Mazda has a lot of catching up to do in the compact-crossover-SUV game. General Motors, Kia, Hyundai, Ford Motor Co. and leading Japanese automakers have been perfecting this genre for several years, while Mazda has been selling a model called the Tribute that’s based on the Ford Escape. But Mazda aficionados, appreciative of the brand’s refinement, high value quotient and superior driving qualities, will find the CX-5 to be worth the wait.
Drivers seeking exceptional fuel economy, versatility and driving enjoyment could do worse than to narrow their field to the CX-5 and the Mitsubishi Outlander. While our Liquid Silver Metallic CX-5 test car was a bare-bones Sport model with no options, it delivered an enjoyable driving experience at the right price: $21,490.
New for 2013, the CX-5 features Mazda’s SKYACTIV technology, a designation that applies to new-generation engines, chassis and bodies. It is smaller and more fuel-efficient than Mazda’s midsize CX-7 and large CX-9. Equipped with a 6-speed stick shift and 155-horsepower, 4-cylinder engine — the only one offered across the CX-5’s three-tier trim range — our test car averaged 34 mpg in mostly highway driving. The CX-5 is available with a 6-speed automatic and all-wheel drive; our test car had front-wheel drive.
The CX-5 has the upswept lines and blunt nose of a conventional compact SUV, but it also has a comparatively long hood, apparently inspired by the much larger Infiniti FX series. This design implies power and performance, and while the power numbers may seem puny, the CX-5 steps out smartly. Road feel and high-speed cornering ability are as good as it gets in this segment.
The base Sport model comes with tilt and telescopic steering column, audio and cruise controls on the steering wheel, power locks and windows, keyless ignition, 4-wheel disc brakes, independent front and rear suspension, halogen headlights, and traction and stability control. Prices range upward to $27,045 for the Grand Touring model, which includes such desirable features as all-wheel drive, automatic transmission, satellite radio, leather upholstery, and power heated front seats.
One of the CX-5’s major strengths is its roomy cabin. Even the back seat is spacious enough for tall passengers. The CX-5 also boasts an impressive 34 cubic feet of cargo space with all of the seats upright, 65 when they’re folded down — and the surface is nearly perfectly level. Curiously, there is no cargo compartment light. In front, controls are fairly large, simple to operate and intuitive.
Reliability data on this new model are unavailable. Other Mazdas provide better-than-average reliability, according to Consumer Reports magazine owner surveys. Safety is one of the CX-5’s strong suits; it has been rated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The CX-5 has been a solid performer for Mazda since its introduction for the 2013 model year. Mazda announced in July that it would increase production from 200,000 units to 240,000 in its Hiroshima, Japan, plant to accommodate worldwide demand.
Steven Macoy (email@example.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.
Engine: 2.0-liter inline Four, 155 horsepower, 150 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Drive: Front-wheel Weight: 3,208 lb.
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
Ground clearance: 8.5 inches
Wheels: 17×7-inch alloy
Tires: P225/65R17 all-season
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 34.1 cu. ft.
Maximum cargo capacity: 64.8 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 14.8 gallons
Fuel economy: 26 mpg city, 35 mpg highway
Fuel type: Regular