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The 2014 Mazda CX-5 is one of the few crossovers that offers its driver the handling and feel of a sport wagon. Now in its second year, the CX-5 replaced two older models: the slightly larger CX-7 and the old Tribute (a lightly modified previous-generation Ford Escape).
The CX-5 is aimed right at the heart of the compact crossover market--and at vehicles like the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, and Toyota RAV4. These compact crossovers have captured a large portion of the American vehicle market, and it's easy to see why. They combine the parking footprint of a compact sedan with a versatile layout, plenty of features, and enough safety for concerned parents.
In the 2014 Mazda CX-5, in addition to the 155-hp 2.0-liter four, still 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) on Sport models, Touring and Grand Touring models now get a new 184-hp, 2.5-liter four. The new engine is only offered with the automatic, but in either case the entire powertrain and vehicle are tuned for maximum efficiency, under the company's SkyActiv initiative.
For this kind of vehicle, the gas mileage is great. The EPA rating for the base Sport with a manual gearbox is a best-in-class 35 mpg on the highway, and the new 2.5-liter models lose only about 1 mpg combined, with those automatic versions still getting 25/32 with all-wheel drive.
Key to that efficiency, in part, is that the transmission is so willing and well-matched, with very little slip, very quick upshifts and downshifts, and the smarts to hitch onto a higher gear when the revs aren't needed, to reap better efficiency. Otherwise, we've found the CX-5 to be the best handling crossover we've driven. If you've come out of a sports sedan or a hot hatch and are moving up to a compact crossover, this is probably the way to go.
Driving enjoyment gets a little more emphasis in the CX-5 than it does in other models in this class--as is the case with most Mazda models. But for 2014, the automaker has addressed one common complaint with the 2013 model: It handles so well and hits all the right marks otherwise in driving enjoyment, but it could use more pep.
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.
For the most part, the CX-5 is pleasingly versatile, and its front seats are probably the best-bolstered you'll find in this kind of vehicle; there's good seating space in back, too. But this is one of the more compact models in the class, and its cargo floor is a bit higher than rival models it seems (perhaps due to the presence of a spare tire). The load floor is long and flat, and for the most part (save for some engine noise occasionally), the CX-5 has a quiet, refined interior.
New for this year is a Smart City Brake Support feature that can automatically brake in some cases at up to 19 mph. With top ratings from both agencies (including IIHS Top Safety Pick+ status) the CX-5 is a perfect '10' for safety.
CX-5 Sport models all come with the 2.0-liter engine, while Touring and Grand Touring models step up to the 2.5-liter engine. Touring models get the Blind Spot Monitor system, upgraded audio, fog lamps, rear cupholders (and an armrest), a rearview camera, steering-wheel controls, and upgraded upholstery, while top-of-the-line CX-5 Grand Touring models get leather upholstery, nine-speaker Bose audio, dual-zone climate control, a power driver seat, front heated seats, and Sirius satellite radio. However the navigation and touch-screen system remains a disappointment, with its rather sluggish responses and odd menus.