Mazda introduced us to the new CX-5 crossover at the 2011 LA Auto Show, and it was well received. The vehicle was also riding the confusing wave of Mazda’s SkyActiv technology, a nebulous efficiency concept that involves a vehicle’s engine, transmission and even chassis to realize superior efficiency while retaining drivability. Though there are plenty of folks that couldn’t tell you what SkyActiv means (blame Mazda’s marketing agency for that), it has been proven to work, posting stellar fuel efficiency numbers and great driving dynamics. Until we met the CX-5 in person, that is.
The first one was a revelation in driving for a small crossover – until you put the hammer down. The 2.0-litre SkyActiv engine was a turd, and such an obvious shortcoming in what was otherwise a great vehicle, that Mazda responded. To that end, I spent a week in the current CX-5, which retains all of the original model’s greatness, and makes small but highly effective changes under the hood.
2013 Mazda CX-5
Base price (GT trim): $33,250
Options: $1795 GT Technology Package (Smart City Brake Support, Bi-Xenon adaptive and self-leveling headlights, navigation, SiriusXM radio)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $36,840
Under the Hood
Let’s get to the good news first. Mazda now puts this bigger 2.5-litre 4-cylinder SkyActiv engine in its mid- and upper-range trims, thank goodness. It puts out 184 horsepower at 5700 RPM and 185 lb.ft of torque at 4000 RPM. The numbers don’t seem monumentally more than the original engine’s but they are. Trust me.
The power makes its way through a 6-speed automatic to all four corners – the all-wheel drive system features an active torque splitting system as well. It’s not as light as I would have thought, weighing in at 1604 kg (3536 pounds).
Fuel economy remains great – it’s rated at 8.5 L/100 km (28 mpg) in the city and 6.6 L/100 km (36 mpg) on the highway. I averaged 9.6 L/100 km (25 mpg) during my week, driving it harder than I typically do. You’ll find out why in a moment. The tank holds 58 litres and it sips regular fuel.
So, why did I drive it harder than I might the typical review vehicle? Because bar none, the CX-5 is the most fun I’ve had in a small crossover. One thing you’ll notice right away is that you have a very high seating position which gives you a great view of the road. You’ll also feel the height as you push the vehicle during spirited driving.
First of all, the lack of power that I was so heavily disappointed in in the original CX-5 has been resolved – for the most part. Off the line, it moves smartly and for any typical driving, it has enough power to do whatever you want. When you stand on it and continue accelerating, you’ll notice it runs out of breath a bit, but it’s not horribly slow like it used to be, and that’s enough for me. Obviously a 185 horsepower crossover is not going to be as fast as a 250 horsepower crossover, but the CX-5 absolutely holds its own now. I wasn’t too fond of the sounds the 4-cylinder makes. It’s a bit clattery when it’s cold, which I’ve come to expect from most direct injection engines, but it doesn’t make a very inspired snarl when you get on it.
The CX-5’s automatic transmission is smooth and efficient. I felt it was almost always in the right gear, which is nice when the vehicle doesn’t have a ton of power. You can shift it manually using gear selector, and the shifts are actually quite quick.
What hasn’t changed is the handling. To say the handling on the CX-5 is amazing is an understatement. It never ceased to impress me for the entire week. It practically invites you to play, and will hang on to the pavement beautifully. Throw it into a gentle curve – no problem. Bite hard into a city corner, and it doesn’t complain. No tire squeal, no hesitation, no horrifying understeer. It just rotates perfectly into the turn, remaining very flat (for a crossover) and it never gets nervous either. The steering is very well weighted. I always felt as though I wanted to drive it faster than normal, because it has a playful nature and all its moves are competent, balanced and truly enjoyable. It feels weird to call a crossover a true joy to drive. But that is the case here.
The ride is firm, but not too firm and it’s great on highway as it smooths out nicely. Visibility out of the vehicle is very good, except for the big fat rear pillars getting in the way of shoulder checking. Of course, the blind spot monitoring helps here. I found the brakes to be powerful and effective. The CX-5 is quiet enough, but there is a bit of road noise and some wind noise from the A-pillars at highway speeds.
The CX-5 could actually tow a little something – if you have to, it’s rated to tow a maximum of 2000 pounds.
Though it’ll still blend into a crowd, I think the CX-5 is the best-designed small crossover right now. The front end styling is strong, with its longer hood and A-pillars set back farther than expected. I like the upright grille that Mazda is going with these days and the swept-back headlight pods with the little LED strips are distinctive enough without getting overly aggressive. The side profile, with its sharper lines, rounded fenders and rakish tailgate, looks handsome too.
I’d say the CX-5 looks really good from every angle, especially in the Sky Blue Mica color mine was in. It has a lot of character. The 19-inch rims filling the wheel wells complete the look.
One thing I have to point out is that I’m not a fan of the small exhaust tips Mazda tends to use – they look a bit gimpy.
Inside, the materials are nice, and you’ll find soft-touch plastics in most areas. Though the simple sculpting on the dash is far from exciting (or even interesting), it’s clean and it works. In addition to not being very flashy, it’s quite dark too, and occasionally felt like a pretty drab place to be.
I loved the steering wheel – it’s beautifully sculpted, thick and grippy, which adds to the driving fun. On it are controls for media, handsfree, phone, cruise control and driver information screen functions. And behind it sits a large central speedometer with a tach on the left and the driver information screen on the right – it handles information like instant and average fuel economy, fuel range, average speed and your vehicle settings.
The handsome heated leather seats with contrasting red stitching look fantastic. They’re very comfortable and offer a great amount of lateral support for sporty driving. The driver’s side is power-adjustable.
There is a small touch screen at the top of the center stack – it handles phone, navigation and audio functions. Unfortunately the screen’s small size and chunkiness of the text and graphics make it a bit of a pain to look at. The navigation is Tom-Tom based and frankly, I wasn’t too impressed.
The BOSE stereo (sources include AM, FM, satellite, USB, auxiliary, CD, Bluetooth streaming AND Pandora – phew!) sounds really good! Below it sits a dual-zone automatic climate control system. It works well, but its display is under a plastic lens which caught some glare on sunny days and made it hard to read.
The center console houses the gear selector, a traditional parking brake and dual cupholders. In terms of driver assistance technology, you get a blind spot monitoring system, adaptive front lighting and a back-up camera. Overhead is a power tilt/slide sunroof and there are three universal garage door opener buttons on the rear-view mirror. You also get keyless entry and a push-button starter.
The surprisingly roomy rear seating has three seats, each with a headrest and a seatbelt. Headroom is good, but the amount of leg room and foot room are simply amazing for a vehicle this size.
The main seats are very comfortable, but the middle seat is narrow and whoever sits there will need to straddle a large driveshaft tunnel on the floor.
There’s not a lot going on back there. You get some small door bins, two seatback map pockets and the middle seatback folds down to become an armrest with two cupholders. There’s nothing on the back of console – no air vents, no power outlets.
There are two sets of LATCH anchors in the back, and all three of our kids were very comfortable. The doors open wide to make access easy.
There’s a small but highly useful angled bin at the front of the center console – it’s perfect for quickly dropping stuff like a phone into, and it has a 12V plug. The glove compartment is reasonably sized and there’s a bin under the armrest lid. You’ll find the USB and auxiliary plugs as well as another 12V outlet there.
The real storage solution comes in the trunk, which is very large at 966 litres. The rear seats split 40/20/40 and there are remote release latches in the trunk to fold all three of the rear seat sections separately. Very cool and useful, not to mention highly flexible. Fold them all down and the space grows to a massive (for this vehicle class) 1852 litres. The trunk also has another 12V plug.
I drove the 2.0-litre CX-5 last fall and loved most things about it. Unfortunately the under-powered engine was such a turd that it was tough to see past it. A shame, since the driving experience was a great one. Mazda has addressed the biggest issue with the new 2.5-litre SkyActiv and I can truthfully say I’ve never had more fun in a small crossover.
I give the Mazda CX-5 an 8.5 out of 10 and enthusiastically recommend it for anyone shopping in this class. I would gladly drive the CX-5 on a daily basis and find it represents a good value.
WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was above average. She really liked the exterior styling and said it was “fun to drive” – take that with a grain of salt, as my wife doesn’t care much about the driving experience on a daily basis. She was very surprised at the amount of trunk space, as it easily handled a full day of shopping that she and her sister took in. She felt the interior was mostly uninspired and not a very nice place to be.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by Mazda Canada
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