Mazda CX-5 — An extra dose of performance

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The CX-5 was introduced for the 2013 model year with a 2.0-liter four rated at 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque. It felt sluggish to us and it took the luster off an otherwise well-conceived, delightful small crossover. Mazda has answered the call for increased performance in its new and impressive 2014 CX-5.

The performance concerns have been addressed with a bigger 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque.

The new engine, introduced earlier this year, is standard equipment in the mid- and top-level Touring and Grand Touring trims, and is the same engine that is used successfully in the new Mazda6 mid-sized sedan. The 2.0-liter continues to be sold in the base Sport trim. Both engines are mated to a six-speed automatic, but the 2.0-liter can still be purchased with a manual transmission.

Both engines are part of the new Skyactiv family of engines that use direct injection, high compression and low-friction materials to achieve good performance and high fuel economy on regular gas.

In the you-can-have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too department, gas mileage suffers very little despite an increase of 29 horsepower and 35 pound-feet of torque. The 2.5-liter is rated at 25 mpg city, 32 highway and 27 overall in two-wheel drive and 24/30/26 with all-wheel drive. The 2.0-liter numbers are 26/32/29 in two-wheel drive and 25/31/28 for AWD.

Using performance numbers as a comparison, the 2.5 is nearly two seconds faster from 0-to-60 than the 2.0-liter. The smaller engine has been tested at about 9 seconds in two-wheel drive and 9.7 seconds in AWD. Mazda says the 2.5-liter engine will do the deed in 7.2 seconds in two-wheel drive and 7.8 seconds with AWD.

The bigger engine is a joy by comparison, ready for action without drama, and when a big dose of performance is called for in such instances as a tricky passing maneuver, the transmission is quick and effective on the downshift.

Mazda has done a terrific job engineering both passenger and cargo room into the CX-5, which has 34.1 cubic feet of space available behind the seats and a cargo capacity of 65.4 cubic feet. The front seats are comfortable and very well bolstered for a crossover and reclining rears seats with plenty of leg room is generous for in back passengers. When you figure in the second-row passenger stretch-out room, the CX-5 carries some serious bragging rights.

In addition to the roomy interior, which should appeal to folks who regularly carry passengers in the second row, Mazda's goal was to develop a crossover with sharp driving dynamics in a lightweight package. For the most part they have succeeded. If we had to sum up this vehicles’ on-road attributes we could do it in three words: fun to drive. We were amazed at the crossover's agility and handling taking it at increasingly faster speeds over our favorite stretch of twisty, winding rural blacktop.

A smile-inducing road-carving nature is usually not attributed to vehicles in the mainstream crossover segment, but the CX-5 breaks the mold. And why not have those qualities in a vehicle that does all the usual crossover hauling chores so effectively?

Mazda says it has achieved its goals through the new SkyActiv technology, which includes new engine architecture, transmission tuning, suspension magic and a lightweight body structure.

While the exterior styling is cutting edge, the interior is more conservative, but attractive, with well-placed gauges and switchgear and quality materials. Black gauges with white lettering are highly legible, something that becomes a major consideration for old and tired eyes.

The CX-5 starts at $21,990 for the manual transmission Sport trim; with automatic the starting price rises to $23,390. The Touring model with the 2.5-liter engine starts at $25,410 and the Grand Touring begins at $28,415. All-wheel drive adds about $1,250. Standard equipment across the board includes 17-inch alloy wheels, full power accessories, keyless entry, cruise control, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, a full complement of airbags including side-curtain, and active front head restraints. We think the Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity package, which includes Pandora internet radio compatibility and audio menu voice command, is worth the $400 option price.

Our top-line Grand Touring test vehicle with AWD, 8-way power driver’s seat, Bose stereo system and 19-inch alloy wheels also came with the $1,625 Tech Package that includes navigation, keyless entry and ignition and HID headlamps bringing the bottom line to $31,890.

The CX-5 with the 2.5-liter offers vehicle handling more like a sports sedan than an SUV and that equals satisfaction and fun.

Base price: $21,990; as driven, $31,890
Engine: 2.5-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 184 @ 5,700 rpm
Torque: 185 foot-pounds @ 3,250 rpm
Drive: all-wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 106.3 inches
Length: 179.3 inches
Curb weight: 3,532 pounds
Turning circle: 36.7 feet
Luggage capacity: 34.1 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 65.4 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 15.3 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 30 highway, 24 city
0-60: 7.8 seconds (manufacturer)
Also consider: Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape

The Good
• Modern, stylish design
• New-found performance
• Sporty handling

The Bad
• Jiggly ride over rough surfaces

The Ugly
• Lower priced advertised models may have smaller engine