New & Used Mazda CX-5: In Depth
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The Mazda CX-5 is a compact, sporty crossover that’s new for 2013. It replaces the CX-7 in the Mazda lineup, and it has enough space to fit five adults plus their luggage with comfort. It has optional four-wheel drive and competes with the Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, and the Honda CR-V.
For more details on the full CX-5 range, see our full review of the 2014 Mazda CX-5.
It's a handsome and practical crossover utility vehicle that offers better-than-average space and flexibility inside, married to excellent roadholding and surprisingly high gas mileage in real-world usage. The tradeoff is some loss of power under maximum acceleration with the standard engine, but a new and more powerful 2.5-liter engine in Touring and Grand Touring models finally gives it the acceleration to match its athletic handling.
The Mazda CX-5 is the very first Mazda designed to utilize what the company calls its SkyActiv design principles. In essence, that means the entire vehicle is optimized around a single, highly efficient engine. Despite the roominess inside, this compact crossover is powered by only a 155-horsepower 2.0-liter four, producing 150 lb-ft of torque, which can be ordered either with a six-speed manual gearbox or a six-speed automatic. If you want all-wheel drive, you can get it with any trim level--which we applaud--but only with the automatic transmission.
From the outside, the CX-5's lines are typically Mazda. The styling marries a swoopy profile and strong accent lines to a restrained but still aggressive trapezoidal grille and relatively slim headlamps that are swept back into the fenders. It's a sporty look for a crossover, though rear three-quarter vision is hurt by the rising beltline and tiny triangular third window on each side. And it's a shape surprisingly sensitive to color choice. Certain shades--dark grey is one--belie the crossover's body height and make it look almost svelte, though others show the tall doors all too plainly.
It's the superb handling that sets the CX-5 apart from any other compact crossovers. You could almost think of it as a very large hot hatch with a small engine; while it may be a family vehicle, it drives almost like a sports sedan. The cornering is flat, it steers neutrally with excellent feedback from the electric power steering, and the CX-5 generally grips to the point where you can find yourself going through turns 15 mph faster than you think. This is the crossover for parents leery of losing all driving pleasure when they have to cave in and buy a family vehicle.
Inside, the driver sits high, but not as high as in some competitors. Mazda says seat height is exactly halfway between a standard sedan and the typical crossover, which we think is a good compromise. The dashboard is straightforward and handsome, with soft-touch materials on most surfaces. Seats are comfortable and there's a lot of rear legroom with the front seats positioned for six-foot occupants. The load deck is surprisingly large, and a clever articulated seat mechanism moves the rear-seat cushion forward and down when the seatback is folded forward--giving a lengthy and completely flat load floor.
The SkyActiv powertrain delivers remarkable fuel efficiency. Both front-wheel drive versions are EPA-rated at 29 mpg, with the all-wheel drive model (automatic only) dropping to 28 mpg. But we did much better than that, as Mazda quietly says many drivers will. Over a weekend road test, our all-wheel drive CX-5 delivered 33 mpg. The downside of the small engine and high efficiency, though is that in circumstances where sudden power is needed, the driver has to floor the accelerator and downshift two or even three gears--or wait for the automatic to do it. The power is there in most cases, but the CX-5 can be reluctant to give it up.
Mazda offers three trim levels: the base Sport, the mid-level Touring (which Mazda says will provide the bulk of CX-5 sales), and the high-end Grand Touring. Prices start at $20,695 plus delivery, a relatively low figure for a capacious crossover with this much fun-to-drive quotient.
The CX-5 comes with only six airbags, but it has already been named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives it four stars out of five overall, with four stars on the frontal and rear crash safety tests, and five stars on side impact. The CX-5 has the usual suite of electronic safety systems, and particularly good forward visibility--regrettably offset by particularly bad rear three-quarter visibility. While a blind-spot notification system and a reversing camera are optional on higher trim levels, this is one car where we think they should be standard on all models.
Changes in the 2014 Mazda CX-5 were few but very significant. Most notably, the automaker subbed a 184-hp, 2.5-liter SkyActiv four into Touring and Grand Touring trims, while a 2.0-liter remained standard on CX-5 Sport models. The 2.5-liter models shaved about a second off the 0-60 mph dash yet lost only 1 mpg in the EPA Combined ratings--and they helped make the most of these models' excellent handling. Otherwise for 2014 the Tech Package got Smart City Brake Support, a feature that will automatically brake the vehicle for hazards, at speeds from 4 to 19 mph.