IF you like your mid-sized SUVs to feel sporty as well as spacious then you need to take a look at the new Mazda CX-5.

Although similar in size to the previous model with no improvement in interior space, you’ll find that irrelevant as the earlier model was generously proportioned anyway and had most rivals beaten for space.

What you WILL find, however, is that the new CX-5 is much-improved in virtually every other aspect. The quality of materials as well as fit and finish is now up there with Volkswagen and the on-board  tech is now brought bang up to date. But what sets this Mazda CX-5 apart from rivals such as the Nissan Qashqai, Renault Kadjar, Skoda Kodiaq and Peugeot 5008 is the way it drives.

Engine choice doesn’t have a great bearing on driving enjoyment either – the 4-cylinder 2.2 diesel unit has 150PS available, or 175PS if you really feel the need for more towing-torque. There is also a 4-cylinder petrol unit with 165PS on-tap. Only the diesels are available with AWD or auto gearboxes and the 175PS version is strictly AWD-only.

If engine choice is simple, then trim-level is even more so. There are just two – SE-L Nav (starting at £23,995 OTR) and Sport Nav (starting at £26,995 OTR).

Outside, the new Mazda CX-5 isn’t radically different from the previous model but it does manage to look sleeker than before thanks to that wide front grille and swept-back LED headlights – I think it looks even better than the Volkswagen Tiguan, which is, itself, a very good looking SUV. The SEAT Ateca may look a little more chic but let’s not forget it’s quite a bit smaller than the CX-5 so can’t compete on practicality.

Inside, as I said, is much improved when it comes to quality of fit and finish and even in the SE-L Nav model I’ve been driving, you will feel that you are sat in classy car.

The sweeping dash looks great with a double-stitched faux-leather top which adds to the feel of luxury, as does the leather-wrapped, multi-function steering wheel (heated on the Sport Nav model) and the leather gearstick and gaiter.

The new CX-5 carries over the infotainment system from the previous model but now the 7in screen is mounted atop the dash instead of being part of it. It works very well indeed because, like BMW, Mazda have chosen to go with an easy-to-use rotary dial interface which means no need to poke a shaky finger at the screen when selecting functions.

Sat Nav is standard on all models and it works very well, being easy to program and easy to view. The quality of the 7in screen isn’t the best I’ve seen; lacking some colour depth but I’m sure most people will be perfectly happy with it.

Bluetooth connectivity is included as is a DAB radio, CD player and Mazda’s own Aha and Stitcher apps which give access to Internet Radio as well as Facebook and Twitter. I would have preferred to see Apple CarPlay and Android Auto instead though.

From the manually-adjustable driving seat you’ll find visibility is very good all round with a raised driving position also helping Parking is helped even more by front and rear parking sensors to prevent any mishaps.

The chunky leather steering wheel feels good in the hands and the sharp-shifting manual gearstick is perfectly placed – much like in the MX-5 Sportster – and another reason why this CX-5 is such a sharp-driving SUV.

The main instrument binnacle houses 3 large, circular dials that show exactly what you want – clear and uncluttered read-outs with the right-hand one housing a 5in LED display to show trip info as well as temp and fuel levels.

Storage space is adequate up front with a decently-sized glove box and door bins. There are also a couple of cup-holders as well as a useful storage cubby beneath the armrest.

In the rear you should find no problem for the growing family. The rear seats have a 2-position recline function, although the bench can’t be moved forward or back. The seats split 40-20-40 which is quite useful and something that you don’t find on rivals.

Headroom and leg room is very good and in this price range you’ll find only the Skoda Kodiaq is a little more generous. Two adults could travel all day back there and not feel cramped, while 3 kids should fare pretty well too.

Boot space should be more than enough for most families at 506 litres and the wide and flat load space makes it easy to get items in and out. You’ll also find 30-litres of hidden storage space beneath the boot-floor (unless you’ve opted for the Bose sound system), while dropping the rear seats is made easy by pull-handles in the boot, resulting in 1,620 litres of space which is un-hindered by any kind of step where the seats fold.

On the road the CX-5 retains all of the appeal of the older model. Thanks to its SKYACTIV, lightened body and chassis it’s as sporty to drive as a decent family hatchback and so therefore more enjoyable than most mid-sized SUVs. You’d probably have to step up to the mighty Jaguar E-Pace to get anything like the kind of driving dynamics you get with the Mazda CX-5.

Of course, there is a trade-off for the sharpness of the CX-5 and that comes in the shape of less comfort over pot-holes and poor road-surfaces. It’s not jarring by any means but you will find the VW Tiguan handles those sorts of surfaces better.

However, whether darting around A-roads or cruising along the motorway you’ll find yourself enjoying the environment and dynamics of the Mazda in equal measure as they are well-equipped straight off the shelf too.

Even the entry-level SE-L Nav comes with the likes of 17in alloys, engine start/stop button, rear privacy glass, rear electric windows, cruise control with speed-limiter, front and rear parking sensors and rain-sensing wipers. On the safety front there is the excellent Advanced Smart City Brake Support alongside the likes of Hill Hold Assist and a comprehensive Dynamic Stability Control system.

The CX-5 Sport Nav gets 19in alloys and adds Smart Keyless Entry, a powered tailgate, reversing camera and a premium Bose Sound System. There is also black leather seat trim with electric adjustment for both driver and passenger, heated front seats and steering wheel, Traffic Sign Recognition and a Heads Up Display.

All in all, the new Mazda CX-5 should be a serious contender if you’re in the market for a mid-sized, family-friendly SUV that won’t make you feel you’ve had to compromise driving pleasure for practicality and now that Mazda have upped the premium-feel of the CX-5 it really does make a lot of sense when comparing to the VW Tiguan or even the Volvo XC60. It’s a lot of car and a lot of driving pleasure for the money.

RATING: *****

Mazda CX-5 SE-L Nav SKYACTIV-D 150ps 2WD

OTR Price: £25,695

Engine: 2.2 turbo diesel

Power: 148 bhp

Transmission: 6-speed manual

0-62mph: 9.4 secs

Top Speed: 127 mph

Combined Economy: 56.5 mpg

CO2 emissions: 132 g/km

By Steve Berry

Freelance motoring writer and member of the Association of Scottish Motoring Writers with a love of cars, motorbikes and running. I lied about the love of motorbikes. They scare me to death - although I would like to own a Ducati 996 in red which I would just look at but never ride. No, not ever.

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