- Smart, sporty styling
- Excellent steering and handling
- Great front seats
- Smooth, efficient powertrains
- Base Sport model decently equipped
- Ride can be busy on some surfaces
- Rearward vision
- Dated, sluggish navigation interface
The 2014 Mazda CX-5 is an attractive, well-designed small crossover with great gas mileage, as well as a light, athletic driving experience.
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.
2014 Mazda CX-5
The interior of the 2014 Mazda CX-5 is business-like rather than luxurious, but its svelte, modern exterior looks great from all angles.
As the first design executed under Mazda's ‘Kodo: Soul of Motion’ design philosophy, the CX-5 sets a promising direction for future products. Less overwrought than previous smile-faced Mazdas, the CX-5 has a strong but not aggressive front end with a long hood and windshield pillars set further back than other crossovers—giving it more of a sports-car profile.
The upright five-point Mazda grille and swept-back headlights are distinctive, and the side profile stands out as well. Despite its raked tailgate and deep trailing roof spoiler, the CX-5 still tends to vanish in a row of similarly proportioned crossovers.
Calm and business-like is the way of this functional and attractive interior—which isn't nearly as overdesigned as some competitors’ dashboards, and that's both a pro and a con. The only down side of this design is at the center stack, where a lens over the climate controls can gather reflections during daytime driving--although it works better with the more upright look here than in the 2014 Mazda 6 sedan, which has a similar layout.
Mazda’s color palette remains stunningly basic: two reds, two blues, two whites, silver, gray, and black. The dash and center stack are black, surfaced in soft-touch plastics, with either black or “sand” beige upholstery (in cloth or leather), the latter providing a nice two-tone interior.
Instrument faces are some of the simplest we’ve seen, with black needles, black backgrounds, and white numbers. The ridiculous 160-mph speedometer aside, they work well.
2014 Mazda CX-5
Steering and handling are better in the 2014 CX-5 than anything else in this class--and this year there's more power in Touring and Grand Touring models to do the setup justice.
We think the Mazda CX-5 is the best-driving of the compact crossovers--especially if you value handling--and this year it's become even better.
The CX-5 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.
There was, admittedly, one fault with last year's CX-5; when equipped with the automatic transmission, it felt a little sluggish when you loaded it up with people or took on hilly terrain. That engine, 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.) is still around this year on Sport models, but on Touring and Grand Touring models there's a new 2.5-liter version, making 184 hp and 185 lb-ft. The new engine is paired only with the six-speed automatic, and all-wheel drive can only be had with the automatic transmission but it's offered in every trim level.
The all-new six-speed automatic transmission plays a major role in making the most of the new engine's smooth, willing character. It launches with little slip, then makes a near-instant 1-2 shift about as quickly as a dual-clutch unit. There's a manual gate for the shifter, with quick response. The only complaint here is that under full throttle, even in the manual gate, it still forces you to the lowest possible gear available at that speed. Otherwise, simply put, this transmission does everything right, downshifting right away, whenever revs are needed for more pep, but keeps them down whenever it can for better fuel-efficiency.
The major drawback to the CX-5 Sport with the smaller engine is that it takes revs to wring enough power out of the engine, and despite quick downshifts the automatic transmission tends to rush up to higher gears. 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) with the smaller engine, and that improves to the low-eight-second range with the larger engine and automatic.
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. Our issue with this setup is that a pressing the accelerator to the floor, even when you're in the manual gate, still forces a downshift to the lowest available gear.
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.
The suspension loads up more like that of a sport wagon than that of a crossover—and there's no sudden unloading out of corners or between transitions as in some other taller vehicles. While the suspension is nicely tuned, the steering we'll call pretty much perfect—and by far the best in this class. The ratio is quick; it's well-weighted; and overall, it has a precise feel that's better even than many other compact and mid-size sedans.
2014 Mazda CX-5
Comfort & Quality
Good seats and an almost perfect driving position will win friends, although the ride quality can be busy.
The 2014 Mazda CX-5 is about the same size as most models in the compact crossover class--including vehicles like the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, and Toyota RAV4. While the CX-5 doesn't feel like it makes the most efficient use of its exterior footprint (that award would definitely go to the cavernous Mazda 5 wagon/van), the CX-5 boasts great seats, a versatile interior, and decent ride quality and cabin refinement.
Most will find the seating, and the seating position, about ideal. It's halfway between that of a car and a sport-utility, and high enough for good visibility and confidence, but low enough so occupants don’t have to step up but can simply swing themselves in through the opening. The seats themselves are comfortable both front and rear, with good bolstering in front to hold occupants in place. Hollowed-out seat backs in the front give enough rear-seat legroom for four six-foot adults to sit comfortably without contortions. Mazda says rear-seat legroom is the best in the class, though we don't feel like the front seats go back quite as far as they do in other models and that may have something to do with it.
The interiors include a handsome soft-touch dashboard top surface, and otherwise upholsteries and trims are typical for the price. We like how the shift lever is in just the right place for most arms, and there's a bottom-hinged accelerator pedal that helps cut foot fatigue on longer trips. A cell phone fits into the arm-rest recess, which has a rubber mat at the bottom, and there’s a console bin, a sunglasses holder, and another flat tray at the front of the console.
Liftover height is typical for the class--quite low and uninterrupted, but the cargo floor is maybe a bit higher than you might expect for such a vehicle; that's perhaps related to the presence of a spare. Single-pull releases for the 40-20-40 split rear seat-back cushions are standard in the cargo area, though the system (which moves the rear seat cushion forward and down) requires the rear headrests to be removed first. On the other hand, Mazda provides two dished trays outboard of the load area into which those headrests fit neatly—a very nice touch we wish every maker would copy.
Noise is well suppressed until the engine has to rev—which it will do often to move the car along expeditiously—and at higher speeds, it’s quiet enough inside that wind noise from mirrors is apparent. It’s particularly silent at idle, when a glance at the tachometer may be needed to see if the engine is running.
As the sportiest compact crossover on the market, the CX-5 has a quite firm ride. We wouldn't call it harsh, but it can get busy, or jiggly, on choppy two-laners; otherwise it's solid and reassuring. And it all pays off, of course, as soon as the road turns twisty.
2014 Mazda CX-5
Rearward vision in the 2014 Mazda CX-5 isn't great, but it's a superstar in all other safety respects, with truly top-notch ratings from both agencies.
The 2014 Mazda CX-5 is built on a completely new structure, somewhat shared with the 2014 Mazda6, and it was strengthened with more high-strength steel as well as reengineered for better occupant safety.
And for that, it does very well. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the CX-5 its highest ratings of "Good" for frontal offset and side impact crash tests, for roof strength, and for rear crash protection—as well as in the new, more stringent small overlap frontal test. The IIHS also designated the CX-5 a "Top Safety Pick+" on the merits of those top-notch scores. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has given the CX-5 five stars overall, with a top five-star rating for side impact, as well as in the side-pole test.
The CX-5 has the usual complement of electronic aids, including stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes, and other safety control systems. And its handling is so predictable that we expect more drivers than usual simply to drive around or away from potential dangers. Although the 2014 CX-5 has fewer airbags than some of its rivals, it does have several noteworthy active-safety options--including side blind spot alert system for Touring and Grand Touring trims, as well as a new Smart City Brake Support—newly wrapped into the Tech package—that will automatically brake the vehicle for hazards at speeds ranging from 4 to 19 mph.
Rear quarter vision is as bad as the front visibility is good. Over their shoulders, drivers will see only gigantic blind spots on the corners, with the small triangular windows offering little help. We think that for all but the tallest drivers, perhaps, the rearview camera that you get in Touring and Grand Touring models is a necessity.
2014 Mazda CX-5
The base 2014 Mazda CX-5 Sport is a great deal if you get the manual transmission, but the infotainment interface leaves lots to be desired.
The 2013 Mazda CX-5 comes in three trim levels: the base Sport, the mid-level Touring (which is expected to make up the bulk of sales), and the luxurious Grand Touring. To Mazda’s credit, it offers all-wheel drive on all three models. 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.
The Sport includes a tilting and telescoping steering wheel with audio controls, remote keyless entry, a Start button, power windows and doors, and 17-inch alloy wheels (on the automatic model). An optional Bluetooth package for the Sport only adds Bluetooth pairing, an in-dash color monitor, HD radio, and Bluetooth controls on the steering wheel. Step up to the Touring, and in addition to the 2.5-liter engine you get a six-way power driver’s seat, blind-spot monitoring, a 5.8-inch in-dash touch screen with a reversing camera, HD radio, Bluetooth phone and audio pairing, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. Then at the top of the lineup, the Grand Touring offers larger 19-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, an eight-way power driver’s seat with lumbar support, heated front seats, the nine-speaker Bose audio system and power moonroof as standard, rain-sensing wipers, and auto-on/off headlights.
Options are limited to a Bluetooth Audio Package on the Sport; a Bose sound and moonroof package on the Touring, and Technology packages on the Touring and Grand Touring—as well as a few other a la carte options such as remote start and rear parking sensors.
The new touch screen system that you get throughout most of the lineup includes Bluetooth, HD Radio, voice command, text-message audio delivery, and Pandora compatibility. Essentially it's the same as the system in the 2014 Mazda 6—minus the Command Controller—and it's adequate but far from ideal. As we noted in that model it can be surprisingly sluggish, and the menu structure is odd. Voice commands are included, too; but don't expect to have a conversation with it, Siri-style.
2014 Mazda CX-5
For a non-hybrid crossover, the 2014 Mazda CX-5 is one of your best bets for high real-world gas mileage.
The 2014 Mazda CX-5 has impressive EPA ratings, with Combined ratings of 29 mpg for most of the 2.0-liter models and only about 1 mpg less for the 2.5-liter models.
If you order the CX-5 Sport with the six-speed manual, you'll get a slightly higher highway rating (35 mpg vs 32 mpg) than with the six-speed automatic, but both versions get the same 26-mpg city rating.
Adding all-wheel drive (available only with the automatic) imposes a slight penalty: It's rated at 25 mpg city, 31 mpg highway, for a combined rating of 28 mpg--perhaps even better comparatively for compact crossovers with all-wheel drive.
And from all of Mazda's engineering effort, the biggest payoff might just be in real-world mileage. Over a 260-mile drive route that we're familiar with, a 2013 2.0-liter CX-5 returned an excellent 33 mpg--several miles per gallon better than we've seen from competing models. And as for the new 2.5-liter models, over a couple of hours and 75 miles or so of blasting down backroads and suburban boulevards between Texas hill country and Austin, we managed to average more than 26 mpg overall—also definitely better than we're accustomed to in this class.
If you're holding out for even better, it might be wise to wait one more model year. Mazda will likely introduce a 2.2-liter diesel engine for 2015; expect that engine to push highway mileage into the upper 30s, with acceleration likely faster than with the 2.5-liter.