Mazda's CX-5 has charmed us with its lively chassis, tidy size, and excellent fuel economy. The latter, however, comes at a cost, one that becomes immediately apparent the first time you point the CX-5 up a long grade. Although adequate around town, the 155-hp 2.0-liter is underpowered on uphill climbs, and the six-speed automatic transmission allows forward momentum to drain away before it finally downshifts and struggles to regain speed.
For its sophomore model year, Mazda has addressed that one dynamic weakness with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that is now standard in CX-5 Touring and Grand Touring models (the base Sport continues with the smaller 2.0-liter). The larger engine's 185 hp and 184 pound-feet of torque might not sound like a huge increase over the smaller four's 155 hp and 150 pound-feet, but it's enough to make a difference. This is the engine the CX-5 should have had from the get-go; with it, acceleration is livelier and the little SUV fears no hills.
Pay at the pump
Of course, that extra power comes at a cost of a couple miles per gallon. The CX-5, however, was already at the top of its class as far as fuel economy is concerned, and with the bigger engine it's still quite good. Even with four-wheel drive, the 2.5-liter manages 30 mpg on the highway and 24 in the city. With front-wheel drive, the ratings are 25/32 city/highway. The abstemious 2.0-liter nets 26/32 mpg and 25/31 mpg (2WD and 4WD, respectively). Those figures are with the automatic transmission; the CX-5 only hits its marquee number, 35 mpg highway, with the manual transmission, which can be had only on the base Sport with front-wheel drive.
On its toes
Other than the change in the engine room, the 2014 CX-5 remains the winning compact SUV it has been. Chief among it charms is its chassis. The CX-5 has a lively, on-it-toes feeling that is unique in this segment, and most welcome. There's a section of New York's Taconic State Parkway in Putnam County that has a long, decreasing-radius, downhill curve and a passing lane that is particularly narrow, with the white line just inches from the rusty, banged-up center guardrail. Passing someone on that stretch is a white-knuckle affair, unless you're in a car with superb steering. The CX-5 aced that test, and we expect it would be the only compact SUV to do so.
More commonplace virtues include dead-easy ingress and egress, seats with excellent lateral support, an adult-habitable rear seat, a decent cargo hold, and generally easy-to-use switchgear. The notable downsides are pretty much limited to a plainish interior, a subpar navigation system, and poor rear visibility. The latter is an unfortunate offshoot of the highly styled -- or is that overstyled? -- exterior, which almost could be the work of a moonlighting Chris Bangle. Actually, having a former BMW designer shape the exterior would be appropriate in a way, since the CX-5 drives like the BMW of compact crossovers. And now it has the engine to match.
2013 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring
|Price as Tested:||$31,890|
|2.5-liter I-4 engine|
|6-speed automatic transmission|
|Hill launch assist|
|Power windows and door locks|
|Leather-trimmed seats, steering wheel, shift knob|
|8-way power driver's seat|
|Blind spot monitoring system|
|5.8-inch color touch-screen|
|Bose Centerpoint 9-speaker surround-sound audio system|
|HD radio, satellite radio, Pandora compatibility|
|Steering-wheel audio controls|
|Tilt and telescopic steering column|
|Dual-zone automatic climate control|
|19-inch alloy wheels|
|Options on this vehicle:|
|Grand Touring Tech Package- $1625|
|Smart city brake support|
|Auto-dimming rearview mirror w/Homelink|
|Soul red paint charge- $300|
|Retractable cargo cover- $200|
|Rear bumper guard- $100|
|Horsepower:||184 hp @ 5700 rpm|
|Torque:||185 lb-ft @ 3250 rpm|
|Wheel:||7.0 x 19 in alloy|
|Curb Weight:||3532 lbs|
|Fuel Economy:||24/30 mpg (city/highway)|
|Cargo (rear seats up/folded):||34.1/65.4 cu ft|
|Legroom (front/rear):||41.0/39.3 in|
|Headroom (front/rear):||39.0/39.0 in|