The rise and rise of the SUV shows no sign of stopping.

Once derided as gas-guzzling polluters, the SUV has come back leaner, cleaner and smaller.

The original Mazda CX-5 was part of that reinvention when it arrived in 2012, powered by frugal and efficient engines, and available with both front- and four-wheel drive versions.

It occupied less road space than the old CX-7, but with similar room inside.

The all-new Mazda CX-5

Just five years later, there’s a new CX-5. It stays true to the original, with a clear family resemblance and the engines carried over.

But it improves upon the old car’s weaknesses to make a more rounded car.

Its predecessor impressed with a caravan on the back, so we are excited to find out what tow car ability the latest model offers.

Let’s look at the range

The front-wheel drive 150PS (148bhp) diesel manual is expected to be the most popular choice (the engine is also available with an automatic transmission, and there’s a 4×4 version).

It makes a lot of sense for company car drivers and private owners alike. Carbon dioxide emissions of just 132g/km keep benefit-in-kind tax bills down, while the official combined figure of 56.5mpg promises infrequent fill ups.

The difference in performance between this engine and the more powerful 175PS (173bhp) version isn’t as great as you might expect, partly because the 175PS model is heavier.

However, it’s likely that the extra 30lb ft of torque (310lb ft vs 280lb ft) would be apparent when towing.

With less weight to haul around, the 150PS car feels lighter on its feet than the 175PS car, with eager turn-in to corners and little body lean.

The steering feels over-light at first compared with the meaty and direct steering of the old car, but once accustomed to the weight it proves tactile and precise.

Stable and quiet

Both front- and four-wheel drive models feel secure and controlled over undulating roads, and that tied-down feel usually translates into reassuringly stable towing.

The old model was an entertaining drive, too, but the ride was firm and road and wind noise made their presence felt.

Mazda has included some 50kg of extra sound-deadening in the new CX-5, and it’s noticeably quieter at speed. The ride is still firm, though.

Cars on 17-inch alloys are more forgiving of poor surfaces than higher spec versions with 19-inch alloys.

Weighing up the options

Go for the 150PS manual with power going to the front wheels, and the kerbweight is 1669kg. That gives an 85% match figure of 1419kg, well within the 2000kg legal towing limit.

Go for the higher powered 4×4 diesel manual and the kerbweight increases to 1732kg, giving an 85% match figure of 1472kg. The 2000kg legal towing limit is unchanged.

As well as the two diesels, we’ve also driven the 165PS (163bhp) 2.0-litre petrol option. It’s not a match for the 150PS 1.4 TSI engine fitted to the new VW Tiguan, because it has less torque (155lb ft vs 184lb ft) delivered further up the rev range.

It’s the lightest model in the range, with a 1574kg kerbweight and an 1800kg legal towing limit. We’d expect fairly sedate performance towing a caravan.

Get inside

Inside, Mazda is very proud of the new car’s more upmarket finish, and justifiably so.

The range-topping Sport Nav version in particular, with its leather seats and trim, feels much closer to premium SUVs from the likes of Audi and BMW in terms of fit and finish, but without their premium price tag.

The driving seat is supportive and has plenty of adjustment. The pedals are well aligned, too, which helps achieve a back-friendly driving position.

Rear-seat passengers have enough space to travel in reasonable comfort, but tall adults want a bit more legroom. There’s less space than a Honda CR-V offers, for example.

However, it’s good to see air vents between the front seats – a feature the old car lacked – and there are two USB sockets in the rear armrest to charge mobiles and tablets.

Space – and prices

The Mazda CX-5’s boot is a healthy size, with a 506-litre capacity with the rear seats upright. However, a CR-V or a Škoda Kodiaq both offer more space for everything-but-the-kitchen-sink caravanners.

If more room is needed, the back seats fold flat using catches either side of the tailgate. There’s a slight slope to the load floor, but the capacity goes up to 1620 litres.

Prices have crept up £200-£900 depending on the model. The range starts from £23,695, rising to £33,195 for the 175PS Sport Nav automatic.

However, Mazda is fitting more equipment than before. SE-L Nav cars have 17-inch alloys, LED headlights and LED front fog lights, front and rear parking sensors, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, satellite navigation, dual-zone climate control and an electronic parking brake.

Sport Nav cars have 19-inch alloys, a reversing camera, a powered lift tailgate, leather upholstery, powered adjustment of the driver’s seat, a head-up display and a powerful 10-speaker stereo.

The new Mazda CX-5 is one of the best mid-sized SUVs. It’s not the roomiest car in its class, but is very well equipped and enjoyable to drive.

We look forward to towing with one soon.