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2013 Mazda CX-5 Review by Steve Purdy +VIDEO

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2013 Mazda CX-5

By Steve Purdy
Michigan Bureau

Our test car this week - the Mazda CX-5 - is one of the hot new contenders in the popular compact CUV market, one of the fastest growing segments in the U.S. We wrote about it at launch a few months ago, but now we have the chance to live with it for a week.

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 is rated at 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 addressing all these categories and perhaps a few more.

The SKYACTIV philosophy is to eschew the nearly universal trend within the auto industry to produce hybrids and electrics in anticipation of much more strict federal mileage standards looming on the horizon. Mazda decided to continue wringing more efficiency out of existing gasoline and diesel engines as well as redesign every element of the car to achieve more efficiency. They decided, in essence, to 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.

Watch the Mazda CX-5 SKYACTIV promo video

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 looked at every part of the engine for efficiencies. 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. That adds up to 35 highway mpg and 29-mpg combined - numbers that mean 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. The six-speed manual transmission only comes on the bottom-of-the-line model like this week’s test car.

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 plenty of personality and the gaping grill with recessed fog lights give the front view a fresh, aggressive look.

Watch TACH's exclusive Mazda CX-5 promo video

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 just 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 than we might expect given the stylish slope of the A-pillar. Cockpit design is conservative but attractive, functional and driver-centric. The fabric on our base model 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. But many customers, I’m sure, will be happy with the entry level car. Our base model with no options is very well equipped with 16-inch alloy wheels, six-speed manual transmission, tilt/telescopic steering wheel with controls, 60/40 split rear seat backs and all the chassis dynamics, safety features and power stuff we expect on any car these days.

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The proof is in the pudding, as my grandmother used to say. So, how did we like it after living with it for a week. Well, as hard as I tried, I found nothing to complain about. Some think we auto writers aren’t doing our jobs if we don’t find something, but I found nothing here. The CX-5 is nice to look at, remarkably well made, modestly stylish, and fun to drive, particularly with the manual transmission that allows us to compensate for modest power. The tepid acceleration is more than made up for by the exceptional fuel mileage, in my view.

As you may surmise from the modest hp and torque numbers this is not a screamer. As a practical matter Mazda CX-5 owners will never drive their CUV on a race track or thrash it on the streets like a sports car. Mazda is known for fun handling and performance, though, and they’ve continued that tradition with this one.

The CX-5 is rated with a 2,000 towing capacity. Seems like that’s rather optimistic with such limited torque. You won’t be towing a big boat or a heavy travel trailer but smaller loads will be no problem.

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