The notion of a compact crossover is hardly a new one. The Geo Tracker debuted in 1989, and in 1994 Toyota released a blockbuster hit with the RAV4, and Honda followed with the wildly successful CR-V a year later. Yet Mazda has been content to sit on the sidelines while demand continued to surge for this type of vehicle. Sure, there was the Mazda Tribute, which was simply a rebadged Ford Escape. Upright and staid, the Tribute did not mesh at all with Mazda’s line of vehicles, and never sold well. With that in mind, it’s hard to believe that the 2013 CX-5 is Mazda’s first effort at a compact crossover.
Style and crossover don’t always go hand in hand. The aforementioned RAV4 and CR-V reign supreme when it comes to sales, and the buying public has made its statement: they prize functionality and practicality over personality. Why is this? The belief is style will compromise the utility that buyers seek in a CUV. Mazda designers threw that notion in the garbage, and designed one of the prettiest crossovers available that gives up nothing in the form of utility. Interesting angles and curves prevail, but the CX-5 never comes across as busy or overdone. The ultimate seal of approval came when I pulled up to the swanky Liberty Warehouse in New York City for a wedding reception, and the valet tells me what a great looking car the CX-5 was.
Inside, driver and passengers are greeted with a simple, functional interior. Fit and finish and quality of materials are on par with the competition. Buyers enticed by the exotic curves of the exterior may be disappointed that Mazda went ultra-conservative inside, however. Mazda bills itself as a driver’s kind of car company, and as such I appreciated the chunky steering wheel and crystal clear gauges. Some reviews have panned the TomTom GPS navigation and infotainment as being too basic, but I found it a cinch to use with all the features I could possibly want. Flashy? No, but the CX-5′s cabin proved to be roomy, practical and quite comfortable.
The CX-5 is offered with one engine, a 2.0L direct injected SkyActiv four cylinder rated at 155hp (though there are rumors we could see a diesel powered CX-5). A six-speed manual (which is I hear is sublime) is a rarity in crossovers, and is only available in the base model with front wheel drive. All other CX-5′s get a six-speed automatic. Buyers can choose from front or all-wheel drive. Our automatic, all-wheel drive has EPA fuel economy ratings of 25/31 MPG city/highway, which is exceptional. When I saw that 155hp was all there was to motivate this car, I was skeptical that it would be able to get out of its own way. Thankfully, I was proven wrong. It’s no rocket, but the CX-5 was perfectly at ease on the highway, engine and transmission working in perfect harmony. Steering, brakes and handling are superior to any other car in its class-and that is one hyper-competitive class. Smooth on the interstate, yet perfectly agile in the urban jungle of New York City, the CX-5 is a no compromise performer.
CX-5 shoppers can pick from three trim levels, starting with base Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring. Our test car was the top-spec Grand Touring model. Standard equipment included 19″ alloys, power moonroof, heated leather sport seats, two-zone auto climate control, blind spot monitoring system, Bose audio, power driver’s seat, HD SiriusXM radio and a rear-view camera. Our car’s sole option was the Tech Package, which added navigation, HID headlights and other goodies. Including delivery, our CX-5 stickers at $30,415USD, which seems reasonable for the level of features you get.
Mazda’s first genuine attempt to get into the compact crossover market is, in my opinion, a raging success. Mazda has proved that you do not need to have vanilla styling to be practical, or have the handling capabilities of a marshmellow to be comfortable. Instead, the CX-5 delivers a look that is interesting to look at, and a driving experience that shatters all the accepted notions of how a crossover should handle and perform. All of this with surrendering any practicality. Mazda may be years late to the party, but without a shadow of a doubt perfected the recipe.