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The 2013 Mazda CX-5 is the company’s first all-new crossover utility vehicle in several years. It replaces the discontinued and low-volume Mazda Tribute (a lightly modified old-style Ford Escape) and the CX-7, which is slightly larger but has no more interior room and considerably worse gas mileage.
Aimed right at the heart of the compact utility market, the new CX-5 offers an attractive alternative to the perennial best-sellers—the new 2013 Ford Escape, the redesigned 2012 Honda CR-V, and the Toyota RAV4 and Chevrolet Equinox, which have been with us now for a few years.
In its favor, the CX-5 is stylish, capacious, handles beautifully, and should return some of the highest gas mileage figures in the category. Its notable drawback is that the fuel economy comes at the expense of power—in some circumstances, there’s just not quite enough oomph there to be competitive.
The CX-5's lines are typically Mazda, with expressive design, large wheel arches, and a rising window line. Up front, however, Mazda has thankfully ditched the grinning "smile" look for a handsome trapezoidal grille shape. Inside, the look is businesslike, with restrained silver trim and sporty red piping on the high-level leather seats.The car is sensitive to colors, though, with lighter shades accenting the height of its doors and darker tones making it lower and sportier.
The 2013 Mazda CX-5 comes with only a single engine, a new 155-hp 2.0-liter four offered with either a six-speed manual gearbox (in front-wheel drive only) or a six-speed automatic (which can be ordered with all-wheel drive as well). The entire powertrain is tuned for maximum efficiency, as is the vehicle design, the first Mazda to be completely designed under the company's SkyActiv philosophy of maximum efficiency from every component and feature.
The fuel efficiency is remarkable for a vehicle this size--EPA combined ratings are 28 mpg with all-wheel drive, 29 mpg for front drive--and we saw 27.4 mpg on a 350-mile road test of about two-thirds highway mileage. But the transmission is strongly biased toward low engine speeds, and to get performance out of it, drivers must accelerate hard and the transmission usually has to be downshifted not once but twice.
That said, we found the CX-5 to be simply the best handling crossover we've driven. Mazda demonstrated its pride in the roadholding by inviting journalists to take the CX-5 around the notorious Laguna Seca racetrack, where it acquitted itself admirably. If you've come out of a sports sedan or a hot hatch and are moving up to a compact crossover, this is the one for you.
Inside, the seats are comfortable and well-bolstered up front, and there's plenty of room in the back seat for even 6-foot adults. The load floor is long and flat, with a clever folding arrangement for the 40/20/40 split rear seat. And the CX-5 is quiet under most circumstances--though hard acceleration and engine revving bring out more engine noise than we'd expected.
The CX-5 comes in three trim levels: Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring. The base Sport starts at $20,695 (plus a mandatory $795 delivery fee), and the highest level Grand Touring with navigation and other options runs just above $30,000--a good price against some other competitors.