2014 Mazda CX-5 Expert Reviews

Expert Reviews

2014 Mazda CX-5

New Car Test Drive
© 2014 NewCarTestDrive.com

Introduced for 2013, the Mazda CX-5 was a totally new five-passenger compact crossover utility vehicle. Largely defined by the Honda CR-V for the past decade, the rapidly expanding compact utility vehicle category includes the Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue, Kia Sportage, and Subaru Forester.

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

The initial Mazda 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, rated at a modest 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque, delivered respectable performance on the road, but some competitors offered more power.

For 2014, Mazda CX-5 is available with a new Skyactiv-G 2.5-liter four-cylinder, whipping up 184 horsepower at 5700 rpm, and 185 pound-feet at 3250 rpm. Compared to the 2.0-liter, that's 19 percent more horsepower and 23 percent greater torque. 2014 Mazda CX-5 Touring and Grand Touring editions get the new engine, while the CX-5 Sport model sticks with the original 2.0-liter, and remains available with a manual gearbox.

2014 Mazda CX-5 models also offer a new Smart City Brake Support system with Touring and Grand Touring Technology packages. Those models no longer include a burglar alarm.

Mazda CX-5 is not based on other Mazda vehicles but was instead designed from scratch, and features new underpinnings and technology Mazda intends to adapt to future vehicles. The CX-5 is larger than it looks. Its overall length, width, and height are nearly an inch larger than those of the Honda CR-V. However, at 106.3 inches, the CX-5 wheelbase is 3.2 inches longer than that of the CR-V; a longer wheelbase generally equates to improved ride quality and high-speed stability.

Fuel economy is a definite plus. With the 2.5-liter Skyactiv-G engine and front-wheel drive, the 2014 Mazda CX-5 gets an EPA-rated 25/32 mpg City/Highway. All-wheel drive drops the estimate to 24/30 mpg. A CX-5 Sport model with the original 2.0-liter gets an EPA estimate of 26/35 mpg with front-wheel drive and a 6-speed manual transmission, or 26/32 mpg with the available 6-speed automatic. Mazda claimed the 2.0-liter CX-5 got the best fuel economy in its class and the best highway mileage of any SUV. All models run on less-expensive Regular Unleaded gasoline.

Light weight is another Mazda CX-5 advantage. CX-5 weighs just 3,375 pounds when equipped with front-wheel drive and the Skyactiv-G engine, a benefit of its lightweight engine, a chassis structure made largely of high-tensile steel, and other weight-saving strategies.

A 6-speed manual transmission is available on the Sport with front-wheel drive. CX-5 models equipped with the larger Skyactiv-G engine, or a Sport model with all-wheel drive, come with a 6-speed automatic.

CX-5 offers excellent fuel economy, superb road manners, attractive styling, and an array of telematic features. We were particularly impressed with the comfort, versatility, road manners, and safety features of both models. The CX-5's agility and exceptionally accurate steering make both versions entertaining to drive. While acceleration is so-so with the smaller engine, the larger engine competes well with the other vehicles in the class.

Model Lineup

Mazda CX-5 Sport ($21,195), Sport automatic ($22,595), Sport AWD ($23,845): Touring ($24,615), Touring AWD ($25,865); Grand Touring ($27,620), Grand Touring AWD ($28,870)

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 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. 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. That's better than a number of sedans, as well as topping 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.

The 2013 CX-5 earned a 5-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for its side-crash test, but 4-star for the frontal-crash test. However, the 2014 Mazda CX-5 got 5-star ratings for both tests.

Interior

The 2014 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.

Front bucket seats are sportier and more supportive than most in this class, and relatively long seat bottoms yield good thigh support. The chunky steering wheel feels good; it's perfectly centered and tilts and telescopes. 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 unit sits high on the dash, making it easy to read at a glance, though the screen is quite small.

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.

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 dealership, 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 armrest 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 slip one's 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. The rear seats fold nearly flat, but not completely. The rear seatbacks are split 40/20/40 on upper models, 60/40 on Sport, and can be folded forward separately, allowing a lot of flexibility between passengers and long cargo items. 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

Mazda CX-5 offers a choice of drivetrains. All models offer agile handling and are fun to drive.

The 2.0-liter CX-5 delivered better-than-expected acceleration (though hardly startling). That engine works particularly well for driving briskly along winding roads or cruising on the freeway. The 2.0-liter Skyactiv 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 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 2.5-liter Skyactiv-G four-cylinder engine delivers stronger performance. Acceleration is quite frisky from a standstill or for passing maneuvers. Hitting the gas while cruising at 40 mph yields an alert, rapid boost in velocity. Despite a hint of engine buzz, the larger engine sounds about right for a compact crossover. Yes, a bit of a roar can be heard when accelerating hard, but even that sounds appropriate. Like the smaller engine, the 2.5-liter uses a racey 13:1 compression ratio.

In mixed suburban driving, the fuel economy of our all-wheel-drive CX-5 Grand Touring with the 2.5-liter engine fell short of EPA estimates, not quite managing 20 miles per gallon.

With either engine, Mazda's Skyactiv 6-speed automatic transmission is exceptionally smooth, reacting promptly and delivering almost imperceptible upshifts and downshifts as load conditions demand. As a set-and-forget device, simply slip the shifter into D and drive; it's hard to fault. But this automatic 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 taking a 2.0-liter CX-5 through laps on a race course. 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 effect.

The CX-5 Sport's 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 among the 2.0-liter models. We clocked our fastest time on an autocross circuit with the manual, in spite of running on a cool, damp circuit with standing water in places.

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

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. Combined with the exceptional steering, this gives the CX-5 prompt responses and a sporty feel, qualifying as 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. Some pavement bumps and potholes do hit hard, but that's true of most competitors.

All-wheel drive on the CX-5 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 course. We recommend opting 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.

Exceptionally easy to drive, the 2014 Mazda CX-5 impresses us with its fuel economy, comfort, versatility, road manners, styling, and safety features. While acceleration with the 2.0-liter engine is so-so, the 2.5-liter brings performance up to the level set by the CX-5's top competitors, if not beyond. Better yet, with either engine, its agility and exceptionally accurate steering make the CX-5 entertaining on the road. All-wheel drive gives it sure-footed traction and is emphatically the best choice for the Snow Belt. The sportiest setup, however, might still be a front-wheel-drive CX-5 Sport with manual gearbox.

Tony Swan reported from Detroit, with Mitch McCullough reporting from Monterey, California, on the 2.0-liter models. James M. Flammang reported from Chicago on the 2.5-liter Skyactiv four-cylinder engine.

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