2013 Mazda CX-5
Base price: $21,470 – $27,840
As tested: $27,840
MPG: 26 city/35 highway (two-wheel drive, manual transmission)
- Sweet ride, drive, handling
- Attractive style, roomy, well built
- Top Pick safety rating
- Needs more horsepower
By Jim Prueter
Mazda jumped into the highly competitive small crossover SUV ring with the reigning champion, the Chevrolet Equinox, and freshly redesigned competitors that include the new Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, and Kia Sportage.
In dealer showrooms since February, the CX-5 is Mazda’s first all-new-from-the-ground-up crossover utility in several years and replaces the discontinued Mazda Tribute, a thinly disguised Ford Escape.
The CX-5 is slightly smaller than Mazda’s mid-size CX-7, which has no more interior room and considerably worse gas mileage. The CX-5 also bears no resemblance to the CX-7 and larger CX-9. Plus, it’s a much lighter vehicle, helping with fuel economy.
Absent the swoopy lines of the CX-7 and CX-9, the CX-5 also foregoes the grinning maw grille in favor of an attractive and vertical trapezoidal one. It’s part of Mazda’s new “Kodo” design that we anticipate will become the face of future Mazda products.
Inside, the cabin is attractive, with high-quality soft-touch materials replacing the hard plastic that’s common on most others in the class. Piano black stretches across the lower part of the instrument panel along with some silver-trimmed accents on the console and doors. Seats are comfortable and well bolstered up front, with ample adjustments to fit most drivers. Even in our sunroof-equipped test car, headroom was excellent.
The back seat has belts for three passengers but seems too small for an adult to fit in the middle position. The CX-5 has a clever 40/20/40 split folding rear seats that become completely flat. Even with two rear passengers, the center section can fold down to haul long cargo such as skis or golf clubs.
The CX-5 is also the first vehicle from Mazda to get the full-blown SkyActiv technology. We first sampled this technology when we tested the 2012 Mazda3 last year.
SkyActiv is Mazda’s name for a host of features that boost fuel economy by employing a very high 13:1 compression ratio engine, resulting in more power while allowing the vehicle to operate on regular unleaded fuel. Mazda points out that the compression ratio is higher than a Ferrari 458 Italia (12.5:1). Know, however, that similarities between the two vehicles end there.
The only engine for all CX-5 models is a new 155-horsepower 2.0-liter. That’s noticeably less horsepower than the CR-V’s 185 and the least in its class. The new Escape bests it with 168 horsepower in its base model. The benefit, however, is the best highway fuel economy (35 mpg) of any SUV sold in North America.
Mazda also uses a six-speed SkyActiv Drive automatic transmission. This means drivers will notice smooth starts and a less mechanical feel than experienced in the increasingly popular dry-clutch automatic transmissions. Mazda also offers a six-speed manual shifter in front-wheel drive models.
What we liked best about the all-new CX-5 is how it drove. We found it to be one of the best, if not the best, handling crossover we’ve taken for a spin. Mazda engineers obviously did their homework and built a vehicle that exhibits minimal body lean and composed handling over rough road surfaces, bumps, potholes, and unpaved roads.
Our biggest gripe with the CX-5 has to do with the engine. In almost every driving situation, we wished for more horsepower. It isn’t as slow as the 4-cylinder Chevrolet Equinox we tested, but gearing is long (to maximize fuel economy), which robs the vehicle of any chance to accelerate quickly. It’s the very antithesis of Mazda’s long time “Zoom-Zoom” marketing slogan.
The CX-5 is available in three flavors: Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring. The base Sport starts at $21,470, including delivery fee. We tested a well-equipped Grand Touring front-wheel-drive model with no options that listed at $27,840, including delivery. Standard features on our test CX-5 included niceties such as 19-inch alloy wheels, heated power mirrors with turn lamps, privacy glass, a power moonroof, a tilting-telescoping steering column, heated leather seats, a blind-spot monitoring system, a 5.8-inch color display with rear back up camera, and push-button starting.
Standard safety gear includes stability and traction control, hill launch assist, and front, side, and side curtain airbags. The CX-5 earned a Top Safety Pick by scoring the highest possible “Good” in all categories from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. As of this writing, it has not been tested by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.
Overall, the CX-5 is an excellent addition to the competitive compact SUV class and is worth a test drive. The CX-5 is covered by a 36-month/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty and a 60-month/60,000-mile powertrain warranty.