2014 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring FWDPosted on April 29th, 2013
Five-passenger crossover with fuel-saving technology
By Nina Russin
The newest version of Mazda’s CX-5 compact crossover is the first to come with Skyactiv: the automaker’s proprietary fuel-saving technology. The theory behind Skyactiv is simple: build a better mousetrap. Internal combustion engines are inherently inefficient. About 40 percent of what goes into the gas tank goes to waste, due to incomplete combustion and internal pumping losses.
The execution is a lot more complicated, since the relatively simple measures to improve efficiency took place with the advent of on-board engine computers. So the Mazda engineers dug deeper, making changes to the engine compression ratio, increasing the amount of time the automatic transmission uses a friction rather than fluid coupling, shaving weight off the chassis, etc.
The result is impressive. The CX-5 Grand Touring model, that uses the larger of two available four-cylinder engines, averaged 29 miles-per-gallon on my 130-mile test drive.
Being Mazda, it’s implied that none of this detracts from the car’s performance. The CX-5 is a hoot to drive, with plenty of power off the line, responsive steering and a crisp transmission.
It’s also affordable. Base price for the test car is $27,620. A technology option package adds keyless entry and start, satellite radio, navigation, high-intensity discharge headlamps, smart city braking support and adaptive front lighting ($1625). The $795 delivery charge brings the final MSRP to $30,340.
Taking the path less travelled
Every time I get behind the wheel of a Mazda, I think about Tom Matano: the designer responsible for penning the original MX-5 Miata. When Matano started on the project in the mid-1990s, his goal was to make a car that was so much fun to drive, its owners would choose the longer route to work. Based on the number of Miatas I see on the road, I have to believe he accomplished his goal.
While the CX-5 isn’t quite as nimble as a two-seat sports car, it certainly doesn’t handle like a high-profile crossover. I guess I would best describe it as an evolved sport sedan.
Test drive in Phoenix
My test drive included the Bush Highway east of town, as well as highways and surface streets in the east valley. I kept the transmission in fully automatic mode until I got the to two-lane rural road. At that point, I switched to manual.
In addition to being a fun car, the CX-5 is also very safe, thanks to its standard rearview camera, blind spot monitoring and smart city brake support. The braking feature is Mazda’s version of the Volvo system that automatically applies the brakes if the driver fails to recognize and react to a stopped vehicle ahead.
The rearview camera has lines superimposed over the wide-angle camera image showing the car’s trajectory according to steering inputs. It not only eliminates blind spots below the rear glass; the system makes it much easier to monitor cross traffic in a parking lot.
The blind spot monitoring system illuminates LED signals in the side mirrors when cars in the adjacent lanes pass through the driver’s blind spots. Since the CX-5’s high beltline and narrow greenhouse makes it harder to see low profile vehicles, I found the feature very useful.
The 2.5-liter engine on he CX-5 has an extremely high compression ratio for a vehicle not used in racing. Thanks to on-board computers, it is possible for a 13:1 compression engine to run reliably for the life cycle of the car without detonating. In addition to saving gasoline, the engine is extremely responsive off the line and in the 20-50 mile-per-hour range drivers use merging into high-speed traffic.
Even in fully automatic mode, the transmission is pretty peppy. It maintains an engine speed of about 2500 rpm, while competitive products maintain lower engine speeds to save gas. The difference is especially noticeable in throttle response, which can be pretty sluggish on cars that live in large overdrive gears.
Although electric power steering systems save weight over hydraulic units, engineers stuck with the latter. The reason is that the electric systems tend to have a slight lag in response, most noticeable on the highway. The CX-5 has excellent on-center feel: it can make a significant difference in an emergency maneuver.
The manual gear select feature enables the driver to maintain higher engine speeds for more aggressive performance. It added some extra fun factor on the Bush Highway, which is characterized by short, pitchy hills and off-camber turns.
The four-wheel independent suspension consists of MacPherson struts up front, and a multi-link setup in back. It does a good job of keeping the chassis flat in the corners, while being compliant enough for city driving.
Four-wheel disc brakes stop the car in firm, linear fashion.
Tech-savvy drivers will appreciate the addition of Pandora radio and SMS text messaging to the roster of infotainment features.
Keyless entry and start enables the driver to enter the car and fire the ignition without removing the key fob from his pocket. I found the driver’s seat easy to adjust and comfortable for drives up to two hours.
The steering wheel is very well designed: small in diameter, with logically arranged redundant controls.
I found both the center stack screen and gauge cluster easy to read in bright sunlight. An information display in the gauge cluster gives the driver instant and average fuel economy and driving range.
Designers did a good job of including plenty of 12-volt power points, including one in the cargo area. All four doors have bottle holders, and there are large cupholders in the center console.
The second row seats up to three passengers, but the floor tunnel and center console limit legroom in the center position. An adult can fit there, but probably only on short trips around town.
Second row seats fold flat to extend the cargo floor, so the CX-5 meets our bicycle-friendly standards. The spare tire is located under the cargo floor: an easier location to reach than underneath the chassis.
The Mazda CX-5 comes with front, side and side curtain airbags, antilock brakes, stability control, traction control and hill start assist. The rearview camera and blind spot monitoring are standard on all but the base model.
The 2014 Mazda CX-5 is rolling into dealerships nationwide.
Like: An affordable, fun-to-drive crossover vehicle with excellent fuel economy, a high level of standard safety features and the versatility to meet the needs of buyers with active lifestyles.
Dislike: Black interior, while attractive, is not practical in hot climates.
Model: CX-5 Grand Touring FWD
Base price: $27,620
As tested: $30,340
Horsepower: 184 Hp @ 5700 rpm
Torque: 185 lbs.-ft. @ 3250 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 25/32 mpg city/highway2014, Best Value 2014, Active Lifestyle Vehicles, auto review, Mazda, performance, pricing, standard safety
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