The world needs another compact sport-utility vehicle like it needs a few more politicians, but Mazda definitely needed a new compact SUV.
It’s Tribute, which was based off Ford’s Escape, was aging and barely selling. Its CX-7 and CX-9 are larger and frankly, more expensive.
So the 2013 (already) CX-5 comes along at just the right time, for Mazda. The fact that it’s attractive, abandoning the giant gaping mouth nose styling that Mazda has fancied of late, will likely make it popular too, that and its performance. The good mojo starts with better than average gas mileage and extends to a pleasant ride, above average handling and a stylish interior.
I drove a flashy “Zeal Red Mica” Grand Touring AWD, the top-level CX-5 with a slightly elevated starting price of $28,295. It added a tech package with navigation, auto-leveling high-intensity headlights, adaptive front lighting, a security system, keyless entry and an auto-dimming mirror with HomeLink buttons. That adds $1,325 and put the test ute at $30,415, including its delivery charge of $795.
First, the Mazda feels solid and well built. Doors close with authority and the interior is quiet and feels luxurious. That’s helped by perforated tan leather seating and soft-touch black textured trim on the dash and doors. The roof liner is a matching tan to lighten up the interior. A black gloss trim strip accents the dash while the remaining interior trim is a matte silver. The steering wheel and shift knobs are leather wrapped.
Second, as you’d expect in a Mazda, the handling is above par for a ute. It’s not a BMW, but steering is well centered and linear, so a fun drive. Likewise the CX-5 turns into corners with authority and miniscule lean, confirming the sport portion of it being a sport-utility.
Its ride on a 106.3-inch wheelbase also is well controlled. Underneath are MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link suspension in the rear. Both include coil springs and shocks plus stabilizer bars front and rear. Tires are 19-inch Toyo all-season, a big bump up from the standard 17-inchers on lower level models.
Helping add to the ute’s precise ride and handling is a body made of 61% high-tensile steel. That reduces weight and yet is about 30% more rigid. Stiff bodies and chassis make it easier for ride engineers to properly tune the suspension. Oh, and by cutting weight, the Mazda is easier on gas.
But then Mazda’s new SkyActiv technology also aims at saving you pain at the pump. The efficient 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine delivers 155 horses, but drinks less gas when coupled with its new 6-speed automatic transmission. A 6-speed manual is available on the base Sport.
EPA rates the tested CX-5 at 25 mpg city and 31 highway. I got 25 mpg on the button in about a 50-50 mix of city and highway.
While there is plenty of power available from the engine, I was a bit disappointed in the shifts from the automatic, which also has a sport mode for manual shifts. As it were, the shifts weren’t as smooth as I’d witnessed in a previous Mazda with this engine/tranny combo, plus there is some lag in acceleration after the first-thru-fourth gear changes. Crunch the gas pedal and the system jumps to life, but then you get some moderate engine thrum that subtracts a bit from the ute’s luxury feel.
Braking is good though with four-wheel discs, vented in front and solid in back. Plus there’s ABS, traction and stability control. Almost forgot to mention it, but this model also has all-wheel-drive, so if the roads get nasty, traction will not be a problem.
Inside, the CX-5 comfortably seats four adults, and five is possible, plus there is considerable cargo room behind the second row. The Mazda has 17.0 cubic feet of space in back, or 65.4 cu.ft. if you lower the rear seats. Note too that the CX-5 has a 40/20/40 split rear seat so you can lower the center portion to carry long objects (lumber, skis) and still carry four adults.
The ute comes with a tilt-telescope steering wheel that features cruise control, radio and trip computer buttons on the hub. Behind the wheel the gauges are well laid out and the center stack isn’t confusing. There’s a big (5.8 inches) navigation/radio screen, this one featuring a simple TomTom navigation system and HD radio. But instead of teensy buttons the radio has large ones and two full-sized knobs. Bluetooth and satellite radio are part of the mix, as are Bose speakers.
Climate controls consist of three large knobs and this is a dual climate system. Below that on the stack are two large buttons that engage the three-speed heated seats, again standard.
Also standard is a blind-spot warning system that was NOT overly sensitive, and a back-up camera. I also liked the power sunroof with power shade, plus high-quality sun visors with extenders. Rain-sensing wipers come with the ute, as does a rear wiper.
The Mazda’s seats are fairly flat, but comfortable and easy to get in and out of. The seat backs have mild contouring and the driver’s seat is powered, plus has a power lumbar support.
Not all is perfect though. It rarely is.
The rear hatch did not fully latch every time I used it. You must keep your hand on the hatch all the way down until it latches, otherwise there is some kickback that keeps it from a proper latch. Also, the A pillars are thick, which can slightly limit front three-quarter views.
CX-5 is a fine driving compact and comfortable compact ute, but if the GT is a bit too pricey for your budget, the front-drive Sport starts at $20,695. It even gets better gas mileage, at 26 city and 35 highway. A mid-level Touring model with AWD starts at $25,145, so there are choices that may be less disturbing to your budget.
2013 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD Stats
Made in: Hiroshima, Japan
Engine: SkyActiv-G 2.0-liter 4-cyl., 155 hp
Transmission: SkyActiv 6-speed automatic Sport
Weight: 3,426 lbs.
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Cargo: 17.0 cu.ft. (65.4 cu.ft. rear seats down)
Base Price: $28,295
Dealer’s Price: $27,056
Grand Touring Tech Package (navigation, HID headlights w/auto leveling, adaptive front lighting, alarm, keyless entry, auto-dimming mirror w/HomeLink), $1,325
Test vehicle: $30,415
Sources: Mazda, www.autos.yahoo.com
Hits: Attractive, comfortable, roomy, quiet compact ute with good handling and ride. Stylish interior with well laid out dash and controls. Has 3-speed seat heaters, visors with extenders and delivers good gas mileage. Feels luxurious.
Misses: Big A pillars and transmission seems to bog after first thru fourth gear shifts. Moderate engine noise when you accelerate hard.