CHINKS in the Mazda CX-5's armour were small.
In fact, its protection has been Ned Kelly-like and is charging toward the lead of the entire booming sports utility vehicle market.
Yet there were criticisms of its entry-level 2.0-litre petrol donk when it was launched one year ago.
Not that that has deterred sales, about 70% of the CX-5s sold so far have been petrol powered. The diesel does start from about $40,000 - 10 grand more than the base model petrol.
But the Japanese carmaker has tooled up for a fight in the face of new competition, coming from the likes of Toyota with its much-improved RAV4 and Subaru's new Forester, with a punchier 2.5-litre petrol engine and a new range-topper called the Akera that comes with all the fruit.
That 2.5-litre petrol sits alongside the existing 2.0-litre variant (which is now only available with front-wheel drive models) and the 2.2-litre diesel. There are four trim levels, Maxx, Maxx Sport, Grand Touring and the Akera.
Pricing has remained the same across the range, but the all-wheel drive 2.5-litre petrol is $500 more than the outgoing equivalent - starting at $32,880.
Cohesive with a quality feel reminiscent of European offerings, the CX-5 cabin boasts outstanding finishes.
Hard plastics are limited to the centre console base, with the majority of finishes soft to touch.
A glossy piano finish and chrome highlights on the doors, door handles and near the gear shifter break-up the black colour scheme.
The seats are nicely supportive, and the Maxx Sport pews have great bolsters with some groovy trim designs.
Front and back there is excellent head and leg room. Five adults can find comfort, four are better suited.
On the road
Thundering rain and squalling winds wouldn't traditionally be the best showcase of motoring technology. Yet the rain-soaked hinterland roads behind the Sunshine Coast saw the all-wheel drive SUV shine on an otherwise horrendous day.
Through deep puddles and water cascading over the road the CX-5 never put a foot wrong nor was there any loss of traction.
Without doubt, this new petrol derivative fills the void in the range.
We loved it in the new Mazda6 sedan and wagon launched in December, and nothing has changed with the SUV shell.
Acceleration is smooth and responsive when promoted, working well with the six-speed automatic transmission. For those who love to drive there are no steering wheel paddle shifters, but you can knock the shifter across for manual style control.
Seldom do you feel the need to take care of things yourself, but sometimes it needs prodding up steep inclines.
The steering too is direct and sharp which generates plenty of confidence for the driver.
At metropolitan speeds the CX-5 is ultra-quiet. When cruising at under 80kmh the 2.5-litre is barely raising a sweat.
What do you get?
Across the range there is air-conditioning, 14.7cm inch touch screen, USB and iPod connectivity as well as Bluetooth, cruise control, keyless entry with push button start, reversing camera, telescopic adjustable steering wheel, steel wheels and a rear spoiler.
The Maxx Sport presents as the best value, adding climate controlled air con, leather wrapped shifter and steering wheel, sat nav, 17-inch alloy wheels as well as auto lights and wipers.
Grand Touring models gain Bi-Xenon lights, daytime running lamps, a sunroof, bigger alloys, leather trim, power driver's seat adjustment, a pumping Bose stereo with nine speakers along with parking sensors front and rear.
The new Akera gets the lot, as well as blind spot monitoring system, automatic high beam and lane departure warning.
Five-star safety is across the line-up, incorporating stability and traction control, as well as anti-lock brakes.
There's ample real estate for the growing family and a good spread of bottle/cup holders, along with handy spots for phones and other trinkets.
The rear seat folds 60-40 in the base model, but Maxx Sport and high spec variants have the better 40-20-40 split to make full use of good boot space.
They don't come much better in fuel consumption. Actually, nothing beats it in petrol power with similar size vehicles and engine capacity.
We achieved a bit over eight litres for every 100km, slightly above the official figure.
Three new colours have been added across the range - grey, a new shade of black as well as soul red which for an additional $200 is a sophisticated paint job which shows a significant change in the hue between illuminated and shaded areas.
What matters most
The good stuff: Smooth and strong engine addition, interior finish, cabin space.
What we'd like to see: Paddle shifters, reduced blind spot on the back pillar, parking sensors across the range.
Warranty and servicing: Three-year/100,000km warranty with servicing every 10,000km.
Model: Mazda CX-5.
Details: Five-door all-wheel drive medium-size sports utility vehicle.
Engine: 2.5 litre in-line four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 138kW @ 5700rpm and peak torque of 250Nm at 4000rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Consumption: 7.4 litres/100km.
Towing capacity: 1800kg (braked).
Bottom line: Maxx $32,880, Maxx Sport $36,620, Grand Touring $43,780, Akera $45,770.
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