To be fair to Mazda, the company doesn’t have the resources of the Toyotas and Volkswagens of this world.
But its engineers put a lot more emphasis on cars as things to be passionate about, and that’s the thinking behind the new CX-5 compact SUV.
The automotive world has seen precious little innovation from Mazda over the past couple of years, but now we know why.
Its boffins have been working on quite a lot of different technologies, all bundled together under the banner of SkyActiv.
Weight-saving measures, new engines and construction techniques unique to cars are all part of what amounts to a giant leap forward for the company in terms of satisfying the ever-increasing list of demands that consumers are asking of car-makers.
The CX-5 is destined to arrive properly next April, but we had a chance to take a sneak peek in deepest, darkest Italy, where we drove a selection of pre-production models.
The really pleasing thing is that Mazda has made just as much of a fuss about the pursuit of great driving dynamics as it has about the search for greater efficiency, even though the most innovative advances have come in the latter field.
Everyone at the company still believes cars should be fun, and that’s brilliant.
Two new engines have been developed from the ground up, incorporating every advanced piece of design that Mazda could come up with.
The lightweight petrol engine has the highest compression ratio of any petrol-engined mass-produced car in the world.
The diesel, on the other hand, is even more remarkable. Using two turbochargers, one small and one large, turbo lag is minimised while still allowing for large power outputs.
But it’s an astonishing level of attention to detail that has eliminated or minimised lots of different areas of wasted energy to create a 2.2-litre diesel engine that produces 148bhp, 280lb.ft - both big numbers – and just 119g/km of CO2. That makes it all of £30 to tax under the current system – and it’s a pretty big engine.
As remarkable as it is on paper, the engine feels every bit as good in use. It pulls hard and is smooth and quiet, making barely a whisper at a fast cruise.
At around 70mph on smooth tarmac it’s remarkably hushed, with the only intrusive road noise coming from the rear wheel arches. Arguably they could do with more soundproofing.
Mazda has also retuned the necessary control inputs for this car, making it more directly responsive to how the driver is operating the pedals and steering wheel.
Whereas a lot of cars – older Mazdas included – provide maximum power at only a fraction of full throttle pressure to make their engines seem more potent than they are, the CX-5 offers a little more respect to the driver.
The harder you push the pedal, the quicker you’ll go. Acceleration is smoother, and it helps fuel economy as a result.
As a compact SUV, the CX-5 is reasonably tall, with a high driving position that has been optimised to feel as comfortable as possible.
The diagrams to explain all this are quite something, but suffice it to say that the CX-5 has one of the most comfortable and most effective driving positions in the class.
From the driver’s seat you can also enjoy the gear change. Inspired by the wonderful MX-5, the ‘throw’ has been shortened and the shifts have been made more positive than in old designs, so it really feels like a sporty car rather than a small soft-roader.
This sort of attitude to design creates the simple joy of driving, where the car surpasses any status as merely a tool and becomes something you can find pleasure in; something that makes you smile. It’s a dying art but Mazda has recaptured it in the CX-5.
As pre-production cars, the interior quality is... let’s say, unfinished. Fortunately Mazda had provided a display-only car with a fully finished interior to poke around. Its design isn’t as exciting as the technology behind it, but it’s inoffensive and stylish enough.
The CX-5 is the first Mazda to bring together all the SkyActiv technologies into one car, and the results are pretty dramatic.
To combine genuine driving enjoyment with cheap running costs and a high seating position in this sector of the market is a remarkable achievement, and the finished article promises great things.