2013 Mazda CX-5: First drive review
Mazda infuses fun into a segment known for bland compromise.
The battle for supremacy in the hotly contested compact SUV and crossover market has been a three-vehicle skirmish between the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. But another promising contender has entered the compact SUV arena this year: the 2013 Mazda CX-5.
The new Mazda boasts all the right stuff to be a game-changer in the segment — distinctive looks, spaciousness, technology and efficiency — not to mention it's a hoot to drive.
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For the most part, the Mazda CX-5 is your standard compact SUV, with four doors, a rear hatch and seating for five. There is nothing surprising about its layout. What is surprising, however, is how much style and personality Mazda has managed to squeeze into this new car.
It comes in three trim levels — Sport, Touring and Grand Touring — each with front- or all-wheel drive and a manual or automatic transmission. The CX-5 is priced competitively, starting at $20,995 and ranging up to $28,595.
The Sport trim comes well equipped, with features such as cruise control, power windows and locks, AM/FM/CD stereo with USB port for MP3 players, push-button starting, and 17-inch alloy wheels. The Grand Touring adds a 5.8-inch dashboard display with a rearview camera, Bluetooth connectivity, HD radio, and a blind-spot monitoring system. The Grand Touring gets leather upholstery, heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, sunroof, Bose audio, satellite radio, and 19-inch wheels.
Notable options include a TomTom navigation system, keyless entry, adaptive HID headlights that point into turns, and a universal garage-door opener.
Under the Hood
The CX-5 comes with Mazda's new 2-liter 4-cylinder SkyActiv-G engine. It is Mazda's current pride and joy, boasting hybridlike fuel economy without compromising value or performance. Thanks to direct fuel injection and an extremely high cylinder-compression ratio of 13.1:1, the engine produces 155 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque, yet still returns an estimated fuel economy of up to 26 mpg city/33 mpg highway.
Connecting this mill to the CX-5's wheels is the equally interesting 6-speed SkyActiv-Drive automatic transmission. This gearbox blends automatic and manual in a whole new way: it uses a traditional automatic torque converter up to 5 mph, at which point it switches to a manual-style clutch for gear changes. The idea is that this automatic will produce a more direct, engaging driving experience — that is, like a manual transmission — once up and moving. That said, a traditional 6-speed manual with a short-throw shifter is also available, at least with front-wheel-drive versions.
The cabin of the CX-5 is more than adequate for an entry-level SUV and fulfills the primary criteria of its target audience quite well. It's impressively quiet, roomy, and reasonably stylish.
It is only available in two flavors, though — black or beige — and suffers from the "piano black" accents that seem to be plaguing so many cars nowadays. While they sound like a great touch in theory, the accents almost always turn out looking like a cheap gimmick in practice. That aside, the rest of the interior is cleanly designed, well made, and carries an air of solidness that's downright refreshing for this segment.
While the CX-5 is available with most of the tech features you'd now expect of modern cars (premium audio, Bluetooth and the like), that's also where things start to head south. The available navigation system is simply subpar, lacking in common features and unintuitive.