Give Mazda credit, once it decided to remake its small sport-utility for 2013, it didn’t rest on its laurels, although it could have for a couple years.
Nope, for 2014 it rolls out a new efficient, and more powerful 2.5-liter I4 using its Skyactiv technology that aims at fuel economy, plus performance.
So, while last year’s CX-5 mid-size sport-utility was a delight to drive, with upscale looks and feel, the 2014 ups the performance ante and still delivers excellent gas mileage for a ute with all-wheel-drive.
I tested the top-level Grand Touring model with AWD, so it tips the money scales at $28,870, but that’s still well below the average price of a new vehicle these days. With a fancy, and mostly unneeded, tech package it hit $31,890, right at the average cost of a new vehicle.
But here’s the deal, the new 2.5-liter engine with variable valve timing and Skyactiv technology manages an EPA rating of 24 mpg city and 30 mpg highway, just one mpg lower than the 2.0-liter I4 that comes in entry-level models and that makes just 155 horses. The power difference is noticeable.
This model will hustle up to highway speeds quickly and with less engine noise than the smaller 2.0-liter. Plus the six-speed automatic transmission seems perfectly mated to this engine, with silky smooth shifts unlike those in the CX-5 I’d tested about 15 months ago. The engine hesitation coming off corners also is smoothed out in this model.
Gas mileage was impressive as I got 27.3 mpg in about 70% highway driving, and regular unleaded is all you need. Last test drive I got 25 mpg in a 50-50 mix of city and highway, so also above the norm for an AWD ute.
You can still get the 2.0-liter in the CX-5 Sport models, but the new 2.5-liter is offered in the Touring and Grand Touring editions. Sport models with front-wheel drive start at $21,195, the AWD models going for $23,845 and the Touring with FWD starts at $24,615. So you can find the performance and price level that fits your needs.
What impressed me most in the last test, and again this time, is how solid and well built the CX-5 feels. The interior is quiet and luxurious. In the test ute that’s aided by perforated black leather seats with red stitching and soft-touch black textured trim on the dash and doors. Accented trim is a matte silver on the door handles, releases and bottom portion of the steering wheel hub.
As you’d expect in a Mazda, the handling is above par and fairly responsive. It’s well centered and linear, creating a fun drive. Likewise, CX-5 turns into corners with authority and minor lean, confirming the sport portion of this being a sport-utility. Not all manufacturers feel as strongly about adding sport to the driving experience.The CX-5 rides on a 106.3-inch wheelbase and 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.
As I mentioned in my earlier review, Mazda helps the CX-5’s ride and feel by creating its body 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. Cutting weight helps save gas too.
The Skyactiv 6-speed Sport automatic also is designed to do just that, and I was surprised at how smoothly this one shifted, after my earlier experience.While I like the interior here, finding everything easy to see and the buttons and dials logically laid out, I gotta say the cargo space in back is impressive. It’s rated at 34.1 cubic feet, which grows to 65.4 cubic feet when the rear seats are folded flat, a feat that’s easily accomplished.
This one did not have a power hatch, but it did have a retractable cargo cover ($200 extra) that hooks to the hatch, instead of the sides of the cargo area as most do. This allows you to leave the cover in place as you raise the hatch, keeping the cover out of your way when loading and unloading, a simple idea that works!
Inside, you get a manual tilt/telescope steering wheel, power driver’s seat, with power lumbar support, a sunroof overhead and sun visors with extenders. The dash is well laid out with easy to view and understand gauges, but the navigation screen with built-in TomTom system is small. AND I could not figure out, after considerable fumbling and bumbling, how to get it to accept a Racine address. It only wanted to give me directions to Illinois cities, and refused to be modified. I urge new car buyers to save the nav cash and buy a portable one that you can use, ONLY when needed. When not needed, just tuck it in the console between the seats, less cost and less hassle.
My only other complaint is that the CX-5’s A pillar, as in many new cars and utes, is pretty thick. Be sure you’re comfortable with its side sight lines.Seating is mildly contoured and comfortable and four adults fit easily in the CX-5. Front seats have three-levels of heat in the Grand Touring model. Now if it just had a heated steering wheel too!
Other pluses include a blind-spot warning system that beeps when you turn on a turn signal and something is in your blind spot. There’s a rearview camera too and an inside fuel door release. Naturally Mazda provides power hookups and ports for iPods and such, and the stereo is a Bose surround sound system, so very nice.
Keyless entry, push-button start and heated power mirrors are standard. Mechanically there’s full-time 4-wheel drive, stability and traction control, plus fog lamps.
Outside, I like the ute’s edgy look and the test vehicle’s Soul Red (metallic red) paint job, which costs $300 extra. Mazda blue remains a strong runner-up color, in my opinion. But I prefer colors to the blah white and gray that most automakers seem to love.So far this year I’d rate this and the Subaru Forester as the cream of the sport-utility crop.FAST Stats: 2014 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD
Hits: Good looking SUV with above average cargo room, roof for 4 adults, well laid out dash, 3-level heated seats and comfy seats. Plus it has reasonably responsive steering, good power and smooth shifts, and excellent gas mileage.
Misses: No power hatch, A-pillars are large, and small navigation screen that wouldn’t find a Racine address.
Made in: Hiroshima, Japan
Engine: Skyactiv 2.5-liter, I4, 184 hp
Transmission: Skyactiv 6-speed Sport automatic
Weight: 3,532 lbs.
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Cargo: 34.1 cu.ft. (65.4 cu.ft. rear seats down)
Base Price: $28,870
Dealer’s Price: $28,039
Soul red paint, $300
Rear bumper guard, $100
Retractable cargo cover, $200
Grand Touring Tech package (navigation system, HID headlights, Adaptive front lighting, Smart City Brake Support, keyless entry, auto-dim mirror w/HomeLink), $1,625
Test vehicle: $31,890
Sources: Mazda, www.autos.yahoo.com
Photos: Mark Savage and Mazda