There’s no getting past it: The 2013 Mazda CX-5 may be the best drive of any compact crossover. Mazda engineers spent a great deal of time working on linear control feel, and it shows. The CX-5 is sure-footed enough that drivers can end up traveling 15 mph faster than they realize. It corners flat and its acceleration, braking, and handling all feel thoroughly integrated and reassuringly predictable—so much so that it’s hard to find anything to say except that they’re just right.
As the sportiest compact crossover on the market, the 2013 Mazda CX-5 handles well but rides firmly. The ride quality can get busy and nervous on a few road surfaces, and firm to choppy over freeway expansion joints, but those conditions only occur on a small number of roads, and overall the Mazda crossover feels solid and reassuring.
The CX-5 is fitted with a 155-horsepower 2.0-liter engine that produces 150 lb-ft of torque and features a 13:1 combustion ratio, the highest of any gasoline engine on sale in the U.S. The engine is paired with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic, with all-wheel drive offered in every trim level. The company says it expects about 10 percent of CX-5 buyers to opt for the manual.
The major drawback to the CX-5 is that it feels underpowered in situations where more power means safer driving. Uphill freeway on-ramps, for instance, require thought and pre-planning, and it’s still a game to wring enough power out of the engine to keep up with traffic. Mazda quotes 0-to-60-mph acceleration times of 8.8 seconds (for the six-speed manual) to 9.3 seconds (for the all-wheel-drive model).
Mazda has tuned its automatic to match revs carefully on shifts, so while it sounds almost like the engine noise slurs temporarily during shifts, there’s no jolt whatsoever when the power re-engages. The manual mode on the automatic holds the designated gear indefinitely, unlike most other cars, which revert to automatic after a set period of time. Novice drivers will have to get accustomed to pushing the lever forward to downshift, back to upshift—the reverse of the usual setup, but one which Mazda feels very strongly is “the right way” to set it up.
Despite a fairly flat torque curve, the engine is most powerful above 3000 rpm, so making it sing is the best way to accelerate swiftly. Whether that’s how crossover buyers want to drive is another question.
The new CX-5 is the first complete Mazda to incorporate “SkyActiv” technologies, in which every component of the vehicle is designed to be as lightweight and high efficiency as possible. This sounds like simple stuff, but Mazda expects to get some of the highest fuel-economy ratings in the class without resorting to turbocharging, hybrids, or any of the other pricey ways carmakers can boost mileage.
Instead, the engine has a large and complex 4-into-2-into-1 exhaust manifold that improves combustion efficiency but requires the engine compartment to be designed around it, and every component is lightened. The CX-5’s curb weight varies from 3210 to 3430 pounds, lighter than most competitors, and it quotes a drag coefficient of 0.33, low for a crossover.