ROAD TEST: Mazda CX-5 2.0 Active
Before the CX-5 landed on our shores earlier this year, Mazda never gave South Africans the option of a compact 'softroader'. Not that we would have hankered after its predecessor, which was really just a rehashed (and dated) Ford Escape.
This means that Mazda has no real experience in building car-based SUVs like this, which makes the CX-5 all the more surprising - it's a class act in the way it drives and in the way it looks and feels.
Step inside and you'll see what's undoubtedly Mazda's classiest cabin ever, although some of that credit must go to Audi as the dashboard looks like it was traced from the A4's dash. Its tactile quality is just about top-notch, perhaps a notch or two below Audi's level but a good few rungs above the Japanese norm.
The interior is reasonably spacious too, if not quite up there with the class leaders, but one area where the Mazda falls short is when the conversation shifts to standard kit.
Look, the 2.0 Active model on test has the basics you'd expect in a 'base' model, but considering that, at R312 090, it costs more than most of its rivals' luxury models and we suddenly expect more than just a four-speaker CD/aux sound system, manual air conditioning, height and reach-adjustable steering wheel and 17-inch steel wheels.
If you want the cool stuff like cruise control, Bluetooth interface, dual-zone climate control, reverse camera, parking sensors, and even something as basic as an alarm system, then you'll have to indulge in the more expensive CX-5 models, which stretch all the way up to R393 390.
Like I said, the CX-5 is expensive for a front-wheel drive SUV, but there is one consolation.
IT’S REALLY GREAT TO DRIVE
Developing 114kW at 6000rpm and 200Nm at 4000Nm, its 2-litre normally aspirated petrol engine doesn't sound like anything extraordinary on paper, but it is rather sprightly for what it is.
It felt notably quicker off the mark than the equivalent Ssangyong Korando and Peugeot 4008 models that I've driven in recent times and looking at the Gauteng altitude 0-100km/h numbers, the CX-5 impressed with a time of just over 11.5 seconds, while the other two were past the 13-second barrier.
There's no real shortage of power and yet economy is rather good too, thanks to Mazda's suite of 'Skyactiv' technologies, which extend from the engine (which has an abnormally high compression ratio of 13:1) to the chassis and body, which are a little lighter than you'd expect.
However, the CX-5's ability to satisfy the driver extends into just about every area. From the comfortable ride to the neat handling and even smaller details like the compact and grippy steering wheel and short, slick-shifting gear lever that work together to give the CX-5 a sportier feel than you'd expect from something in the softroader bracket.
The idea of paying extra for quality is not an unusual one and the CX-5 is a class act in just about every respect. That said, I still think Mazda is stretching the aforementioned theory a bit too far with its pricing policy on the CX-5.
This could be a highly satisfying purchase if you can bag a big enough discount.
Mazda CX-5 2.0 Active (114kW) - R312 090
5-year/90 000km service plan
4-year/120 000km warranty
3-years of roadside assistance
Citroen C4 Aircross 2.0 Attraction (113kW) - R269 900
Honda CR-V 2.0 Comfort (110kW) - R310 200
Hyundai ix35 2.0 Premium (122kW) - R274 900
Kia Sportage 2.0 Ignite (122kW) - R270 995
Mini Cooper Countryman (90kW) - R290 236
Mitsubishi ASX 2.0 GL (110kW) - R279 900
Nissan Qashqai 2.0 Acenta (102kW) - R304 050
VW Tiguan 1.4 TSI Trend&Fun (118kW) - R311 700