Mazda has a knack for turning out bread-and-butter cars that go beyond the brief of merely fulfilling their utilitarian job descriptions. In the past decade, the Hiroshima-based carmaker has unfailingly given us practical, sensible conveyances that still manage to be perky and entertaining to pedal.
It is no different with the CX-5. It competes in the cut-throat compact SUV segment against the likes of the Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson, Nissan X-Trail, Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, so it has a mammoth task. The CX-5 debuted in 2012, but the second-generation model adds some key tech features and discernibly bolder styling.
My test vehicle is festooned in a striking shade of candy-apple red (“soul red crystal” in Mazda-speak), offset by a tasty set of 10-spoke alloys. This combo enhanced the eye-catching lines of the CX-5, which in second-gen form is arguably the most aesthetically pleasing offering among compact crossovers. With a rakish roofline, thrusting grille and aggressively tapered-back headlights, it packs a bucketload of visual pizzazz for what was conceived as practical, everyday family runabout.
The 19-inch rims fitted to my test vehicle won't get you too far off-road, but that isn't really what buyers in this segment are chasing. Yes, the GTX model comes with an all-wheel-drive system, but it is a torque-on-demand set-up that only shunts drive to the rear wheels when there is a loss of grip at the front. In plain English, this means that the all-wheel-driven CX-5 is fine for gravel tracks and hard-packed sand, but really nothing more arduous than this.
Around town, the CX-5 is a lively companion for a vehicle of this ilk, with its 2.5-litre engine and six-speed automatic transmission teaming up to deliver spirited performance. There is enough grunt to squirt into gaps in traffic when needed, and the six-speed auto shifts up and down through the ratios virtually seamlessly. The chassis, too, has more grip and handling panache than pretty much every other contender in this family-friendly class. The CX-5 rides with an agreeable degree of suppleness, but refinement levels are compromised slightly by a fair degree of wind rustle from around the windscreen pillars at cruising speeds.
The clincher for many potential buyers is likely to be the CX-5's nicely laid out and impeccably finished cabin, which is a cut above the norm for affordable SUVs. That said, my range-topping GTX tester is priced at Dh130,000, so it isn't exactly a bargain-basement special. This outlay gets you a range of goodies and driver aids that include lane-keep assist, an electric tailgate, 10-speaker Bose sound system and auto-levelling LED headlights.
All this is in addition to the six airbags, cruise control, rear-view camera, Bluetooth connectivity, push-button start and other bits that are standard across the CX-5 range, which starts from a competitive Dh89,000.
Sweeteners come in the form of a five-year/140,000-kilometre warranty, three-year/60,000km free servicing and complimentary window tinting.
It is baffling Mazda does not sell more in the UAE, but this is perhaps partly because the brand has not registered in the local psyche with the same gravitas as Japanese compatriots Toyota, Honda and Nissan. This should not put you off from including the CX-5 on your shortlist if you are shopping for a compact SUV – it is among the very best in the class.