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 was slightly larger but with no more interior room and so-so gas mileage.
Aimed right at the heart of the compact sport-utility vehicle (SUV) market, the new CX-5 offers an attractive alternative to the perennial bestsellers—the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson and Nissan Rouge.
In its favor, the CX-5 is stylish and capacious, handles beautifully, and returns some of the highest gas-mileage figures in the compact SUV category. Although the fuel economy comes at the expense of horsepower, the CX-5 still has plenty of zoom-zoom to be competitive.
NEW DESIGN PHILOSOPHY
The 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 highly efficient as possible.
This sounds like simple stuff, but Mazda is getting some of the highest fuel-economy ratings in its class without resorting to direct injection, turbocharging, electric motors, or any of the other pricey ways carmakers boost mileage.
The CX-5 is available in three trim levels: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. Our tested vehicle, the entry-level Sport with frontwheel drive, has a sticker price in Puerto Rico of $27,995, including excise taxes.
The CX-5 is the company's first new design executed under its "Kodo: Soul of Motion" design philosophy, and it sets a promising direction for future products. Thankfully, Mazda ditched the grinning look for a handsome trapezoidal grille shape—giving the CX-5 more of a sports-car profile.
Inside, the new Mazda has a calm, businesslike interior that is functional and attractive—and not nearly as overly designed as some competitors' dashboards. The dash and center stack are black, surfaced in soft-touch plastics, with 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, yet they are very easy to read in daytime as well as night driving.
The seats are comfortable and well-bolstered up front, and there's plenty of room in the backseat even for adults in the six-foot-tall range. The load fl oor is long and fl at, with a clever folding arrangement for the 40/20/40 split rear seat. In addition, the CX-5 is quiet under most circumstances—although some engine noise was noticeable during hard acceleration and engine revving.
The CX-5 comes with only a single engine option, a new 155-horsepower, 2.0-liter four cylinder 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).
Local Mazda distributor Plaza Motors Corp. has no plans for now to offer the six-speed manual gearbox in the Puerto Rico market. That's a shame, because the manual gearbox with the new 2.0-liter engine is U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-rated at 35 miles per gallon (mpg) on the highway.
The CX-5's entire powertrain and structural design are in tune with the company's SkyActiv philosophy of maximum efficiency from every component and feature.
The fuel-efficiency rating of the CX-5 with the automatic transmission is remarkable for a utility vehicle this size. EPA combined ratings are 28 mpg with all-wheel drive, 29 mpg for front-wheel drive.
During our three-day test drive, we got a combined 27.4 mpg, which is pretty good for a compact SUV. The automatic transmission seems to be strongly biased toward low engine speeds (to improve fuel efficiency), and drivers must accelerate the vehicle and allow the transmission to downshift to get the optimum performance out of the 2.0-liter engine.
NICE RIDE & HANDLING
That said, we found the CX-5 to be simply one of the best handling crossovers we have driven lately.
The new Mazda crossover demonstrated its road-holding abilities on the twists and turns of some of the island's country roads, where it performed admirably.
If you are accustomed to a sports sedan or a hot hatchback and are moving up to a compact crossover, the CX-5 could be the one for you. It may simply be one of the best drives of any compact crossover. Mazda engineers spent a great deal of time working on road control and feel, and it shows.
The CX-5 is sure-footed enough that drivers can end up traveling 15 miles per hour faster than they realize. It corners fl at and its acceleration, braking and handling all feel thoroughly integrated and reassuringly predictable—simply put, it's just right.
As the sportiest compact crossover on the market, the 2013 Mazda CX-5 handles well, in a firm way. The ride quality, while excellent, can feel busy on a few road surfaces and firm over the island's famously uneven freeway expansion joints.
Yet overall, this new Mazda crossover feels solid and reassuring.