Mazda CX-5: More of the same from Mazda - thank goodness
William Scholes rated the original Mazda CX-5 so highly that he bought one. How does the new version compare?
NOT that I expect much sympathy, but press launches for new cars can be exhausting affairs.
Bookended by early morning flights is a blur of sprinting between airport arrivals and departure gates, being given the keys to a car you've never driven before on roads you've not seen before, a long and technical presentation on the merits of the new model and its widgets and a late dinner.
Often, it can feel like you spend more time in airport lounges and the aisle seat of a flight to who-knows-where than in the actual car. First world problems, and all that...
Mazda launches tend to be different, however. This is mainly because they are better.
It's hard to avoid the early o'clock starts, especially when you have to fly from Northern Ireland to join up with a larger group, but the good folk at Mazda put the emphasis firmly on actually driving the car.
Better still, they seek out roads which give you the chance to explore the range of their new model's abilities.
All of this meant that I and a colleague were quite some distance away from Inverness airport when we realised that our flight was going to leave in not-very-long-at-all.
You might think that when you need to drive like you're on your way to defuse a bomb and save the world - it was actually a FlyBe flight, but that doesn't sound as exciting - that a Ferrari or Lamborghini would be the ideal means of transport.
But if you happen to live in the real world and can't afford a supercar but still have a clock to beat then - believe it or believe it not - a Mazda CX-5 is hard to beat.
The CX-5 is Mazda's family-sized SUV and when if first reached these shores in 2012 I had one of 'those' drives in one.
I was 80 miles away from my family and had to join them late one night; it was late December, a storm was bringing down branches and trees, there were flurries of snow, the temperature was hovering around zero and I was against the clock.
Conditions, in other words, were not ideal. But the Mazda was superb. It was quick, safe and sure-footed, thanks to its blend of four-wheel-drive, a powerful diesel engine bolstered with a hefty wedge of torque, strong brakes, powerful headlamps and excellent handling.
By the time I got to the other end, my admiration for the CX-5 was complete. That journey remains one of my most memorable drives, and I use it as a mental yardstick when I review cars for these pages.
Few other cars of any sort would have shrugged off that night's conditions in the way the Mazda did. The Ferrari and Lamborghini mentioned earlier wouldn't have got past the first stretch of virgin snow.
All of that meant that when it was time to change the Scholes family car, I had no hesitation in buying a Mazda CX-5.
I've had no reason to regret the decision. The CX-5 copes well with all family duties - but then so do lots of other SUVs and crossovers - but none drive with its verve, especially in the four-wheel-drive 173bhp guise of my car.
Five years on, Mazda has produced a new CX-5, and it's phenomenally good too.
The styling is an evolution of the outgoing car - there wasn't a lot wrong with it, but it has been updated with narrower headlamps, sharper bodywork creases and better trim details.
Engines are basically carried over - again, no bad thing - but benefit from Mazda's latest wizardry, such as a 'natural sound smoother' which reduces noise and a device which sharpens throttle response by juggling turbo pressure, fuel injection and torque.
Mazda has produced a new CX-5, and it's phenomenally good
The body is 15 per cent stiffer than before, giving the engineers an even better platform from which to showcase a series of improvements to the old car's steering, brakes and suspension, plus its 'G-Vectoring Control' technology which improves cornering response and stability.
Together, these massage what was already a very good car into an even more composed, comfortable and athletic package.
It is inside, however, that Mazda has really upped the CX-5's game. The fit and finish is several notches up on my car.
It feels of higher quality and is measurably more refined, too. It is now a lot easier to have a conversation with a back-seat passenger, something which for some sort of weird acoustic reason can be a challenge in the original CX-5. Or a blessing, if you don't want to listen to the children... Rear passengers also get air vents and the back seats also recline.
Naturally, as you would expect on a new model today, you get standard equipment more lavish and advanced than the older car: LED headlamps, DAB radio, auto power-folding mirrors (I wish my car had those...), more USB sockets and a smart touchscreen display.
Sport Nav models add a reversing camera, electrically-adjustable and heated front seats, leather upholstery, keyless entry, a heated steering wheel, power-operated tailgate, an upgraded sound system and a proper head-up display.
The petrol version isn't especially quick, though the engine is sweet, and the 148bhp diesel version is likely to remain the most popular thanks to its useful blend of economy and performance.
As before, though, the 173bhp diesel engine is the one you really want. It's far quicker than the 0-62mph time would suggest but still relatively frugal.
Rivals at this price point - see At a Glance at the bottom of this page - include the Volkswagen Tiguan, Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson.
All are decent cars but none has the CX-5's blend of talents. For me, it is still the best car in the family SUV class, and I'd buy another one.
Oh, and it got us to the airport in time. That was another memorable drive - and a story for another day...
AT A GLANCE
Price: From £23,695 (2.0-litre 165PS petrol SE-L Nav) to £33,195 (2.2-litre 175PS diesel AWD Sport Nav auto)
Engine and transmission: 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol, front-wheel-drive, six-speed manual gearbox, 163bhp, 155lb.ft; 2.2-litre turbo diesel, front- or four-wheel-drive, six-speed manual or automatic gearbox, 148bhp with 280lb.ft or 173bhp with 310lb.ft
Performance: Top speed and 0-62mph - 122mph, 10.5 seconds (2.0-litre petrol); 127mph, 9.4 seconds (148bhp diesel 2WD); 126mph, 8.8 seconds (173bhp diesel 4WD)
Fuel consumption and CO2: 47.1mpg, 149g/km (petrol); 56.5mpg, 132g/km / 52.3mpg, 142g/km (148bhp diesel front-wheel-drive/four-wheel-drive); 54.3mpg, 142g/km (173bhp diesel four-wheel-drive)
Car tax: £200 in first year for all models, apart from four-wheel-drive automatic versions which are £500 in first year; all versions £140 from second year
Benefit in kind: petrol 28 per cent; diesels 28 per cent to 32 per cent
Euro Ncap safety rating: Not yet tested