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by Jez Spinks

Mazda Australia is confident its Mazda CX-5 is a front-runner to be the country’s favourite SUV by the end of 2013.

The Japanese brand has just added a new, more powerful petrol engine to the Mazda CX-5 that came close to being the top-selling SUV in 2012.

The Mazda CX-5 had 10 full months on sale after launching in February 2012 but was quickly selling between 1000 and 1500 units per month.

“In theory it could have been No.1 last year,” said Mazda Australia marketing boss Alistair Doak. “Is it going to be No.1 this year? Well I guess that depends on what others [manufacturers] are doing.

“Last year it was X-Trail [that outsold us] with a lot of fleet sales. We target private sales essentially. We haven’t been in the discount places some others have.”

The Mazda CX-5 faces a raft of fresh challengers, including new versions of the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Mitsubishi Outlander. An all-new Ford Kuga will become the Blue Oval’s big hope in the segment from April.

Mazda believes its sales performance to date suggests it’s still in a strong position.

“We think we’ll hold what we did last year and that’s a pretty big number.

“We had a bit of shortage of supply last year. If we hold our running rate we’re talking 19,000 [potential]. I don’t think anybody’s done those kinds of numbers in this segment.”

Mazda sold 16,000 CX-5s in 2012, securing best-seller status in its segment for seven of the 10 months it was on sold and achieving 16 per cent market share. It has already made a positive start to 2013.

Doak said the new 2.5-litre petrol engine introduced to the CX-5 range is only likely to consolidate sales rather than increase them significantly, as there will be a natural crossover with the 2.0-litre petrol that’s offered only in front-wheel-drive models.

The 2.5-litre four-cylinder, which debuted in the new Mazda6, is priced from $32,880 – $500 more than the 2.0L AWD variants that are replaced.

Entry to the Mazda CX-5 range continues to be a 2.0L Maxx FWD, priced from $27,880.

Petrol AWD variants will be the most popular based on CX-5 sales so far.

Petrol accounted for 70 per cent of sales, with diesel take-up at about 30 per cent. FWD and AWD is split 40/60.

Mazda Australia doesn’t expect these figures to change dramatically with a revised line-up that also sees the 2.0-litre engine tweaked for improved acceleration and a Bluetooth upgrade for the range.