Fam­ily favourite

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OF all the cars in all the SUV cat­e­gories in Aus­tralia to­day, we rec­om­mend the Mazda CX-5 the most. The sales num­bers back us up, as it’s still the coun­try’s favourite SUV de­spite the re­cent ar­rival of the smaller CX-3 that is more suit­able for younger buy­ers and nib­bling at the edges of the CX5’s ap­peal, erod­ing some of its monthly sales re­sults.

What makes the CX-5 so good is that it is de­signed as a mod­ern fam­ily car, with smart pric­ing from $27,190 and a backup plan that lever­ages Mazda’s qual­ity rep­u­ta­tion in Aus­tralia with capped-price ser­vic­ing and a three-year war­ranty. It also gets every­thing from a stan­dard re­vers­ing cam­era to a choice of three en­gines and either fron­tor all-wheel drive.

The CX-5 was given a mi­nor facelift and tweak at the start of the year, just to keep it fresh and com­bat more re­cent op­po­nents in­clud­ing the all-new Hyundai Tuc­son.

It’s the ar­rival of the Tuc­son that drives a CX-5 back into The Tick as­sess­ment, to check that the Mazda has not been over­run or over­done by the im­pres­sive Hyundai or other long-term ri­vals in­clud­ing the Ford Kuga, Subaru Forester, Nis­san X-Trail or even the com­pletely re­vised BMW X1 that’s now big­ger and more suit­able for proper SUV fam­ily work than the orig­i­nal with the same name.

The bot­tom line is sim­ple: the CX-5 still rules.

Lined up head-to-head with the Hyundai it only loses on two fronts, sus­pen­sion tun­ing and in­te­rior space. I can feel the dif­fer­ence that lo­cal sus­pen­sion tun­ing makes to the Tuc­son at any time on any sur­face, while the South Korean cabin looks and feels a bit more roomy than the Mazda.

Mazda could learn some im­por­tant lessons if it matched the lo­cal tun­ing work by Hyundai and Kia, which set the im­port bench­mark on things like body con­trol, cor­ner­ing grip, steer­ing feed­back and noise iso­la­tion. They build cars which are en­joy­able to drive as well as com­fort­able for long­haul trips along the worst of Aus­tralia’s roads. But enough about Kia and Hyundai, be­cause the CX-5 is the car we have and the car to have.

This one is a Maxx Sport with all-wheel drive and a 2.5litre petrol en­gine. That means the price runs way up to $35,790, but I can see a lot of peo­ple — in­clud­ing de­fec­tors from the all-wheel drive world at Subaru — tick­ing the boxes to lift the spec­i­fi­ca­tion and price to $40,000 on the road.

The ba­sics are as good as I re­mem­ber, and it’s good to get into the 2.5-litre en­gine. It’s not as perky as I ex­pect and there are no flappy pad­dles for sports shifts, but once I tweak the Sport but­ton on the cen­tre con­sole it comes alive.

So the base­line set­ting is all about fuel econ­omy and low emis­sions, which also means a stop-start sys­tem that helps drop my short-haul re­sult to about 9 litres/100km. It could be bet­ter, I’m sure, with­out re­sort­ing to some Sports run­ning to make time in the morn­ing com­mute.

The CX-5 sits eas­ily at sub­ur­ban speeds and is just as good on the free­way, where it’s quiet and comfy.

As I’ve said, the ride is not as plush or con­trolled as a Tuc­son or Sportage but it rides well enough, even on 18-inch al­loys.

I’d like some ex­tra sup­port in the shap­ing of the seats, but the leather-wrapped wheel is great and re­minds me of the in-built qual­ity. That’s ob­vi­ous in the sound in­su­la­tion but also the soft-touch plas­tics and even the fin­ish­ing of the seat trims, which is a cut above a South Korean car.

The in­fo­tain­ment screen could be big­ger, but it’s an “old school” in­stal­la­tion that sits in the dash in­stead of be­ing sup­ported, tablet-style, to al­low for a big­ger screen and eas­ier up­dat­ing. The CX-3 and even the new MX-5 show the lat­est Mazda think­ing on that front.

Load­ing the CX-5 with kids and toys, I’m lik­ing the lug­gage space and the flex­i­bil­ity and the avail­able space.

The six-year old and his mate are not cramped and we have lots of stuff on board.

But there’s a space-saver spare that can­not be up­graded to a full-sized unit be­cause of the boot de­sign and the max­i­mum tow rat­ing is only 1800kg. That prob­a­bly means it’s re­stricted to jet­skis, a pop-up trailer or a cou­ple of mo­tor­cy­cles.

Still, those are mi­nor things and most peo­ple are us­ing their CX-5 for the sort of jobs which used to be the stock-in-trade of a Com­modore or Fal­con. With a new Holden also in the drive­way this week I can see and feel the ad­van­tages of the Com­modore in cabin space and ride com­fort, but the Mazda is the pick for flex­i­bil­ity thanks to the SUV back end.

It is the car for to­day and be­yond and an easy pick for The Tick.

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