Mazda normally is not a brand associated with great interiors, but that’s changing with the all-new CX-5 compact cross/utility vehicle, a Ward’s 10 Best Interiors winner for 2012.

The small Japanese brand is making a concerted effort to up the luxury quotient of its mass-market interiors, and it shows in its latest CUV.

“A very clean-looking, well-executed interior,” writes editor Byron Pope on his score sheet of our $30,415 ’13 all-wheel-drive Grand Touring test vehicle. “There are a lot of soft-touch materials, and the seats are comfy, too.”

Mazda says its new interior standard specifies soft surfaces from shoulder-level on up. In the CX-5, upper door panels and the instrument panel are swathed in a spongy skin.

While the overall look of the CX-5’s cabin is unpretentious, there are impressive touches here and there that we find unique, including a ridged, hard plastic trim piece surrounding the window controls on the front doors. The ridges narrow at the top but widen in the middle.

Double-stitched leather seats, with red and gray thread, also provide a stylistic flourish in a vehicle that is meant to be a people mover.

Editor Tom Murphy praises Mazda’s new restraint with its signature glossy piano black trim, which appears sparingly in the CX-5.

The flexibility of the folding second-row seats in creating a flat loading surface also dazzles most of our judges. The seat bottom cushions sink down, and then the seat backs collapse forward separately.

True, the CX-7 is leaving the U.S. market, and it was longer and wider than the CX-5. But the new CUV actually has more interior space, partially due to a higher roofline.

Thanks to clever packaging, straightforward interior styling and an emphasis on lightweight materials and new technology, the CX-5 delivers no-compromise utility.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com