What a Great Automatic Transmission - 2014 Mazda CX-5 Long-Term Road Test

2014 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD Long-Term Road Test

2014 Mazda CX-5: What a Great Automatic Transmission

March 3, 2014

2014 Mazda CX-5

I already knew I liked the six-speed automatic transmission in our long-term 2014 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring before my road trip to Healdsburg, California, and back. But 932 miles on the road gives you plenty of time to think, and I'm pretty much in love with this transmission now. In fact, it's one of the top three reasons I might buy my own personal CX-5.

2014 Mazda CX-5

You see, the 184-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that's standard on the CX-5 Touring and Grand Touring trim levels is good. But there's no denying that it's a little thin on torque and, accordingly, doesn't feel as potent as it might when you're climbing grades or initiating a decisive passing maneuver. And although it never sounds bad, the power delivery feels and sounds a little reedy when you're working it hard.

But I rarely thought about these minor shortcomings during my drive, because the automatic transmission largely compensates for them by making so many right choices.

As we climbed the El Tejon Pass on the Grapevine section of Interstate 5, for example, there was no unnecessary shuffling between gears. Depending on the steepness of the stretch, the engine speed might be at 3,000 rpm or 4,000 rpm, but it was clear the transmission knew exactly which gear was needed in any given situation. That sounds so simple, but I don't think I've experienced that in any other automatic-equipped small crossover SUV, including the ones with the supposedly smarty-pants continuously variable transmissions (CVTs).

After I crossed the I-580 Richmond-San Rafael toll bridge visible in the top photo, I came upon some pretty cutthroat East Bay traffic. Here again, the Mazda CX-5 was a pleasant companion. It's not the quickest crossover in this class (I'd go for an Escape with the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine if I wanted that), but the transmission does such a nice job of reading your intentions (as expressed through your right foot) and making the most of what the 2.5-liter engine has to offer.

Lately, my husband and I have been talking a lot about buying a current-generation Mazda 5 (which of course has Mazda's older, but still rather likable 2.5-liter engine and five-speed automatic transmission). But after this road trip, the CX-5 is looking like a much stronger candidate, even though it lacks sliding rear doors.

Erin Riches, Deputy Editor @ 25,722 miles


  • cx7lover cx7lover Posts:

    The older 2.5L seems more torquey but it feels slower to me. I would definitely opt for the SKYACTIV powertrain. I think the slowest application of the 2.5L engine was in the Ford Fusion. The 2011 I rented would rev hard but go no where.

  • metalmania metalmania Posts:

    It's funny, this transmission seems to generally garner praise in the automotive press but there's another site that did a long term test of the CX-5 (not a full year though) and they hated the transmission - said it always lugged in too low a gear for fuel economy and wasn't responsive. I tend to think that was an anomaly, as almost everywhere else I look it's one of the few automatics that writers seem to like. Let's face it, everyone these days tries to stay in the most economical gear for mpg's, but Mazda seems to have found a good real world compromise here. I'm so glad they didn't go with a CVT. I'm interested in more commentary on the NVH characteristics of the CX-5. I've read it's not the quietest CUV around, especially at highway speeds (let's say 65mph), but is it genuinely loud - or just not "the quietest". Could you live with it over the long term, driving it on the highway every day or is it loud enough to be an irritation? For comparison, I have a 2004 Mazda 6 and one of the few complaints I have about it is road noise. I don't care if it's not Lexus quiet, but I'd want something quieter than what I've got now.

  • ruckusrider ruckusrider Posts:

    It shouldn't be long before the Mazda 5 gets the skyactive/kodo treatment, I hope.

  • 06scooby 06scooby Posts:

    yeah I don't think you can go wrong with either. The CX-5 is nice and we enjoy our 2012 Mazda5 a lot. My wife and I are die hard manual transmission people, but Sky-Activ autos in the 3,6, and CX-5 would be my choice if forced to go automatic. They do it right. They just go to show that you don't have to have a lazy final gear ratio and top gear programming that requires a phone call for Al Gore's approval to downshift (GM I'm looking at you!) to get good fuel efficiency. Most American's end up driving with a heavier foot to compensate for a lazy transmission which nets the opposite effect. I'd say, unless you are looking for lower price, no need for AWD, and you don't care about the 3rd row jump seat for xtra kiddo's time to time, the CX5 is the better choice. And it's auto/2.5 combo feels quicker than the Mazda5's combo. And if you stick with FWD the CX-5 will probably actually net better mpg's. Now if you go for the row your own gears, however that's a different story. :-) With the manual, the 5 is a hoot to drive on top of car seats fit awesomely, the sliding doors rock and their aren't 50 million of them everywhere!

  • yellowbal yellowbal Posts:

    Minivan sliding doors are awesome with kids and toddlers. Especially automatic sliding doors.

  • stovt001_ stovt001_ Posts:

    We seriously considered the Mazda5 for the sliding doors alone. They are indeed nice when you have kids. However, the old drivetrain in the 5 (particularly its less-than-stellar fuel economy) and just the generally outdated feel of the car eliminated it. We were just about to pull the trigger on a CX-5 when a great deal on the CMax (and a really good Ford dealership to work with) Swung us that direction. The transmission in the CX-5 was the standout for me too. It is simply excellent. The rear was a touch tight for a child safety seat though, which was another point in favor of the CMax.

  • dougal1098 dougal1098 Posts:

    The CX-5 has a great engine and transmission for sure. I personally believe they are the strong points on the car. With that said, the Mazda 5 is one great little car. It has the same handling and fun factor - without the same engine and transmission - as the other Mazda's. The big win for the CX-5 and the other sky-active engines is their gas mileage, which continues to impress.

  • ocramidajzj ocramidajzj Posts:

    We had a 2006 Mazda5 for 6 years and it was a great car for our family of 4. Second row captain's chairs kept the kids happy, while the third row was great for "in a pinch" guests. We had the sport with the 5 speed tranny. It was reliable and a hoot to drive. The only reason we got rid of it was because of mice. After countless attempts to get rid of them we finally gave in. The only reason we went with a CX-9 was because my wife wanted a change and wasn't too keep on the updated design with the wavy side panels and tail lights. The CX-9 is also a bit more rugged for those NE potholes. We lost about 3 tires and a few alignments on 5 due to potholes. Otherwise it's a great car and we really miss those sliding doors.

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