The conversation was started by the Mazda CEO, president and chairman - Takashi Yamanouchi seemed a little disturbed that some of the Australian media were yet to sample the company's new compact SUV.

We're in an early pre-production left-hand-drive vehicle for an all-too brief a drive, with European-tuned suspension on 225/55 19in wheels, not that the test track gives much clue as to the ride quality or handling prowess - the engineers point out that it's all still being sorted.

What's of more interest is the Skyactiv diesel and automatic AWD, which is also destined for the next Mazda6 - foretold by the Takeri concept car at the Tokyo Motor Show. 

While the company is still coy on final specification for the car, the diesel is a 2.2-litre offering 129kW and 420Nm in the high-power version - don't expect the 110kW/380Nm standard-power model to head our way.

The entry-level car is expected to be the 121kW/210Nm 2.0-litre Skyactiv petrol front-wheel drive, which is available in six-speed manual or automatic guise, to slot in at the bottom of the range - perhaps below $30,000 - with top-end models likely to be mid-$40,000.

Among the equipment on offer will be the stop/start "i-stop" fuel-saving system (which is standard range-wide in Euro-spec cars), as well as the low-speed auto-braking system (to prevent collisions below 30km/h), a lane-departure warning system and auto-dipping high-beam.

The same 2.5km track which we've sampled the Mazda2 EV on - with slightly banked turns at either end - has varying surfaces but is mostly smooth and hardly a comprehensive route over which an SUV can be stretched, but we're not saying no to a drive in a model that is the company's first complete Skyactiv model and is expected to do well for the car maker.

It's the response away from standstill that surprises - the diesel is turbine smooth, quiet and refined. The 2.2-litre aluminium turbodiesel runs variable-exhaust valve, a dual-stage turbocharger and a low (for a diesel) 14:1 compression ratio which - when combined with exhaust gas recirculation negates the need for the CX-7's urea NOx-reduction treatment system.

Mazda says improvements in emissions and fuel economy are around 20 per cent to around 5.3l/100km, depending on drivetrain and model. A redline of 5200rpm is reached quickly and without any obvious strain; the power delivery doesn't feel as though it falls away much either. 

Changes from the six-speed auto are almost imperceptible at full throttle and even from the outside it sounds like a quiet petrol engine, not an oil burner.

A competitor - a local but with a French accent - has a worthy drivetrain but sounds rougher and hasn't got the outputs or the road manners to match the new Mazda, rolling more into corners and proving less involving for the driver through the steering.

The CX-5 feels well planted and has the dynamics that's now expected from the Hiroshima-based brand - it is close in size the CX-7 in many respects and it's little wonder the 5 spells the end of the 7 in its current form. The CX-5 will co-exist with the CX-7 post its March arrival, but Mazda won't say for how long.

The interior packaging is good - a 190cm driver and similarly-sized passenger can co-exist on the same side of the car, headroom is good and the 503-litre boot space is also useful.