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Is Mazda’s CX-5 the best-looking SUV around?

Wednesday, 31st July, 2019 4:18pm

So, what’s the best-looking SUV in the world, then? Must be Italian, surely. After all, Italy regularly turns out cars that do to the eyeballs what magnets do for iron filings.

The flat plains of Emillia Romagna, where you’ll find the towns of Modena, Maranello and Bologna, are home to the likes of Lamborghini, Pagani, Ferrari, and Maserati, so surely the best-looking SUV must come from around here.

Maserati’s Levante, perhaps? No, it’s nice but it’s a bit generic. Lamborghini’s dramatic Urus, then? No, not that one either.

It’s dramatic alright, but not what you’d call pretty. Alfa Romeo’s Stelvio? Again, nope. It’s a fine-looking car, the Stelvio, but when you’ve seen how good the Giulia saloon looks, it kinda pales in comparison.

No, I think that the best-looking SUV you can buy right now, at any price, is the Mazda CX-5.

Mazda’s design department has, of late, been utterly knocking its work out of the park, producing cars that - while not expensive - can easily stand up to the likes of the Italian greats when it comes to styling.

The CX-5 has actually been updated for 2019, but the styling - previously upgraded in 2018 - has been left alone. That’s fine, though, because leaving it alone sticks firmly to the tried-and-tested rule of not fixing what ain’t broken. The CX-5 looks great, so it didn’t need changing.

From that minimalist, 3D-effect radiator grille, to the slim headlamps, to the lack of ornamentation and unnecessary styling affectations down the side, to the clean, simple rear end, the CX-5 really is quite the looker.

It helps that our test car came in the optional Soul Red Crystal paint, which is not only deeply suitable for driving across Italy, but equal in lustre to its surroundings. It’s not often that we go so far as to recommend a specific colour for your car, but if you’re buying a CX-5 and you’re not going for this red, you’re doing it wrong.

Does the CX-5 disappoint a touch on the inside, compared to the outside? Yes, just a little.

There’s nothing wrong with the cabin, just that it perhaps looks a touch too plain compared to the much more sensuous exterior. It’s also fallen a step behind its smaller brother, the Mazda 3 hatchback, so things such as the instruments and the infotainment system don’t look as classy as the hatchback’s, nor do they work quite so slickly.

Still, there’s a lot of good stuff in here all the same. There’s space, for a start. And comfort, too, plenty of that even when we were long-hauling from Rome to Modena.

Refinement is good as well, although there is some tyre roar on coarser surfaces. There are also nice touches, such as the silky-smooth finish of the ‘Sen’ wood trim - a traditional Japanese finish - on the dashboard and doors.

There’s substance, too, including a near-endless list of standard safety equipment, which includes radar cruise control, advanced blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, smart brake support, high beam control and lane keep assist. There’s also a 360 degree parking camera, which makes slotting into tight parking spaces on crowded Modenese streets a doddle.

Is diesel the right choice? Well, potentially, yes. Mazda is working, right now, on hybrid and fully-electric models, and you can already buy a new three hatch with a 2.0 litre petrol mild-hybrid unit. The CX-5 is arguably still best sampled with a diesel, though. Mazda is one of those companies still prepared to go up to bat for diesel.

“Diesel is good. You can make diesel clean, and not just on paper or in the laboratory, but in the real world,” Christian Schultze, Mazda Europe’s Director of Technical Research, told us.

“The raw emissions coming from our new 1.8 litre diesel are so low that we do not need an AdBlue injection to clean them up. We can instead use a simpler, lighter, more affordable NoX trap.”

This isn’t that 1.8 engine, it’s the older 2.2 litre four-cylinder SkyActiv-D engine, albeit much updated and now pumping out 184hp (up from a previous peak of 175hp). Torque is a very healthy 445Nm (that’s quite a bit ahead of most diesel rivals) but economy is genuinely excellent.

Over more than 1,000km of Italian Autostrada, city streets, and winding country roads, we returned 6.2 litres per 100km overall. Pretty decent, especially once you’ve experienced the mid-range kick of this engine.

How does it drive? I think the word is ‘fluently’.

The CX-5 isn’t quite the handling champ of the SUV world (that accolade arguably goes to the new Range Rover Evoque) but it does have a very well-balanced mix of agility and comfort. There is an updated version of Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control system, now called GVC Plus, which tweaks and adjusts the engine’s output as you turn the steering wheel, in order to try and give you a smoother entry to and exit from a corner.

It works, although the steering does still feel a touch too light at times, but the CX-5 is never less than surprisingly agile for a tall, bulky SUV. It doesn’t make you pay in terms of ride quality either, something too many of its rivals do.

So, up around Modena and Bologna, you really will find the homes of those great Italian brands. You can wander into the museums that pay tribute to the great works of Enzo, Ferruccio, and Horacio. Will you find, among them, a car that’s better looking than the Mazda CX-5? Not many...not many.

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