First drive in Florence: Mazda CX-5
As a starting point for a new model, the existing Mazda CX-5 isn't a bad one. Since its launch in 2012, it has been a well-regarded contender in the mid-sized crossover SUV segment, accounting for around 25pc of Mazda's annual sales.
Not surprisingly this new model, which gets here in the second half of the year, hasn't strayed too far from the successful template.
On first glance the new CX-5 looks little changed, but there are quite significant revisions. Notably there's a sharper looking front end thanks to a longer bonnet, more graphically drawn headlights, and an extended grille. It's also 35mm lower.
It adds up to what I think is one of the best looking cars in this class.
They're bigging up a new colour too - Soul Red Crystal. It's an evolution of the Soul Red metallic that's become de rigueur across the Mazda range; it's brighter and with more depth.
Side by side with the old colour it's clear to see the greater intensity, though whether you'll notice after five minutes on dirty Irish roads in winter is another matter.
There are also notable changes to the interior. Mazda has been edging close to premium standard cabins for some time now and the latest CX-5 adds a bit more.
As is the trend these days, a new 7ins infotainment display unit sits on top of, rather than in the dash. A Heads-Up Display is offered for the first time (as is a Power Tail Lift).
The instruments cluster remains one of the most user-friendly of any vehicle, while redesigned air vents and trim strips across the length of the dash give a classy and up-to-date appearance.
The seats - both front and rear - have been revised to offer better body support. They were more than adequately comfortable during test drives, though there isn't a whole lot of lateral support should you partake in enthusiastic cornering.
One of the major developments has been improving on-road refinement, specifically reducing wind and road noise. It's a measure of Mazda's confidence of having achieved this that they allowed us to drive an old model before the new one. Certainly, the new CX-5 was noticeably quieter when travelling at speeds of around 100kmh.
There have been dynamic handling improvements too. The new CX-5 gains G-Vectoring Control, previously seen on the latest Mazda3 and Mazda6. It's a technology that's designed to offer a smoother driving experience by adjusting torque levels when you turn into and accelerate out of corners.
As with all cars of this type, there's a bit too much bodyroll to appeal to the keen driver, but the CX-5 grips strongly and is easy to position accurately on the road. More importantly, probably, ride comfort is top notch.
The 2.2 litre turbocharged diesel engines with 150PS or 175PS, and a normally aspirated 2.0 petrol with 165PS are largely the same as before.
There's a choice of 6spd manual or auto gearboxes, and front wheel drive or Mazda's i-ACTIV AWD system.
The 150 PS diesel would be our choice - it was quiet and refined, and offered decent pulling power across a broad power brand.
Specs and prices haven't been finalised yet, but expect an increase over the current CX-5's starting price of €27,995 - though you will be getting more equipment as standard for your money.
Overall, a worthy update. If the old CX-5 was one of the best crossover SUVs around, the new model builds nicely on that, with better refinement, more technology and one of the best cabins in town.