Chris Walton, Chief Road Test Editor
The CX-5 isn't the first compact SUV from Mazda, but it might as well be. Previous attempts at making inroads in the crossover market have included the Mazda Tribute (a clone of a Ford Escape) and Mazda CX-7, but neither stirred much consumer interest. With the handsomely designed and generously equipped 2013 Mazda CX-5, the people at Mazda finally get the crossover combination right. Plus, the CX-5 offers class-leading fuel economy and liberal interior dimensions, all at a competitive price. Sounds like a winning combination if ever we've heard one.
Official pricing will be announced closer to the vehicle's on-sale date in the first quarter of 2012, but official sources have reassured us that the five-passenger 2013 CX-5's pricing strategy will mirror that of its chief competitors, the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. This means we should expect a price range from about $22,000 for the base CX-5 Sport to about $28,000 for the top-tier CX-5 Grand Touring. Mazda expects the midlevel CX-5 Touring to take the lion's share of sales, of course. All models are powered by the same fuel-efficient four-cylinder engine, and all are available with all-wheel drive as well.
When it arrives, the 2013 Mazda CX-5 will be the first all-new vehicle to completely utilize Mazda's latest and most significant engineering effort to date. Mazda cryptically calls its all-encompassing approach Skyactiv Technology, a suite of efficiency, safety and driving-dynamics technologies baked into a vehicle as a whole. From the CX-5's body-in-white construction, to the powertrain, to the way this crossover steers and rides, this new SUV represents a fundamental shift in the way Mazda will engineer and construct everything it sells from now on, plus it's a strong new entry in a market segment that is becoming incredibly popular.
Mazda is very serious about competing with both the brisk-selling Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 with its CX-5. So confident, in fact, that the company predicts the 2013 CX-5 will be the second-best-selling vehicle in Mazda's portfolio.
Mechanically similar to the Skyactiv-G 2.0 engine already available in the 2012 Mazda 3, yet tuned for the dissimilar demands of the heavier CX-5, this 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is rated at 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque. This is enough power and torque for the 3,200-3,400-pound SUV, and Mazda says an all-wheel-drive CX-5 Grand Touring should run to 60 mph in 9.3 seconds. Our seat-of-the-pants experience says this estimate is spot on.
Despite an engine that is smaller in displacement and less powerful than the 2012 Honda CR-V's 185-hp 2.4-liter four, the Mazda should be quicker than the Honda, although it'll be 2 seconds slower to 60 mph than the last V6-powered RAV4 we tested. It's also refreshing to report that a well-executed six-speed manual transmission is available on the front-drive CX-5, something that will make this model rewarding to drive.
Yet going fast isn't what the CX-5 is all about. In fact, the 2013 Mazda CX-5 can claim class-leading fuel economy. Mazda estimates the CX-5 will earn EPA estimates of 26 city/33 highway mpg for a front-wheel-drive model with the six-speed manual. A front-drive automatic should earn 26 city/32 highway mpg, and an all-wheel-drive CX-5 (available only with a six-speed automatic) is expected to earn 25 city/30 highway mpg.
On our first drive of this crossover over a twisting road, we found the CX-5's brakes, suspension and steering uncommonly capable — a dynamic departure from the compact SUV segment. Thanks to the Skyactiv initiative, the CX-5's chassis is downright fun to drive and gives you confidence while doing so. The steering is quick and direct without being nervous. The handling is sporty and secure without being edgy. And the four-wheel disc brakes are strong and predictable.
On the open highway, we did detect some road noise from our Grand Touring model's 19-inch tires, but that is widespread for this segment. The large side mirrors, too, add a little wind noise, but you'd have to move up to a more expensive SUV to avoid these common maladies. The ride itself, however, felt like that of a larger SUV. Clever suspension architecture and tuning manage to offer that rare combination of agility and comfort.
The driving position and front-seat comfort overall is quite good. A tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with remote audio/cruise controls is standard on all models, but an eight-way powered driver seat, heated front seats and dual-zone HVAC all appear with the Grand Touring model. The standard leather-trimmed seats in the Grand Touring model were especially well-bolstered up front. Rear seats are spacious (especially legroom) for the category, though some might feel the bottom cushions are a little flat in order to get a nearly flat load space when the seatbacks are folded forward.
In terms of storage and cargo capability, the CX-5 is on par with its competitors. With all seats occupied, there are 34 cubic feet of luggage space that grows to 65 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. The CX-5 Sport has 60/40-split folding rear seats, but for those of you who enjoy four-up skiing/snowboarding, you should note that both the Touring and Grand Touring models feature unique 40-20-40-split folding rear seats that accommodate four passengers and skis thanks to the ability of the center section to fold separately from the two seats.
The cockpit of the CX-5 is attractive, modern and functional. Of course, the farther up the model range you go, the list of standard features grows, but even the midlevel Touring model offers standard blind-spot monitoring, a color display with rearview camera, Bluetooth phone/audio streaming and privacy glass, to mention just a few items.
Mazda has also taken some pains to ensure that popular equipment on higher trim levels (such as Bluetooth, the monitor/camera and so on) will still be available as an option even on the base Sport model. There are four option packages (two for the Touring and one each for the Sport and Grand Touring) that offer a compelling number of choices, including upgraded audio systems, corner-following xenon headlamps, a TomTom-based navigation system and advanced keyless entry with push-button start.
Design/Fit and Finish
We hardly need to tell you, but the 2013 Mazda CX-5 is probably the most daringly styled compact SUV out there. It has an aggressive stance, a confident face of handsomely sculpted sheet metal and a variety of alloy wheels depending on the model. In some ways, it's almost more European-inspired design than Japanese.
While the interior is modern, attractive and functional, it won't make you think "luxury." Nevertheless, the use of piano-black panels highlighted by satin-metallic details creates a very handsome look. The materials are substantial and look smart, and there's no simulated-wood trim option, which is fine with us. We were pleased to find soft-touch materials from armrest-level up. The cloth-upholstered seats of the base model feel durable, while the leather surfaces with their double-stitched seams show careful attention to detail.
Who should consider this vehicle
The compact SUV segment is typically rife with compromise: space, ride comfort, driving pleasure, modern amenities or styling are often at odds with one another. With the 2013 CX-5, Mazda seeks to deliver all of the above and more without the usual give-and-take.
The 2013 Mazda CX-5 ought to attract buyers looking for a fun-to-drive alternative to the ubiquitous Honda CR-V and/or Toyota RAV4. The added bonus of class-leading fuel economy will also appeal to those who are looking for the utility of an SUV while trying to maintain a budget based on a previous compact sedan or hatchback.
Furthermore, the CX-5's impressive roster of standard and optional equipment (such as Bluetooth connectivity, digital-media compatibility, dual-zone climate control and so on) will serve those who have perhaps grown accustomed to these features in larger or more expensive SUVs.
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