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Mazda mini SUV

It's sitting on the runway in its final countdown before showroom launch but Mazda still won't say much about its "baby" SUV, the CX-5.  Chief designer Masashi Nakayama says the car - designed to replace the Tribute on world markets - gave him a clean sheet approach to its design.

But he says it is still influenced by its slightly bigger sister, the CX-7, and even the MX-5 of which he was one of the design team members.  Shown in pre-production guise at this week's Geneva motor show, the Minari concept is as close as it's likely to get before Mazda starts pressing the metal body panels.

Surprisingly it's a lot bigger in the flesh than early pictures suggest.   Mazda Australia's Steve Maciver says it's only a few centimetres shorter than the CX-7, begging the question that the company now has a chance to build an even smaller SUV to take on rivals such as the Mitsubishi ASX.

Nakayama won't talk about any future product and isn't discussing when it will hit the streets.  But he is keen to point out where the car has come from and who it's aimed at.

"There is a huge market in SUVs and especially smaller SUVs,'' he says.  "Some of these are too big. This car is the right size and is designed for the driver. t's more like a passenger car in how it drives, but we know the market may be mainly for ladies with children.  So the Generation Y woman is the car's target.''

He says he had a free hand with the car and that it is not based on any existing platform.  "This is a SkyActiv platform (to be used first on the next Mazda3) and it's the perfect base for the SUV because it is the right size and is designed for sports driving.''

Though the show car is still regarded as a concept, its shape is almost definite. It will lose, however, the pop-out door handles and a lot of the intricate dashboard components.

The SUV was shown at Geneva this week alongside the Shinari concept coupe that shares its new grille and headlight theme. It was finished in a brilliant metallic red that Nakayama says is a special colour reserved for the very best of show cars.

"It doesn't represent the colour of the Japan flag of a rising sun, but of a sun that is high in the sky - in this case high in the SkyActiv technology,'' he smiles.