"We'd love it even more with another 30 horsepower onboard, but the Mazda CX-5 is still a fun drive despite its meager engine power."
That's what we wrote after our 2013 Mazda CX-5 road test with the 2.0-liter Skyactiv four-cylinder engine. For 2014, Mazda has answered the call by giving Touring and Grand Touring versions of the 2014 Mazda CX-5 a new 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 184 hp. That's exactly 29 more hp than the 2.0-liter engine, which remains standard on the 2014 CX-5 Sport.
Even more important is the new engine's extra 35 pound-feet of torque. We're driving a 2014 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring around trendy Austin, Texas, where rush hour has become a competitive event as everyone makes a dash for their homes in the suburbs. Right away, that additional grunt helps us catch holes in traffic that would have been off limits in last year's CX-5.
CX-5 Gets Muscle From the Mazda 6
The new 2.5-liter four-cylinder also bears the name Skyactiv, since like the 2.0-liter, it's part of Mazda's new family of gasoline engines that use direct injection, high compression and low-friction materials to achieve solid performance and high fuel economy while running on plain old 87 octane fuel.
We already sampled a version of this engine in the 2014 Mazda 6, which is closely related to the CX-5 beneath the skin. Their common platform architecture was originally designed for the sedan, but it's a quirk of U.S. marketing that we got the SUV before we got the car.
In the Mazda 6, the 2.5-liter engine is offered with a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission, but if you want a manual in your 2014 CX-5, you'll have to drop back to the 2.0-liter Sport model, as the automatic is standard with the 2.5-liter engine. It's too bad, because the manual is startlingly good. However, Mazda officials tell us the take rate for the three-pedal CX-5 is a disappointing 7 percent.
Quick Enough With the Automatic
That's no criticism of the six-speed automatic, though. It's geared the same for both engines, and in our all-wheel-drive CX-5 2.5, it's perceptive and comes up with downshifts quickly when we need to pass.
You still won't be towing horse trailers with the 2014 Mazda CX-5 (indeed, towing capacity is unchanged at 2,000 pounds), but the extra torque is evident and appreciated in the Texas Hill Country.
Our non-certified digital wristwatch suggests a 0-60-mph time in the low 8-second range is within its grasp. That jibes with our seat-of-the-pants impression that the 2014 Mazda CX-5 2.5 is at least a second quicker than the 2013 CX-5 2.0, which ran a 9.7-second 0-60 (or 9.5 seconds with a foot of rollout) during Edmunds testing. For its part, Mazda claims the AWD CX-5 2.5 will run a 7.8-second 0-60, while the lighter front-drive version is reportedly capable of 7.2. If true, the 2014 CX-5 2.5 would be as quick as a 2.0-liter EcoBoost-equipped 2013 Ford Escape, but we won't know for sure until we test one.
Mazda still won't confirm that it's going to offer its even more potent 2.2-liter diesel engine in the U.S.-market CX-5, but we were mightily impressed by the diesel CX-5 prototypes we drove some months back, and that engine is already on sale in European CX-5s. The diesel will be offered in our Mazda 6 later this year.
Fuel Economy Still Class-Leading
Mileage is quite good on the 2014 Mazda CX-5 2.5, likely due in no small part to the 2.5-liter engine's lower torque peak. Its 185 lb-ft come together at just 3,250 rpm compared to a 4,000-rpm threshold for the 2.0-liter engine's 150 lb-ft. The upshot is that the bigger engine doesn't have to work as hard.
Even as our drive takes us down a series of winding roads, our actual mileage stays close to the 24 mpg city EPA rating for the CX-5 2.5 AWD. And we'd expect to come much closer to its 30 mpg highway rating during calm cruising on level highways. The combined rating is 26 mpg.
That's a pretty good number for a 3,500-pound crossover SUV, and indeed, EPA fuel economy ratings for the 2.0-liter and the 2.5-liter are quite close. An AWD automatic-equipped CX-5 with the 2.0-liter is rated 25 city/31 highway/28 combined mpg. In real-world driving conditions, that difference is likely to be a wash.
Meanwhile, the front-wheel-drive CX-5 2.5 is rated 25 city/32 highway/27 combined mpg, while its 2.0-liter equivalent is rated at 26 city/32 highway/29 combined.
For the moment, the Mazda leads the compact crossover class in fuel economy, as you'd have to step down to something smaller like the Buick Encore (28 mpg combined) or 2013 Nissan Juke (29 combined) to beat those numbers. Front-drive versions of the CR-V, Escape (with its 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine) and 2013 Toyota RAV4 are rated 26 mpg combined.
Collision Avoidance System Is New for 2014
Aside from the engine, Mazda is offering a new safety feature, SCBS (Smart City Brake Support) as part of the 2014 CX-5's Technology package. This package costs an additional $1,625 on our CX-5 Grand Touring. You can also get it for $1,485 on the Touring model, but you have to buy it in combination with the $1,130 Bose audio and moonroof package (these items are standard on the Grand Touring).
Basically, SCBS is a low-cost collision mitigation system that helps you avoid rear-ending other vehicles when you're traveling between 3 mph and 19 mph: in other words, when you're stuck in heavy traffic. Using a windshield-mounted laser sensor, SCBS can sense an obstacle and prime the brakes to shorten brake-caliper piston travel and minimize braking time when the driver hits the binders. If the driver doesn't brake, the SCBS brakes independently.
That Technology package also includes a TomTom-based navigation system, HID adaptive headlights, rain-sensing wipers and an auto-dimming mirror. It's a worthwhile upgrade for the headlights alone, though this option group, along with our test vehicle's $100 rear bumper guard, results in a bottom line of $30,695. If you don't care about the Grand Touring's leather upholstery, you could load up a CX-5 Touring model with the same options and land at $29,375.
On the other end of the spectrum, a base, manual-transmission CX-5 Sport starts at $21,990. If you're on a tight budget, that model is still worth considering, one reason being its inventory of standard equipment, ranging from push-button start to 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels with quiet-riding P225/65R17 Yokohama all-season tires. Of course, you can also get these tires on the Touring and then you won't have to go without the extra power.
Still the Athlete of the Small SUV Class
In contrast, the 225/55R19 Toyo tires on our 2014 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring aren't as serene over Texas highways, and the crossover's ordinarily compliant ride occasionally becomes jarring over rough pavement. Still, it's tough to argue with the CX-5's impressive balance on roads with tight curves. It's easily one of the best-handling compact SUVs on the road today.
Inside, the front seats are reasonably comfortable and supportive, and rear seat room is reasonable for two adults, less reasonable for three. The rear cargo area, easily accessed through the large hatch, is a generous 34.1 cubic feet.
Instruments and controls aren't fancy but are intuitive and attractively designed. Bluetooth is standard in Touring and Grand Touring models (optional in Sport), and for 2014, Mazda has added SMS text-to-speech capability for MAP-enabled smartphones.
Horsepower Fixes Everything
There's no denying that the compact sport-ute segment is a tough league to play in, as it's filled with some of the best-selling vehicles in the country, including the CR-V, Escape, RAV4, Kia Sorento and the redesigned Hyundai Santa Fe Sport.
The 2013 Mazda CX-5 was a legitimate player in this class, too, offering a spacious interior, sporty handling and outstanding fuel economy. The trouble was that its 2.0-liter engine, although smooth and willing, felt taxed when accelerating up long grades, especially on the heavier all-wheel-drive model.
Now Mazda has addressed this issue, adding more power without dragging down the compact crossover's class-leading fuel economy. Understandably, company officials predict that the new 2.5-liter engine will be popular, with 70 percent of 2014 CX-5 buyers opting for either the Touring or Grand Touring.
And unless you require a third seat or serious towing capacity, the 2014 Mazda CX-5 2.5 may indeed be all the SUV you'll ever need. With loaded versions priced lower than a top-of-the-line CR-V or Escape, the 2.5-equipped CX-5 is a relative bargain among compact crossovers.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.