How I fared with Mazda's new SUV, the CX-5
Same again: lots of small changes
Getting to know a car is a bit like going on a first date (I'm speaking from a long way back, so let me know if I'm missing something here). You quickly pick up first impressions. You like, don't like, can take or leave, etc.
Of course, in the case of a real 'first date' you don't have to reacquaint and can politely bow out. If you don't like, that's it.
In the case of reviewing a car it's not that simple, obviously. It's best to take it out for a lot more 'dates' - whether you like it or not - to get the full picture.
During the second phase you notice the little things that make a car easier, or more difficult, to deal with than you may have thought initially.
And ultimately you come to 'weigh-up' time.
Which is where I am with this week's review car, the new Mazda CX-5 crossover/SUV.
The first 'date' (abroad) didn't go that well at all really.
The thing with 'new' cars, you see, is you bring expectations of significant change on a number of fronts - visually, technically, comfort and all that.
You get so used to visible and tangible advances that there is a real risk of disappointment when apparent progress is a mere nudge rather than a substantial step.
So I stand accused of being disappointed with the new Mazda CX-5 because of its minimal advances on design.
It looks so much like the old one, I can't believe they went ahead with it and didn't expect to be chided.
But that overriding initial impression subsided as I forged ahead with a substantial amount of driving: around 1,100km or so.
The new CX-5 was to be our companion on a sortie south for a couple of rather special days.
Yes, we took it to Dingle and its spell-binding environs; to tricky drives on narrow Atlantic-fringing routes; to sunburn boulevard across from the Blaskets where warm breeze and blue skies turned this unprotected pale smush to Soul Red (the colour of the car as it happens) in 15 minutes.
With three of us on board and a reasonable coterie of bits-n-pieces of luggage I'd say our drives, stops and hilly climbs represented probably as broad a canvas of car-test as is practically viable.
It certainly gave me plenty of time and reason to reinforce or alter my first-date impressions.
I was quite surprised at the number of people (French, American, Canadian and, pre-trip, the brother) who were seriously impressed with that Soul Red Crystal colour. Mazda say it takes yonks to achieve. Cynical me: I passed few remarks on it. That's not change, I argued, that's window dressing.
But I did mark down for special mention the leather upholstery, the luxurious cabin, amount of space for second-row passengers (the tall daughter volunteered), simple clear dials and displays. Above all, as the kilometres slipped by, we came to 'notice' how quiet it was in the cabin, regardless of road conditions. I'd say it was as good as many a so-called premium equivalent.
And that, I reckon, is where first impressions can fail you. It takes time to assimilate such important nuances. Mazda improved dozens of little things rather than progressing in a major way on one front.
There was a measure of disappointment, too. My car had 4WD which I've no doubt served me well on some poor country roads. But there was also a price to pay with what was a choppy enough ride on any ruffled surface. It was also a bit soft on the handling.
I think Crossovers in general suffer from this because of their higher centre of gravity: fine on big, well-surfaced roads with good camber but not so dandy on the sort of routes so many of us frequent.
On the other hand: I wasn't initially impressed with the fuel consumption, but over time, the 2.2-litre diesel yielded 6.7l/100km - a decent return for the variety of driving.
The automatic gearbox responded well and I used the 'manual' option to good effect sometimes. Even with high revs, the engine's noise suppression worked a treat - part and parcel of the multifaceted improvements I mentioned.
On one level, we found it a big, comfortable, easy-to-manage Crossover. On another, I looked for a crisper feeling to the steering and to the chassis.
On a 'first-date' basis, I'd have to say it eventually outstripped my early impressions. It was an accomplished piece of work that improved on longer acquaintance.
By the same token, there was little by way of real excitement or outstanding distinguishing factor (apart from that special red paint). As can so often be the case with cars - and first dates - it was convivial without having real 'sparkle'.
FACTS & FIGURES
Mazda CX-5 mid-size Crossover/SUV; 2.2-litre diesel 6spd auto 175PS, 4WD, 5.8l/100km; 152g/km, €390 road tax.
Spec includes: MZD Connect, leather interior, cruise control, digital radio, dual-zone climate control, LED daytime running/headlights, front LED fogs, heated/auto-folding electric mirrors, 7in display, multimedia commander, 4 USB ports (2 rear), front/rear parking sensors, reversing camera, electric/heated front seats; 19ins alloys, auto wipers, G-vectoring control.
Range: from (2-litre petrol 2WD 165PS, €28,995). Diesel 2.2 (150PS) 2WD, 6spd manual (€31,495). Platinum spec 4WD auto on test: €42,595,