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2013 Mazda CX-5 SKYACTIV Ride and Review By Steve Purdy

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2013 Mazda CX-5


2013 MAZDA CX-5 First Full Application of SKYACTIV Technologies

By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

The compact CUV market, one of the fastest growing segments in the U.S., gets a new contender from Mazda – the CX-5. Getting to dealers now it is unlike most others in this genre in that it shares architecture with nothing else. It is really all new. Mazda gathered journalists at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on the Monterey Peninsula to introduce it.

Mazda officials insist that starting from a clean sheet of paper and wrapping the whole design around their new SKYACTIV format has allowed them to create this fresh, well-appointed, small CUV that gets a best-in-class 35 mpg on the highway. That does not happen just with drivetrain technology, weight reduction or aerodynamics. Rather, it takes a comprehensive approach.

The SKYACTIV philosophy is to eschew the nearly universal trend within the auto industry to begin producing hybrids and electrics in anticipation of much more strict federal mileage standards looming on the horizon. They decided to continue to wring more efficiency out of existing gasoline and diesel engines as well as redesign every element of the car to achieve more efficiency. They’ll put none of their fragile eggs in the hybrid or electric car baskets, believing that, at best, those cars will constitute still just a tiny share of the market by crunch time.

Let’s start with the drivetrain.

With the new Mazda CX-5 they’ve upped the compression ratio of the 2.0-liter four-cylinder to 13:1 (higher than a Ferrari 458 Italia), added higher pressure direct injection, incorporated a big dimple in the top of the piston, designed a new tuned exhaust header, changed the timing of valve movements, integrated a much more efficient water pump and lots of other tidbits. They’ve not yet added a turbo but that could come later. With all those little tweaks they’re getting a decent (certainly not impressive) 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque on regular fuel. More importantly, that adds up to 35 highway mpg and 29-mpg combined - numbers that means so much in the race to meet upcoming standards. A new lightweight 6-speed automatic transmission that rev-matches downshifts puts that power to the road efficiently. An improved lighter weight all-wheel drive system is optional. You can even get a six-speed manual transmission but only on the bottom-of-the-line model.

The CX-5 gets some changes in suspension geometry. Moving anchor points of front and rear suspension members to untraditional positions mitigates some harshness in on rough roads. While the suspension design is fairly conventional these tweaks really improve the ride and handling.

The CX-5 is easy to look at. Designers paid particular attention to the profile wanting a long hood, gently sloping A-pillar, raked rear window and distinctly sculpted sides. Bold creases in the sheet metal with flowing lines give it a dynamic look with lots of personality and the gaping grill with recessed fog lights give the front view a fresh, aggressive look.

Aerodynamics are good for a CUV, many of which have the aerodynamic efficiency of a brick. Careful attention to small and large details results in a slippery design with a coefficient of drag of 0.33. Body shape, low rolling resistance tires, underbody covers and exterior trim all contribute to this number.

Interior space matches the competition and beats some. Ingress and egress of the front seats are better that we might expect given the stylish slope of the A-pillar. Cockpit design is attractive, functional and driver-centric. Fabric and stitched leather compliment the inside and the fabric does not feel or look like a compromise. Rear passengers will not feel cramped unless oversized. Overall interior volume is about mid-pack compared to the competition. Cargo capacity is good and seat backs fold nearly flat.

Pricing begins at just about 20 grand for the base model and goes to about 28 grand for the Grand Touring. Add the extra packages and you’ll be just over 30 grand loaded. The base model is quite well equipped with 16-inch alloy wheels, six-speed manual transmission, tilt/telescopic steering wheel with controls, 60/40 split rear seatbacks.

Higher trim levels get a 40/20/40 rear seat back design with remote release inside the rear hatch particularly handy for loading skis.

The proof is in the pudding, as my grandmother used to say. So, how does it all come together on the race track, autocross course and open road driving? In a nutshell, it’s a bit underpowered but mighty competent in just about all other categories.

As you may surmise from the modest hp and torque numbers this is not a screamer, though being pushed hard on a rainy race track can be quite gratifying. As a practical matter Mazda CX-5 owners will never drive their CUV this way. We had both automatic and manual transmission cars with which to do plenty of hot laps, and I must admit it was fun. One element of auto design Mazda is known for is handling and performance that is focused on having fun, and they’ve continued that tradition with this one.

Our open road experience included the twisty, tight, scenic Carmel Valley Road winding through the middle of the peninsula. My co-driver and I agreed that it is one of the best handling of the small CUVs. Downshifting was accomplished quickly and precisely as we charged through the twisties trying to make the other guy motion sick. Another few miles and he would have had me. The CX-5 held the road admirably even with the low rolling resistance tires.

But again, that’s not the way owners will use their cars. The CX-5 is also rated with a 2,000 towing capacity. Seems like that’s rather optimistic with such limited torque. I think it is fair to say that very few customers will be disappointed in the acceleration and power, unless driving steep roads in the mountains or towing a full load. Otherwise, it is likely to satisfy the majority of buyers, particularly those who have become partial to Mazdas.

Mazda bosses say all their products will be rolled into the SKYACTIV philosophy within about 18 months and we were able to confirm that Mazda plans to bring a twin turbo diesel into the US fold as well. Big news both.

The 5-passenger CX-5 will replace the trusty CX-7, though the latter will be available for a time yet.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved