The journey into the unknown is all the more eerie for the relative silence with which Mazda’s new CX-5 SUV has delivered us to the ski lifts at the bottom of the famous pass and, we suspect, into the great grey beyond.

CX-5 continues to impress on our Scottish adventure

LOOKING ahead as the steep, twisting tarmac of the road through Glenshee disappears into the rainladen clouds overhead there is a sense that we might just be swallowed up by the extreme Scottish weather.

I was north of the border in rather more hospitable conditions for the launch of the last — and first — CX-5 some five years ago.

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That original CX-5 wasn’t crying out for any great improvement, having introduced a new understated styling ethos and Mazda’s new weight-saving SkyActiv programme — a bid to shed weight wherever possible in search for efficiency gains.

But with the latest incarnation, Mazda is attempting to move into a more premium space, a more pragmatic approach adding 50kg to its weight in a bid to improve refinement and add interior quality to battle newcomers to the sector like Peugeot’s 3008 and Volkswagen’s latest Tiguan.

The original never struck me as lacking in refinement and the newcomer is even more impressive in this area, a whisper of wind noise rustling around the wing mirrors being the only intrusion in most circumstances.

Despite the team from Mazda telling us that the new model is the fore-runner to a new generation of Mazdas, the exterior styling changes are extremely subtle, more squinting headlights and a slimmer, chrome-framed grille the most noticeable changes.

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That said, it is a well-resolved all-of-a-piece appearance which communicates Mazda’s premium aspirations.

Inside there’s a similar sense that while things have been wholly redesigned, they remain familiar.

A soft-touch dash sits atop elongated hexagonal vents which emphasise the width of the cabin with horizontal lines while a broad centre console contains the now familiar rotary controller that gains access to an infotainment and satnav system standard on all new CX-5s.

Mazda’s latest interiors are some of the best in the business.

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Prices for the range start at £23,695 for the 163bhp two-litre petrol-engined SE-L Nav spec vehicle and there are two trim levels, with the £3,000 more expensive Sport derivatives adding neatly stitched leather seats to what is already a quality cabin.

Among the standard fayre on all CX-5s are LED headlights, auto power folding door mirrors, dual-zone climate control, DAB radio and that seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system which will connect occupants to Twitter or Facebook and can even be used to dictate text messages on-the move.

Highlights of the Sport specification are 19 inch alloys (up on the standard 17s), a reversing camera, powered tailgate, traffic sign recognition, a head-up speed and satnav display, keyless entry and a Bose sound system.

The £3,000 price difference between SEL and Sport comes alongside a £2,000 premium for those wanting the CX-5’s lesser powered of two turbo-diesel options — a 148bhp two-litre unit — which Mazda believes will account for 56 per cent of sales with diesel accounting for 84 per cent overall.

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There are also automatic gearbox and allwheel- drive options, the range-topping 173bhp, 2.2-litre turbodiesel-engined Sport Nav Auto coming in at £33,195.

During the launch I got to grips with the petrol and lesser-powered diesel units, equipped with the manual gearbox, on 250- miles of challenging Scottish tarmac.

Mazda works to a mantra of “Jinba Ittai”, translated as car and driver as one, and aims to entertain with its driving dynamics.

The CX-5 does exhibit slight roll in sharper corners and a tendency towards understeer, but it does offer the composure that you might expect of an SUV and can cover ground quickly.

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Mazda’s application of torque vectoring for the first time also assists steering accuracy in all-wheel-drive versions.

The CX-5’s ride is well-damped, not choppy like some overly-firm SUV rivals bidding to “drive like a car”.

Interior space is a strong suit too. Front and rear it offer more than its keys rivals and a 503-litre boot is up there with the best in class.

Out on the road, the 2.2-litre turbodiesel proves itself to be the best balance of performance and economy.

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It’s relatively quiet for a diesel and revs quite freely, but stay smooth and Mazda claims fuel economy of 56.5mpg for the 148bhp manual, two-wheel-drive derivative, along with a 9.4 second dash to 62mph and a 127mph top speed.

The two-litre petrol version boasts more power but less torque and while it is whisper quiet in most scenarios it did require downshifts in the Scottish hills where the diesel battled on.

Mazda claims that the petrol unit is good for 44.1mpg, along with 149g/km CO2 emissions.

Performance-wise it lags just behind the diesel on-paper, reaching 62mph in 10.4 seconds and a 125mph top speed.

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With every passing car launch it continues to be a huge vote of confidence from Mazda that it brings its products to the testing roads of Scotland to be sampled by the motoring press.

Five years ago the CX-5 made an impressive debut in the Highlands. Now it returns as a well-established, high-quality SUV proposition.

First publsihed FRIDAY, JUNE 30, 2017

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