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2013 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring FWD Review By Carey Russ

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2013 Mazda CX-5


2013 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring FWD Review

Who but Mazda would build a five-passenger crossover as if it was a high-performance sports car? And that makes sense -- the light weight and attention to mechanical and aerodynamic detail that improve performance also improve fuel efficiency. And improved fuel efficiency decreases emissions. That crossover is the new Mazda CX-5.

Mazdas are different from other cars. This is because Mazda is a small company and so differentiates its offerings in the marketplace rather than competing directly with the major players. And it does that very well, with an emphasis on innovative engineering and cars and even crossovers with a fun-to-drive character. Mazda is the automaker that revived the two-seat convertible roadster with the MX-5 Miata, successfully developed the Wankel rotary-piston engine to power the RX-7 and RX-8 sports cars, and created a crossover that really was a cross between a utility vehicle and sports sedan in the CX-7.

Changes in the auto industry in general and at Mazda in particular that have brought about realignments in the company's product lineup. Increasing fuel economy and decreasing emissions have been decreed by governments just about everywhere, and the long-time alliance between Mazda and Ford has come to an end. So, in the Mazda crossover lineup, both the performance-oriented CX-7 and Mazda/Ford joint venture Tribute are gone, replaced by the CX-5, an early introduction for the 2013 model year.

With the CX-5 comes SKYACTIV TECHNOLOGY, caps Mazda's, and "Sustainable Zoom-Zoom". Skyctiv technology as much an engineering philosophy as it is a collection of hardware and software, with the goal that improved power, torque, and fuel economy don't require compromises in design or safety. Its first implementation was in the driveline of 2012 models of Mazda's core model, the Mazda3. Further development, presaging Mazdas of the future, is seen in the all-new 2013 CX-5. It gets the new 155-horsepower "Skyactiv-G" 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, matched to either a six-speed manual (yes, a stick in a family crossover for those who love to drive) or an innovative six-speed automatic transmission. A unibody structure made largely from high-tensile steel ensures light weight, all the better for both road manners and fuel economy.

There are three trim levels in the 2013 CX-5 lineup, Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring. All are offered in standard front-wheel drive or optional all-wheel drive form, although if you want the stick, it's only found in the front-drive Sport. Appropriately. The Sport is well-equipped; Touring adds exterior and interior upgrades and a blind-spot monitoring system. Grand Touring adds 19-inch wheels and tires, leather upholstery, a 9-speaker Bose audio system, and other interior features for a near-luxury experience.

I first met the CX-5 at a journalist's association track day, held appropriately at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. That example was a front-wheel drive Sport with the stick. Laguna is a handling track, and the CX-5 worked surprisingly well there. No, it's not a race car. But it does give a more rewarding driving experience than the typical crossover, and actually likes to be driven enthusiastically.

More recently, I spent a week with a front-drive Grand Touring with the Technology Package. With leather, navigation system, adaptive HID headlights, the blind-spot system, and other upscale features, it's a pleasant near-luxury crossover that is conveniently sized between the old Tribute and CX-5. Light weight, around 3300 pounds, means decent performance from the 155-hp engine is available, but the transmission is programmed for economy, so manual mode is the way to go for that. Considering that the vast majority of crossover buyers aren't looking for a sports car, no problem -- and the 30 mpg average I got for the week will be more attractive to them than rocket sled acceleration.

APPEARANCE: Greet the new face of Mazda. The controversial oversized grinning grille of the recent past has been toned down to a smaller five-sided shape similar to older Mazda grilles if a bit more rounded. It blends well with the CX-5's lines, which are boxier and more traditional than the CX-7's but sleeker and more stylish than the Tribute. Character lines on the sides and the shape of the front fenders establish continuity with previous Mazdas. The rear features a visor-type spoiler over a steeply-sloped rear window and prominent taillights. Dark textured plastic cladding surrounds the entire lower part of the car, from the lower intake in front, around the wheel arches, over the rocker panels, and beneath the rear bumper fascia. Twin exhausts give a sporty look. A peek underneath reveals a nearly full-length undertray. This is not an off-road skid plate, it's for air management, as in a race car.

COMFORT: Inside is a good amount of space for five people and luggage, wrapped in a pleasantly stylish and functional manner, using high-quality materials. It's not distractingly over-styled, and versatility is enhanced, in Touring and Grand Touring models, by a 40/60/40-folding rear seatback. More storage is found in the doors -- with bottle holders -- and in the glovebox and console. Up front, in upper-level models the driver gets power seat adjustment, and in all comfort is helped by an upright, high-eyepoint seating position and good visibility. Well-shaded, backlit instruments are easy to see in any light, and the steering wheel is adjustable for both tilt and reach, with cruise and audio controls. The Tom Tom navigation system is simple to use, and the screen atop the center stack also is used by the backup camera. Audio choices are AM, FM, and XM radio, plus CDs, with a jack and USB/iPod port in the console box, with a power point. Rear passengers get plenty of space, and a space-saver spare tire lives under the rear load floor.

SAFETY: All CX-5 models get strong safety-oriented unibody construction, front, front-side, and full-length side curtain airbags, and a tire pressure monitoring system. Brakes are four-wheel disc, antilock of course, with Dynamic Stability Control. Touring and Grand Touring get a blind spot monitoring system that illuminates a spot in the appropriate outside mirror and sounds a chime when a vehicle is in range to the side of the CX-5. Optional are HID headlights that adaptively turn a little in the direction of the steering wheel for improved night vision.

RIDE AND HANDLING: This is where the CX-5 shines. It's quiet inside, but not isolated from the real world. The fully-independent MacPherson strut/multilink suspension is tuned for very good ride comfort and handling abilities, improving both the fun-to-drive character of the car and active safety. A few laps around the track at what would be PhD traffic school speeds highlighted this. The CX-5 is light on its feet and much more nimble than expected of a crossover. It's also pleasant on any sort of road surface, and conveniently sized for easy parking.

PERFORMANCE: The CX-5 is light for a crossover, at around 3300 pounds. With 155 horsepower (at 6000 rpm) and 150 lb-ft of torque (at 4000) through a six-speed transmission, sprightly but not sporty performance might be expected. That can happen with the stick and by keeping revs up. The automatic is designed for fuel efficiency, which means, in D, early shifting and keeping the highest practical gear. So quick acceleration will happen only with use of manual-shift mode, simple enough, and the rest of the time fuel economy will surprise. EPA ratings are 26 mpg city, 32 highway. I easily got 25 around town, and a hundred miles of highway travel -- at real highway speeds and with hills --brought the average up to 30. That's as good as I got a few years ago in a Tribute Hybrid - and that's a tribute to the innovative technology in both the engine and transmission here. In the engine, a high 13:1 compression ratio allowed by direct fuel injection improves both power and efficiency, while widely-variable valve timing further improves efficiency and allows use of regular unleaded. The automatic transmission goes into lock-up mode over 5 mph, further improving efficiency. It shifts quickly and smoothly, in both automatic and manual modes.

CONCLUSIONS: The new Mazda CX-5 combines the space and versatility expected in a compact crossover with unexpectedly good handling and fuel economy.

2013 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring FWD

Base Price			$ 27,045
Price As Tested			$ 29,165
Engine Type			DOHC 16-valve inline aluminum alloy
				  4-cylinder with variable valve timing
				  and direct fuel injection
Engine Size			2.0 liters / 122 cu. in.
Horsepower			155 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			150 @ 4000 rpm
Transmission			6-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length		106.3 in. / 179.3 in.
Curb Weight			3272 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		21.1
Fuel Capacity			15.3 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P225/55 R19 99V m+s ToyoA23
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut/
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			transverse front engine, 
				  front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		26 / 32 / 30
0 to 60 mph				9.0  sec

Grand Touring Tech Package -- includes:
  navigation system, HID headlamps with auto leveling,
  adaptive front lighting, Mazda Advanced Keyless Entry
  System, auto-dimming mirror with Homelink,
  anti-theft alarm					$ 1,325
Destination charge					$   795