2013 Mazda CX-5 Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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Quick, what do you get if you chop the Mazda CX-7 and Tribute, stir them together with engineering efficiency, and throw in a generous dash of practicality and flair? You get the CX-5.

With greater interior space than the CX-7 (2,939 litres of passenger volume versus the CX-7's 2,881 litres) yet smaller exterior dimensions, and far more style than the rather mundane Tribute, the CX-5 is a new compact crossover that replaces both outgoing models in a sort of two-for-one special deal (it's a delayed deal mind you, as the Tribute was actually discontinued for the 2012 model year).

The CX-5's flair and efficiency come thanks to Mazda's Kodo "soul of motion" design philosophy and "Skyactiv" engineering approach. The Kodo design philosophy espouses a theme of "motion inspired by nature," and in the CX-5 it translates into a crossover with flowing lines, a tapered roofline, and nice hints of aggression in the muscular fender bulges and the angled, sweptback headlights. If you think the new CX-5 looks a little like the BMW X1 you're not alone, although while the CX-5 does share some of the baby Bimmer's poise and road presence, the Mazda is arguably the better looking of the two.

Mazda's Skyactive engineering approach is really another way of saying "attention to detail," but it's by no means an empty catchphrase because Mazda really has paid an exceptional degree of attention to an astoundingly wide range of details, making small improvements throughout the vehicle to create a significant overall improvement in fuel economy.

The CX-5 is the first Mazda designed from the ground up using the Skyactiv approach, and so it's a bit of a flagship for Mazda. The body uses stronger, lighter materials to shed 100 kg of weight while increasing structural rigidity by 30-percent. The 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine is also lighter, and Mazda focused in on minute details like coolant flow, oil pump drag and valve train friction, optimizing everything to reduce friction and power loss. An impressively high 13:1 compression ratio helps gets the most power out of every drop of fuel, while a specially tuned 4-2-1 exhaust system helps fight the engine knock often inherent in high-compression designs. Overall, the changes net a 15-percent improvement in mid-range torque and 15-percent lower fuel consumption compared to Mazda's previous 2.0-litre engine.

On the road the engine is refined and willing. It revs smoothly and happily all the way to redline, and with the slick-shifting 6-speed manual transmission it steps out quickly enough from stoplights (a new Skyactiv-optimized 6-speed automatic is optional in the GX and standard in higher trim levels). But with 155 horsepower and 150 ft-lbs and torque hauling a 1,459-kg curb weight, ultimate performance is necessarily somewhat modest, with 0-100 km/h taking about 9.5 seconds - fast enough for comfortable merging, but not for winning drag races. Where you do win is at the pumps: the CX-5 is rated at 7.8 / 5.7 L/100km (city/hwy) with the manual transmission and front-wheel drive. These are impressive numbers for a crossover, and my experience in mostly city driving was that the CX-5 delivers admirably close to the rated numbers - certainly closer than most other vehicles I've driven lately (Transport Canada's existing city ratings are famously optimistic).

Mazda prides itself on dynamic handling and the CX-5 lives up to its heritage with road feel that's precise and reasonably light on its feet for a crossover. It tackles corners with crisp steering and decent levels of grip, though as one might expect of a tallish crossover, if you push things hard enough you start to encounter a certain degree of body roll and understeer. Four-wheel ABS disc brakes provide confidence-inspiring stopping power, although I found the light pedal effort made them a touch sensitive for my taste. On the safety side, a standard tire-pressure monitoring system ensures you have the best possible connection with the road, while dual front, side and curtain-type airbags help keep you safe in the event of a collision.

Inside, the CX-5 has an air of sophisticated simplicity, with a clean dashboard layout and judicious use of brushed metal accents and soft-touch surfaces (the upper dash and all touchpoints are soft-touch). Even in my test car's base GX trim, the CX-5 gets piano black dashboard accents, pushbutton start, heated outside mirrors, cruise control, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, exterior temperature gauge and trip computer, plus of course all the expected equipment such as air conditioning, power windows and locks, split-folding rear seats, and a 4-speaker audio system with USB and auxiliary inputs. Cargo space is a usable 966 litres behind the rear seats and 1,835 litres with the seats folded.

My test car added a $1,495 convenience package with 17-inch alloy rims to replace the base steel wheels, plus Bluetooth phone connectivity with steering wheel controls, privacy glass, colour display screen and HD radio.

Pricing for the front-drive GX starts at $24,890 including destination fees, with the all-wheel drive version (which includes the automatic transmission) going for $29,790. The GS starts at $30,045 with front-wheel drive or $32,045 with all-wheel drive, both also including destination, and it gets the automatic transmission, alloy wheels, 6-speaker audio with Bluetooth, power moonroof, fog lights, blind-spot monitoring, rearview parking camera, anti-theft alarm, automatic headlights, power driver's seat and more. The GT starts at $34,600, destination in, and includes the all-wheel drive, automatic transmission, and all the GS equipment, plus bigger 19-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery with a leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone auto climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, nine-speaker Bose audio, intelligent key system, and a few other features.

All in all the CX-5 is a nice compact crossover with a good range of standard equipment, appealing style, dynamic handling and excellent fuel economy for its segment. But it has some pretty fierce competition in that segment, including the new Subaru Crosstrek starting at $26,190, the redesigned Ford Escape starting at $23,149, and many others including up-and-comers like the Kia Sportage starting at $23,645 as well as market stalwarts like the Honda CR-V starting at $27,630 (all prices including destination).

In the final analysis, choosing one or the other comes down to comparing pricing and equipment and weighing it against personal preference, but the CX-5 is definitely in the hunt and well worth a look if you place a premium on fuel economy and dynamic handling.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Crossover, Mazda, 2013, CX-5, $20,000 - $29,999, $30,000 - $39,999, Compact,

Organizations: Mazda

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