There are many great little crossovers roaming America’s freeways. So many, it may be difficult to tell the difference between that stylish little Korean ride and the flashy American one.
Combining the reliability of Japanese benchmarks and the attitude of a Miata on steroids is the Mazda CX-5. Its emotional style plants a big kiss on crossovers.
Engineers and designers cleverly included a fair amount of technology without ruining the sporty atmosphere.
“The 2013 CX-5 is the vehicle compact SUV shoppers have been asking for—that only Mazda can build,” said Jim O’Sullivan, president and CEO, Mazda North American Operations.
“Poised to join a fast-growing and increasingly competitive segment, the all-new CX-5 offers more than just flash and features,” O’Sullivan continued.
“Consumers also receive the performance and driving dynamics that have become synonymous with the Mazda brand. With its SKYACTIV underpinnings and best-in-class fuel economy, CX-5 proves that ‘fun’ needn’t be sacrificed for efficiency and that ‘compact’ doesn’t mean compromise.”
Mazda has launched several attacks at the SUV market, most of them Ford-based.
Up first was the Navajo, a two-door clone of the Ford Explorer. Then there was the Tribute crossover that was little more than an Escape with sportier trim. The CX-7 was sporty, but expensive. Even pricier is the CX-9, a very nice three-row crossover more aimed at families than 20-somethings or empty-nesters.
I think the CX-5 may be the best combination of style and substance Mazda has yet unleashed for crossover intenders.
A Sporty Machine
Borrowing styling cues from the RX-8, Miata, and Mazda3, the little crossover is one sporty machine.
Mazda’s trademark five-point grille is big and proud, accented by a black plastic eyebrow with integral logo. Falcon eye clear lens headlamps look angry enough to sink the lower facia foglamps and faux-splitter into the wind.
5-passenger AWD crossover
Powertrain: 155-hp 2.0-litre I4
6-speed auto trans
Suspension f/r: Ind/Ind
Wheels: 19”/19” f/r
Brakes: disc/disc fr/rr with ABS
Must-have features: Style, handling
Manufacturing: Hiroshima, Japan
Fuel economy (city/hwy.): 25/31 MPG
As-tested price: $30,415
Nature-inspired body carvings imply motion while gray lower body cladding and 19” alloys make the vehicle look shorter and more agile than it actually is. Nice styling work. Around back, edgy wrap-around tail lamps give the wagon an upscale European finish.
The CX-5’s interior isn’t as fashion-forward as some of its rivals, but that wasn’t the point. As the “Miata of compact crossovers,” everything is simple to keep focus on the driving experience.
Large analog gauges, near-perfect leather-wrapped three-point steering wheel, and grippy heated leather seats are the opening salvo. A firm Mercedes-style notched gear selector, plastic ebony trim across the dash, and padding in all the right places give the impression of quality.
Relatively roomy back seats, large console, deep cupholders, and a cavernous rear add practicality.
However, engineers and designers cleverly included a fair amount of technology without ruining the sporty atmosphere. A touchscreen in the upper dash controls audio and navigation while the dual-zone automatic climate control is activated by knobs and buttons in the lower center stack.
Bluetooth, USB connection for MP3 players, sunroof, backing camera, and thumping Bose speakers are available.
Under the Hood
Under the stylish hood is a 2.0-litre SKYACTIV 4-cylinder engine that delivers 155 hp and 150 lb-ft of torque. Front-drive is standard, all-wheel-drive optional. Our test vehicle came with a smooth-shifting 6-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode.
Despite a robust powertrain, the CX-5 feels a little pudgy when you step on the gas. Zoom zoom, it is not. On the plus side, fuel economy is rated 25/31-MPG city/hwy.
To be fair, the ponderous acceleration is at least partly to conserve fuel. The transmission shifts into a higher gear earlier to reduce engine revs and put pennies back in the bank. All-wheel-drive provides sure footing, but adds weight. It’s a balance. Step into the throttle harder, and the CX-5 wakes up.
The best part of driving the vehicle is its chassis with a firm four-wheel independent suspension system, four-wheel disc brakes, electrically-boosted power steering, and a stiff body structure that absorbs rough roads without drama.
The compact crossover market is red hot. These vehicles can do everything without compromising fuel economy or car-like handling. There are a lot of choices, but I would not buy a crossover without first driving the Mazda CX-5. It is not the most flamboyant, but it still deserves a little kiss.
An as-tested price of $30,415 puts it against the Ford Escape, Chevy Equinox, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Compass, and Honda CR-V.
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