Matt Stone, Contributor
Me: I just drove a CX-5 for a week.
Mazda engineer: Yeah, what did you think?
Me: I think you guys forgot to put an engine in it.
Mazda engineer: What do you mean?
Me: Kinda slow. Needs more power.
Mazda engineer: Name me a Mazda that couldn't use 50 more horsepower.
Me: Good point.
Mazda engineer: Anything else?
Me: Best electric steering out there. If you didn't tell me it was electrically assisted I wouldn't know.
Mazda engineer: Thanks. I did that.
This conversation went on for about 30 minutes, the Mazda engineer and me dissecting the 2013 Mazda CX-5 from every angle. I mentioned how everyone on the Edmunds staff is a fan of the CX-5. How we are enamored with its packaging, design and fun disposition. He mentioned how it out-handles a 2012 Mazda 3, which is cool and I went so far as to say that Mazda's all-new CX-5 is real competition for the 2012 Honda CR-V, which is red hot right now.
Eventually, however, we got bored talking about crossovers and went back to talking about more fun stuff, like Miatas and the fact that Philip Philips is actually the guy's name.
How New Is New?
Carmakers tend to play it fast and loose with the term "all new," but the 2013 Mazda CX-5 really is all new, from the tires up. Its platform, or underlying chassis architecture, isn't shared with any existing or previous Mazda model.
The new design language is called "Kodo" which loosely means "Soul of Motion." This design theme has been seen on several Mazda sports car concepts, and its aggressive visage, sculpted flanks, and arched and flared fenders translate well to this compact crossover package.
The CX-5 is also the first global vehicle to receive the full suite of its patented Skyactiv Technology components, incorporating an all-new lightweight body and chassis along with the new drivetrains. The idea is to build lighter, more efficient cars that get better mpg, yet are still fun to drive.
Mazda has told us that Skyactiv is a marketing guy's translation of Nobi nobi, which means something like "the sky's the limit" in Japanese. That might not be entirely true, but it's a good story and it gets to the heart of what the Skyactiv technologies are about.
Every 2013 Mazda CX-5 comes equipped with a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine rated at 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque. This is a high-tech engine, with all-aluminum construction, direct injection, double overhead cams and variable intake and exhaust valve timing. And it runs on regular fuel, despite its radically high 13:1 compression ratio.
Buyers get to choose between a standard six-speed manual transmission and a fantastic six-speed automatic that features a manual shift mode and rev-matching when you downshift.
Front-wheel drive is standard, but you can also option all models with all-wheel drive if you wish. Our tester was a top-of-the-line Grand Touring AWD model with the automatic.
Yes, 155 hp is about average for this category of vehicle, but the CX-5 could use a few more ponies. Our best 0-60 mph time was 9.7 seconds (9.5 seconds with 1 foot of rollout as on a drag strip) and the CX-5 covered the quarter-mile in 17.1 seconds at just 80 mph. This is a midpack performance in the compact crossover crowd.
The best-selling 2012 Honda CR-V packs 30 more horses than the Mazda, and it beats the CX-5 to 60 and through the quarter-mile by three-tenths of a second. In normal everyday driving, the CX-5's powertrain gets the job done. It's only when you have a full load or you're pulling that long freeway on-ramp that you really wish it had more power.
This need for more oomph also affects the CX-5's real-world fuel economy. For the record, the EPA rates the 2013 Mazda CX-5 at 25 city/31 highway and 28 mpg combined, which is at the top of the class and better than the Honda CR-V's ratings. However, because the CX-5 is light on power you tend to drive it with a heavier foot, which ultimately uses more fuel. We suspect matching the EPA's rating in the real world would be tough.
During our two weeks with the vehicle we averaged 25 mpg, with the bulk of our driving in and around Los Angeles.
Despite its power deficiency, we expected the Mazda to outperform the Honda in our handling tests. But it didn't. The Mazda zipped through our slalom course at 62.4 mph and circled our skid pad at 0.78g. The CR-V managed 63.1 mph and 0.76g in the same tests. We expect the Mazda would have done better if its driver could disable its stability control, but the system is always on, unlike in the Honda.
We all agree that the CX-5 is much more fun to drive than the Honda because it just feels sportier and more engaging, but the stopwatch does not lie. Neither does the tape measure. The CX-5's four-wheel disc brakes feel good and stop it from 60 mph in 121 feet. An excellent performance, and just a foot longer than the CR-V's stopping distance.
Even when equipped with the optional 19-inch rolling stock, the Mazda's ride/handling balance is nearly perfect. It's sporty but never harsh, quiet and well controlled, fun to drive, yet always comfy. The 2013 Mazda CX-5 even maintains its composure on marginal road surfaces. Visibility is also excellent, as are ingress and egress and seat comfort, and there's commendably little wind noise or road rumble.
And we should also mention that the CX-5's ergonomics are excellent, with its buttons, dials, instrumentation and other controls all clearly and logically placed, and easy to become familiar with and use.
Only one body style, a four-door hatchback with two rows of seats, is offered. Four adults or five kids fit comfortably. No third row is offered.
Cargo space is good for the class. The Mazda offers 34.1 cubic feet of cargo space with all seats up, and 65.4 cubic feet with all its seats folded. The Honda has more, however. It offers 37.2 cubic feet of cargo space with all seats up, and 70 cubic feet with all its seats folded.
Another knock on the Mazda is that its rear seats don't fold 100 percent flat, but it's close enough.
The Mazda's standard upholstery and trim levels are very attractive and appear robust and of high quality. Of course you can have faux aluminum-looking trim on the instrument and dash panels if you want it and leather seats, too. But if you don't, you'll never feel you're stuck in a low-rent penalty box.
If you really feel like spending some money, you can order a nav system and a moonroof, too. At just over $31,000, our tester represented about the most you can spend on a CX-5.
The CX-5 features advanced dual front airbags, front side-impact airbags, and front and rear side curtain airbags with rollover protection. Several trim levels offer a blind spot warning system and a back-up rearview camera with dash-mounted screen. LATCH rear child safety seat anchors and tethers and a tire pressure monitoring system are standard. Antilock brakes, dynamic stability control, daytime running lights and traction control systems are all standard on all models, too.
The 2013 Mazda CX-5 is a complete and well-conceived package, and we like its strong value message. You don't have to buy the fully loaded top model to get a nice car.
We'd love it even more with another 30 hp on board, but the CX-5 is still a fun drive despite its meager engine power. That's a neat trick, and typical of Mazda, which has never been known for its big power numbers.
Bottom line, the CX-5 is a winner. If you desire a compact crossover, it absolutely deserves to be on your shopping list.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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