ONCE in a while a car maker launches a new model with exactly the right mix of size, style, price, features, badge appeal and, well, the vibe.

Major manufacturers such as Toyota and VW spend squillions trying to nail this Goldilocks formula, which varies from class to class, but all the market research and focus groups in the world won't guarantee success. Your genuine blockbuster, slay 'em in the showrooms new car is a pretty rare thing.

Mazda's CX-5, Australia's favourite SUV, certainly qualifies. It's neither the cheapest, most spacious, generously equipped nor the best drive in its class - but whatever it is that pushes SUV buyers' buttons, the CX-5 has it.

VALUE

This second generation model, launched last year, has just had an overhaul, with a more powerful 2.2-litre turbo diesel, fuel economy gains for the 2.0 and 2.5-litre naturally aspirated petrol engines (with cylinder deactivation under light loads now on the 2.5), improved safety specification and price cuts of $400-$800 for most models.

Mazda CX-5: Touring gets a more powerful turbo diesel
Mazda CX-5: Touring gets a more powerful turbo diesel

Prices start at $28,690 for the 115kW 2.0-litre, six-speed manual front-wheel drive Maxx; a six-speed auto, standard on all other variants, adds $2000.

All-wheel drive, 140kW 2.5-litre models kick off with the Maxx, at $33,690, while the all-wheel drive 140kW 2.2-litre turbo diesel line-up starts with the Maxx Sport, at $39,990.

We're testing the 2.2-litre turbo diesel Touring, priced at $41,950.

It includes keyless entry and start, automatic LED headlights, parking sensors, 17-inch alloys, automatic wipers, auto dimming rear view mirror and dual zone aircon.

Thin "Maztex" vinyl/fake suede upholstery looks and feels cheap. In other respects, the cabin has a polished, conventional presentation, its conservative design complemented by Made in Japan precision fit and finish.

Mazda's MZD Connect infotainment operates via a Euro-style rotary dial and buttons on the centre console, or by touch. It features a hi-res, seven-inch screen atop the dash, digital radio, navigation and voice control that extends to reading emails and messages. Aha and Stitcher apps are provided, but Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration are absent.

COMFORT

You sink into the softly padded Touring driver's seat, which has basic manual adjustments only and no variable lumbar support. A simple analog instrument layout is supplemented by a head-up display that includes navigation directions, speed limit information and blind spot monitoring, which is great in traffic.

CX-5 cabin: Comfort, ample storage plus reasonable rear legroom and boot
CX-5 cabin: Comfort, ample storage plus reasonable rear legroom and boot

Ample storage, plus two 12V and USB ports, is close at hand. As with VW's Tiguan and Hyundai's Tucson, the CX-5's footprint falls between the compact (Subaru XV, Mitsubishi ASX) and mid-size (Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4) SUV classes.

So rear seat legroom and boot space are adequate rather than expansive. That said, if you have a couple of pre-teen kids the rear seat really works. It's shaped for two, access is easy, vents and storage are provided plus a couple of USB ports in the fold-down armrest.

A low, easy to load boot can be extended using the 40-20-40 split-fold rear seat backs.

SAFETY

The autonomous emergency braking works only below 80km/h (AEB from higher speeds is exclusive to the top spec Akera, at $49,190) but also operates in reverse, between 2-8km/h. Blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and a camera with fixed guidelines are also standard, the Akera being the only CX-5 with fatigue alert, lane keep assist and adaptive cruise.

DRIVING

Mazda's new 2.2-litre turbo diesel is exceptionally frugal, recording fives on the open road and 7L-9L/100km in town, assisted by auto stop-start.

Performance is significantly improved, with serious, immediate grunt (140kW/450Nm, up 11kW/30Nm) now on tap from any speed, in part thanks to more sophisticated fuel injection software, a higher compression ratio and variable geometry twin turbocharger. Engine noise and vibration levels are also reduced, though some vibration and mild diesel grumble are still apparent under load at low revs.

Frugal yet punchy: Diesel is quieter and ride-handling compromise is spot-on
Frugal yet punchy: Diesel is quieter and ride-handling compromise is spot-on

A note on diesels in general. Today's engines are fitted with self-cleaning particulate filters in the exhaust that can clog up and cause problems if they never get hot enough to burn off the deposits they trap. So if most of your driving is short hops, in distance and duration, around town, then a petrol engine, which doesn't require a filter, is a better choice.

Mazda has struck a spot-on ride-handling compromise. Even though it's heavy (1715kg) for its size, all-wheel drive, a rigid body and compliant, controlled suspension give the Touring diesel impressive composure and balance, complemented by light, precise steering. The ride is quiet and comfortable in all conditions, as befits the Touring brief.

More about Mazda CX-5

HEART SAYS

I see these things everywhere, I like the fact that it's not too big and not too small, the kids will be safe in it and Mazda has a good reputation for quality and reliability.

HEAD SAYS

I know diesel is becoming a dirty word but I like its combination of grunt and economy. The CX-5 is always a front runner in mid-size SUV comparison tests and it's the top seller, so resale values will be good.

ALTERNATIVES

KIA SPORTAGE GT LINE FROM $45,990

Runs a 136kW/400Nm 2.0-litre turbo diesel/six-speed auto/all-wheel drive. An update is due shortly, so haggle on the worksburger GT with a power tailgate, leather, sunroof, AEB, blind spot and automatic parking. Seven-year warranty.

VW TIGUAN 110TDi COMFORTLINE FROM $43,490

The 110kW/340Nm 2.0-litre is similarly frugal but pretty leisurely compared with the Mazda. Seven-speed dual-clutch auto/all-wheel drive. Slightly tighter dynamics and a firmer ride. Driver Assist safety adds $2250.

VERDICT

4 stars

The people have spoken and they're right. You can't really go wrong with a CX-5. Mazda's new diesel is as good as any under the bonnet of a comparably sized $70,000 German-brand SUV.

MAZDA CX-5 TOURING

Photos of the 2017 Mazda CX-5
Photos of the 2017 Mazda CX-5

PRICE $41,950 (reasonable)

SERVICING 3-year warranty (short); $1402 for 4 years/40,000km (reasonable)

ENGINE 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel, 140kW/450Nm (best in class)

SAFETY 5 stars, 6 airbags, AEB, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, head-up display, camera (good)

THIRST 5.7L/100km (excellent)

SPARE Space-saver (not good)

BOOT 442L (tightish)


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