise and just wind rush from the big mirrors upsetting the ambience, particularly when punching into a headwind.
The best part of the driving experience is the chassis dynamics. The electric rack-and-pinion steering system is light yet sharp, providing ease and feedback in good measures. The Mazda handles corners keenly, like a well-controlled hatchback, with a flat and sorted posture, to keep the chosen line.
The poise of this SUV is quite unbelievable. It's certainly not as rolly-polly as others. It really can be punted along quite quickly and there's a controlled and comfortable ride as well. Inside is a bit disappointing. There's too much black, from the carpets, to the seats and the dashboard. There's not much to break up the sombre interior and the dash is a bit of a slab too.
The CX-5 was a delight to drive across the Tableland and is an accomplished open road tourer. It was a bit of a downhill sprinter tackling the Rex Range between Julatten and Mossman.
In diesel guise, the CX-5 GT sits at the top of its class, not just in terms of value, but also dynamics, engine efficiency, diesel driveability, transmission, steering feel, manoeuvrability and packaging.
Mazda has the freshest SUV but the upright "toothy grin" at the front and the dark interior are not the most appealing. Mums will love its practicality, ease of parking, the elevated driving position, its economy and stacks of gear. Dad will savour its performance and handling, even if it doesn't look as sporty as the CX-7.
Mazda keeps rolling out winners. This time it's a compact SUV which is taking the market by storm. The diesel is the pick of the range, despite it being more expensive. Mazda has delivered an accomplished and class-leading compact SUV which will appeal to a wide cross-section of buyers.
Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring
Price: from $52,657
Warranty: three years/100,000km
Engine: 2.2-litre 4-cylinder diesel, 129kW/420Nm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic, AWD
Thirst: 5.7L/100km diesel, CO2 149g/km
Performance: 0-100km/h in 9.4 seconds, 204km/h top speed
Toyota RAV4 Cruiser
Price: from $33,990
Engine: 2.4-litre 4-cylinder, 125kW/224Nm
Transmission: 4-speed auto, FWD
Thirst: 9.1L/100km, CO2 214g/km
Nissan X-Trail ST-L
Price: from $34,990
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cylinder, 102kW/198Nm
Transmission: 6-speed auto, FWD
Thirst: 8.4L/100km, CO2 199g/km
Jeep Cherokee Limited
Price: from $36,000
Engine: 3.7-litre 6-cylinder, 151kW/314Nm
Transmission: 4-speed auto, FWD
Thirst: 12.4L/100km, CO2 293g/km