2013 Mazda CX-5

Expert reviews

These reviews are written by independent automotive journalists providing an objective and reliable assessment to help you make a smart buying decision. 2013 Mazda CX-5.

Reviewed By: New Car Test Drive
© 2013 NewCarTestDrive.com


The 2013 Mazda CX-5 is a totally new five-passenger compact crossover utility vehicle. Defined by the Honda CR-V for the past 10 years, the rapidly expanding compact utility vehicle category includes the Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue, Kia Sportage, Subaru Forester, and Ford Escape.

The Mazda CX-5 distinguishes itself with sleek styling, excellent fuel economy and agile handling. It looks great and it's more fun to drive than the other CUVs.

Perhaps most notable is its fuel economy: CX-5 gets an EPA-rated 26/35 miles per gallon City/Highway with front-wheel drive and 6-speed manual, 26/32 mpg with front-wheel drive and 6-speed automatic, 25/31 mpg with all-wheel drive and automatic. Mazda claims the CX-5 gets the best fuel economy in its class and the best fuel economy on the highway of any SUV. And it runs on Regular gas.

Designed from scratch, the Mazda CX-5 represents a fresh set of design computer algorithms, with underpinnings and technology Mazda intends to adapt to future vehicles. The new CX-5 is slightly taller than the CX-7, which the CX-5 replaces. Mazda is expected to stop importing the CX-7 into the U.S. in the not too distant future.

The new Mazda CX-5 is larger than it looks. Overall length, width, and height measurements of the CX-5 are nearly an inch larger than those of the new 2012 Honda CR-V. However, at 106.3 inches, the CX-5 wheelbase is 3.2 inches longer than that of the CR-V, an advantage for the Mazda in terms of ride quality.

Curb weight promises to be another Mazda CX-5 advantage. With a large percentage of high-tensile steel in its structure, a CX-5 with front-wheel drive weighs just 3208 pounds, according to Mazda, 288 pounds lighter than the minimum for a comparable CX-7, and, more significant, almost 100 pounds less than the equivalent Honda CR-V.

Another Mazda CX-5 distinction versus the Honda CR-V is the availability of a 6-speed manual transmission as well as a 6-speed automatic. However, note that the shift-for-yourself gearbox is available only on the basic trim level with front-wheel drive. CX-5 models equipped with all-wheel drive come with a 6-speed automatic.

The CX-5 is the first total vehicle application of a new engineering approach Mazda calls Skyactiv Technology. One of the more obscure marketing labels in recent memory, Skyactiv is portrayed by Mazda as a total design integration of engine, transmissions, and body shell, but the critical element is the new 2.0-liter four-cylinder Skyactiv engine. Designed for maximum efficiency, the new engine is light, with a number of friction-reducing measures, a new exhaust manifold design, an exceptionally high compression ratio (13:1), and runs on regular unleaded fuel. The engine has already propelled the Mazda 3 compact into the 40 mpg club. Although the CX-5 is a heavier vehicle, the SkyActiv combination of engine, compact transmission designs, and low vehicle weight helps the new crossover achieve excellent fuel economy.

The Mazda engine delivers respectable performance on the road, but the competition offers more powerful engines. The new engine is rated for a modest 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque, well down the power charts in this class. Still, if 0-to-60 mph were really important in this class, the CX-7's optional 244-horsepower turbo model would rule.

The CX-5's appeal lies in good fuel economy, excellent road manners, attractive styling, and the now-expected array of telematic features. We found the CX-5 impressive in a number of areas that matter in this category: fuel economy, comfort, versatility, road manners, styling, and safety features. And while acceleration is so-so, the CX-5's agility and exceptionally accurate steering make it entertaining to drive.

Model Lineup

Mazda CX-5 Sport ($20,695), Touring ($23,895), Grand Touring ($27,045)

Walk Around

Like other players in the small utility game, Mazda has moved away from the boxy, small scale SUV look of the original crossovers to flowing lines similar to contemporary sedan styling. The shape and detailing is the first iteration of what Mazda calls its new kodo design language, reflecting the grace and power of animals such as the cheetah and hence a faster, forceful, and more soulful means of transportation, according to the publicity materials.

We confess we have trouble seeing a cheetah in the CX-5's shape, but the sculptured lines and pronounced wheel arches do lend a sense of motion and muscularity, even if the latter quality isn't entirely borne out by the new Mazda's acceleration. The body sculpting is especially noticeable in morning and evening light. The body tapers outward toward the bottom, lending a look of stability.

In addition to sleek good looks, the designers achieved excellent aerodynamic properties, with a drag coefficient of just 0.33, a figure that's better than a number of sedans, as well as top of the charts among vehicles in this class.

Good aero pays off in the fuel economy department, but also contributes to quiet operation. The CX-5 isn't entirely silent at freeway speeds, a little noise finds its way into the cabin via the suspension, but wind noise is essentially absent.

While the CX-5 will overlap with, and ultimately replace, the CX-7, and also offers a choice between front- or all-wheel drive, there is no commonality between the two vehicles.

Mazda points out that part of the Skactiv development focused on crashworthiness, and the company expects the CX-5 to perform well in crash testing.

Interior

The Mazda CX-5 has plenty of room for five adults, though the center rear seating position isn't someplace we'd care to occupy for more than an hour or so. Getting in and out is easy.

The front bucket seats are sportier and more supportive than most in this class. The chunky steering wheel feels good. The steering wheel is perfectly centered and tilts and telescopes. CX-5's forward sightlines are better than most. Big mirrors offer a good view rearward.

The center of the dashboard is dominated by a 5.8-inch touch screen, which displays the TomTom-based navigation system. The optional TomTom navigation seemed easier to use than many. The system includes voice recognition and real-time traffic info. The screen sits high on the dash, making it easy to read a glance.

CX-5 offers a substantial menu of telematics and infotainment, including Bluetooth and iPod connectivity, as well as a nine-speaker Bose audio system. HD radio is available. A USB/AUX connector is sequestered in the big center console storage bin, and there are typical small object nooks and cupholders fore and aft. Tap signals are provided for lane changes.

Interior materials are of high quality, with extensive use of soft-touch vinyl and very little hard plastic. Instruments and controls are nicely laid out, well marked, and easily employed, eliminating any real need for orientation at the dealer, computer crashes, or irritating owner's manual searches. It's a simple, straightforward cabin. Cubby storage is decent, with a large glovebox, big cupholders front and rear, rubber-lined door pockets, and arm rest bins.

The back seats are comfortable for two, with enough legroom to cross legs. Getting in and out is easy, with enough room to easily get feet past the B-pillar.

Cargo capacity is 34 cubic feet behind the rear seats, which expands to 65 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks all folded forward, a little less than the CR-V. The rear seats fold nearly flat but not perfectly flat. The rear seatbacks are split 40/20/40 on upper models, 70/30 on Sport, and can be folded forward separately, allowing a lot of flexibility between passengers and long cargoes. A remote release allows the center section to be easily flipped down for skis and such. The tonneau cover stays with the hatch when the hatch is raised.

Driving Impressions

We've spent time in all the Mazda CX-5 models, from the base model with 6-speed manual transmission and front-wheel drive to a top-of-the line version with all-wheel drive and 6-speed automatic. All come with the same 2.0-liter engine.

The CX-5 delivered better-than-expected acceleration (though far from head-snapping). The engine works particularly well for driving briskly along winding roads or cruising on the freeway. The 2.0-liter Skyactive engine uses a 13:1 compression ratio, which Mazda says is the highest in the world for any production engine. A high compression ratio results in high efficiency and high power but is difficult to attain with regular gas without knocking. Mazda has achieved this feat by carefully designing the pistons, high-pressure fuel injection, and a fancy exhaust manifold. The result is a broad torque band that delivers decent performance over a wide range of engine speeds.

The new Skyactiv 6-speed automatic is exceptionally smooth, delivering almost imperceptible up and downshifts as load conditions demand. As a set-and-forget device, slip the shifter into D and simply drive, it's hard to fault. But it is not a piece of equipment that invites engagement from those who view driving as more than just transportation. Although exceptionally compact in size, this is otherwise a conventional automatic. A semi-manual feature allows the driver to shift down by pushing the shift lever forward or upshift by pulling it back. We preferred to put it in D and let it do all the shifting, even when turning laps at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The automatic downshifted a lot on winding roads with elevation changes due to the lack of power; using the manual feature at times can reduce this.

The manual transmission is a pleasure to operate with crisp shift gates and positive engagements, arguably the best do-it-yourself gearbox in this class. We found the front-wheel-drive model with the manual gearbox to be the quickest. We clocked our fastest time on an autocross circuit with the manual (beating all the other automotive journalists present), in spite of running on a cool, damp circuit with standing water in places.

We think best-in-class also applies to the new electric power rack-and-pinion steering system. A relatively recent development, electric systems are more efficient than conventional hydraulic units, but tend to be deficient in tactile information, better known as road feel. The CX-5 system is very good in this respect, with a quick ratio and excellent path accuracy. Mazda North American Operations explained its engineers worked hard to tune the system for the proper balance between road feel at high speed and assist at parking lot speed. It felt precise, intuitive. Few corrections are needed while driving down a bumpy road. The CX-5 felt more stable than the Honda CR-V.

The suspension design is typical of this class: MacPherson struts at the front, and a multi-link arrangement at the rear to accommodate all-wheel drive hardware. The suspension tuning tends toward sporty, with minimal body roll by the standards for this class, and that, combined with the exceptional steering, gives the CX-5 prompt responses and a sporty feel, a plus for accident avoidance, as well as driving pleasure. Mazda also gets high marks for achieving the foregoing without sacrificing ride quality. The feel is firm but compliant, and could be characterized as European in character. There is some head toss on bumpy roads, however. The CX-5 felt firmly planted and secure when driving down wet, bumpy, curvy back roads at speed.

We didn't sense a big difference between the 17- and 19-inch wheels. In theory, the taller sidewalls that come with 17-inch wheels should yield a more compliant ride while the 19-inch wheels with short-sidewall tires should offer sharper handling. Handling was responsive with the P225/65R17 Yokohama tires on 17-inch wheels, while the P225/55R19 Toyo tires on the 19-inch wheels felt no worse in terms of ride quality.

The all-wheel drive system automatically apportions power front-to-rear depending on traction conditions. In normal driving the power all goes to the front wheels, but this can vary as much as 50 percent. Like almost all compact crossovers, the CX-5's all-wheel drive function is designed to enhance traction in wet or slushy conditions. Although ground clearance is substantial at 8.5 inches, serious off-roading isn't part of its repertoire. We appreciated the grip and sure-footedness of the all-wheel drive while driving through the rain down a winding valley road. The all-wheel-drive versions felt more stable while driving at speed around a wet Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. We recommend springing for all-wheel drive for its improved traction in slippery conditions. If you live in a particularly dry climate, however, you could save a little on the purchase price, get slightly better fuel economy and possibly a somewhat livelier handling feel with front-wheel drive.

The all-new Mazda CX-5 impresses us with its fuel economy, comfort, versatility, road manners, styling, and safety features. And while acceleration is so-so, its agility and exceptionally accurate steering make the CX-5 entertaining to drive. All-wheel drive gives it sure footed traction and is the best choice for the Snow Belt. The sportiest setup, however, is a front-wheel-drive CX-5 Sport with manual gearbox.

Tony Swan reported from Detroit, with Mitch McCullough reporting from Monterey, California.

35 Mazda CX-5 vehicles in stock at carmax.com

35 Mazda CX-5 vehicles in stock