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Mazda CX-5 looks young, drives young

2013 Mazda CX-5: New Compact Crossover Debuts New Technologies, Styling, Philosophy

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Mazda CX-5 looks young, drives young

CX-5 achieves the best highway fuel economy of any SUV sold in North America at 35 mpg and offers the best overall fuel economy of any non-hybrid compact crossover SUV at 29 mpg combined.

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POSTED August 15, 2012 5:56 p.m.

The new Mazda CX-5 isn't quite a savior for the company, but it does represent a reinvention of the car company.

The CX-5 compact crossover is a new vehicle architecture that, in time, will be the basis for most new Mazdas in the near future. The reinvention is centered on the new design and engineering philosophy Mazda calls Skyactiv Technology. It is a rethinking of how a vehicle is built, which focuses on safety, lightweight construction, fuel economy and design.

"Moving forward, every new Mazda will have to be 220 pounds lighter than its predecessor," said Product Development Engineer Dave Coleman during a recent vehicle test. The CX-5 body is made up of 61 percent high-tensile steel for a lighter, stronger structure and also uses ultra-high tensile steel in the front bumper, which is a first for any production vehicle, Coleman said. There are no aluminum panels, which kept costs down, but future vehicles may have to use more aluminum to meet weight goals, he said.

The so-called design language, "Soul of Motion," tries to capture the flow of nature. It is familiar to other Mazda designs but is a more cohesive wrap of the vehicle and toning down of the once large face. The design looks like what could have been the next generation CX-7, Mazda's other five-passenger crossover that ends production this year.

But the CX-5 is a little more upright with more functional utility and passenger space. There is tall front headroom and a long 39.3 inches of rear legroom with plenty of footroom under the front seats. The back seat has a 40/20/40 split that folds flat, and there are handy release levers in the cargo area. The cargo opening is 45 inches wide, 32 inches deep and a little more than 5 feet long with the seats folded, so a variety of sports gear can be stuffed inside.

The cabin is so air tight that you may find yourself closing the doors harder than usual, but that also means a quiet car on the road. The driver area is simple and remarkably free of gimmicky treatments. Controls are simple to find and use. And there are a variety of storage-stash places for cups, phones and devices, with charging points. My Android phone hooked up in just a few seconds.

Sightlines are good, and the uplevel models with navigation system include a rearview camera with guidance lines in the 5.8-inch color screen. Safety features include the expected six air bags, traction and stability controls but also the unexpected standard blind-spot monitoring.

The real-world feel of Skyactiv is in the CX-5's new 2.0-liter four-cylinder, which has the highest compression ratio of any mass-produced car — 13:1. The engine runs on regular unleaded and channels power through six-speed transmissions (manual or automatic) to front- or all-wheel drive.

Fuel economy with the six-speed manual is 26 mpg city, 35 mpg highway. The automatic is rated 26/32 and 25/31 AWD. But the combined average is excellent at 29 mpg, for a non-hybrid car.

The CX-5 is enjoyable to drive. The ride is firm, not harsh, and the power is deceiving. With a peak of 155 hp, it is not overpowered, but there's plenty of kick around town. Acceleration can feel light when getting up to speed for Interstate merging, but all's forgiven when factoring fuel economy.

Coleman tested the CX-5 repeatedly at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, beating a Mazda3 through the turns. The tire compounding is so specific, he said, that dealers will have the exact replacement tires. Replacements from other outlets will not be the same, he said.

He also applied his expertise to the steering, suspension tuning and handling. The electric steering is vastly more tunable than mechanical, he said. "You make it honest. You make it give feedback and make it consistent."

Sold in three trim levels with front- or all-wheel drive with six speed manual or automatic transmissions, starting prices range from $21,490, including $795 freight charge, to $29,090 for the top-line Grand Touring AWD with automatic. The Grand Touring tester was $29,165 with one option package for technology, $1,325, which included such extras as a TomTom navigation system, adaptive front lighting (it turns a few degrees with the steering wheel) and keyless entry.

Standard equipment includes remote locking with push-button start, air conditioning, cruise control, 40/20/40-split fold-flat back seat, 17-inch wheels and Yokohama or Toyo all-season tires, power mirrors with integrated turn signals, power windows, tilt-telescoping steering wheel, four-speaker audio system with aux-USB ports, automatic headlight shutoff, roof spoiler and black or sand beige fabric upholstery.

The Grand Touring adds such features as blind-spot monitoring system, 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels, moonroof, leather-trimmed upholstery, heated front seats, an eight-way power driver's seat with power lumbar and Bose Centerpoint audio upgrade with Sirius satellite radio.

The CX-5 looks young, drives young and handles more like a car than a crossover. And as a new graduate from a new philosophy, it felt reassuringly settled and sorted.

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