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PRETORIA – All-new. It's an adjective habitually – but often somewhat inaccurately – bandied about by automakers describing their latest wares. Mazda, for instance, labels the sleek CX-5 you see in the accompanying images as "all-new". But is it?

At first glance, you'd be forgiven for answering with a resounding "no", such is the evolutionary nature of the compact crossover's visible updates. Indeed, it'd be easy to write off this second-generation model as a mere facelift, particularly when one considers its arrival comes not even five years after the original CX-5 debuted.

And it's a similar case with what you can't see. The Skyactiv engine range – comprising a pair of free-breathing petrols and a punchy turbodiesel – is carried over virtually untouched, the platform has benefited from but a minor update and the new CX-5's footprint is practically indistinguishable from that of its forebear (give or take a millimetre or two, anyway). Mechanically, then, it's fundamentally identical to the outgoing model.

Something new…

So, what is new? Well, every single body panel, for one. While this model certainly shares its general shape with its predecessor, viewing the two alongside each other on the local launch emphasised just how much more modern the second-generation appears, thanks in part to its super-slim new head- and taillamps, redesigned (and tiny) LED front foglamps and the latest interpretation of that gaping (now-signature) front grille. And it's not just all about looks, either; torsional rigidity is up a claimed 15%.

Inside, too, a handful of useful changes have been made. The seven-inch infotainment screen (which is still manipulated via a fairly intuitive rotary control setup not dissimilar to what one finds in certain German products), for instance, is no longer fully integrated in the facia, and instead stands proud in the popular tablet-like fashion. And, although it's not difficult to spot switchgear carried over from the first-generation CX-5 (the driving mode toggle in higher-spec derivatives, for example, is absolutely identical), perceived quality in the cabin has certainly been further improved, and soft-touch materials abound.

The Hiroshima-based automaker has also made an effort to up refinement levels, chiefly by adding extra insulation in every nook and cranny, but also by working (very effectively, we might add) to eliminate wind noise. The luggage compartment, too, is ostensibly a little more capacious than before, while rear passengers gain a handy reclining function and dedicated air-conditioning vents. Further up the range, a powered tailgate and a pair of rear-sited USB ports have also been introduced.

A dynamic crossover?

Although the underpinnings haven't come in for any serious fettling, Mazda has seen fit to equip the latest-generation CX-5 with its nifty G-Vectoring Control software. Already introduced locally in the Mazda3 and CX-3, this system varies engine torque according to steering inputs, essentially shifting weight to all the right places and reducing body roll. So, does it work?

Well, a few minutes driving the outgoing and latest models back-to-back on a dynamic handling course highlighted the subtle effect that this system can have, while also illustrating just how much sharper (yet lighter) the steering has become. In short, the CX-5 appears to have built even further on the sort of dynamic talent that has helped render it the driver's choice in this segment.

Thankfully, this unusual level of engagement (for a compact crossover, anyway) doesn't come at the expense of comfort. Despite all but the three base-spec Active derivatives running on new 19-inch alloys, the CX-5's ride is seldom troubled, and its Macpherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension setup deals with all but the harshest of road imperfections with aplomb. Sure, it's firmer than some of its rivals, but nowhere near the point of crashiness.

From six to seven

South Africa's second-generation CX-5 line-up has been expanded from six to seven variants, thanks to the introduction of a new automatic-equipped version of the 2,0 Dynamic derivative (a trim level previously available exclusively in conjunction with a slick six-speed manual gearbox). Interestingly, Mazda Southern Africa believes this new front-wheel drive, self-shifting model – which slots neatly into the centre of the line-up – will prove its best-seller, predicting that it will account for nearly a third of CX-5 sales.

The high-compression 2,0-litre naturally aspirated petrol unit under this derivative's bonnet still makes 121 kW and 210 N.m, with the latter arriving at a fairly lofty 4 000 r/min. As before, the Euro 4 four-cylinder mill lacks a little in terms of mid-range punch, and can feel somewhat laboured when hauling the crossover up any sort of serious incline (particularly on the power-sapping Highveld). In everyday highway and city driving, though, it's still largely up to the task.

The six-speed torque converter, though, sometimes comes across as slightly indecisive (when married to this mill), with gentle throttle inputs occasionally prompting a flitting between the final couple of cogs when one would rather it merely kick up and settle into a quiet cruise. Selecting Sport mode, meanwhile, triggers the transmission to hang on to each gear almost right through to redline.

A cut-throat segment

The CX-5 – which accounts for a quarter of Mazda's sales globally, and made up more than a third of Mazda SA's total registrations in 2016 – finds itself playing in a particularly competitive segment, taking on the likes of the big-selling Hyundai Tucson, the ever-popular Toyota RAV4 and what CAR currently considers the class benchmark, the Volkswagen Tiguan.

As Mazda SA's most popular product, the second-generation model has plenty of weight resting on its shapely shoulders. Has the Japanese automaker given its latest CX-5 the tools to grab (another) hefty slice of segment market share in 2017 (the company has set itself a bold target of some 31,8%, or likely more than 4 100 units, for the year)? In short, the answer may well be in the positive. You see, rather shrewdly, Mazda has improved only aspects that genuinely needed improving, allowing the new model to play to the unique strengths of its forerunner.

Could more have been done in the powertrain department? Sure, although the current engines are undoubtedly up to doing the job until Mazda begins rolling out its next-generation Skyactiv powerplants. It must be pointed out, however, that the 2,2-litre diesel is still the one to have, if you can comfortably stretch to the higher price-tags (interestingly, the previously detuned front-wheel-drive diesel now gains the full-fat outputs of 129 kW and 420 N.m). In addition, if your heart is set on all-wheel drive, take note that you'll have to stump up for the R557 500 oil-burning flagship (the only AWD variant in the range).

Ultimately, though, the second-gen CX-5 represents a clear improvement over its already capable and sometimes under-appreciated forebear. It may not be "all-new" in the strictest sense of the word, but the latest updates – particularly the improved levels of refinement, more upmarket cabin and sharper-still looks – combined with competitive pricing and fairly generous trim levels, mean the likeable CX-5 is still entirely capable of duking it out with the very best in the segment.


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