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2013 Mazda CX-5 Pros and Cons: Why (Not) This Car?

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Introduction

Following its divorce from Ford, Mazda realized (for at least the third time) that they can't sell enough cars based on driving enjoyment alone. There simply aren't enough car buyers who care. So, they've added a second focus, on class-leading fuel economy, and they've developed an array of new "SKYACTIV" technologies to achieve it. The new 2013 CX-5 compact crossover is the first car to employ the full array. Does the CX-5 deliver on both foci, old and new?

CX-5 Reviews:

Sporty styling. Big grille promises big powah. more CX-5 photos

CX-5 Reviews:

Black with red stitching, interior much better than Mazda3 and Mazda5

Tested: 2013 Mazda CX-5

4dr SUV 155-horsepower 2.0L I4 6-speed shiftable automatic AWD

Compared: 2013 Ford Escape

4dr SUV turbocharged 178hp 1.6L I4 6-speed shiftable automatic AWD

Why the 2013 Mazda CX-5?

  Compared to the Escape
Fuel economy
Fuel economy: Better Better Worse

On the EPA tests, the CX-5 achieves 26 miles-per-gallon in city driving, and 35 on the highway--with a manual transmission you can only get with the base trim level and front-wheel drive. The automatic trims the highway figure to 32, while the AWD model checks in at 25/31. Still quite good for a crossover, especially the city figure. The Honda CR-V AWD and 2013 Ford Escape 1.6 AWD both manage only 22/30. The much more powerful VW Tiguan: an even lower 21/27. In my summer suburban driving the trip computer reported averages from 28 to nearly 40, heavily depending on the frequency of stops, the constancy of AC use, and the weight of my right foot. I saw low 30s most often. Consider this goal achieved.


Interior styling
Interior styling: About the same Better Worse

I greatly enjoy driving the Mazda3 compact hatchback, especially in MazdaSpeed form. But I'm not sure I could own one because the interior is oddly styled and cheaply constructed. The CX-5's interior is far more attractive, partly because they didn't do anything loopy and partly because it's comprised of better materials. In black leather with red stitching the ambiance is both moderately upscale and sporty.


CX-5 Reviews:

Gayla loved the paint. Plastic wheel lip moldings, lower body cladding should help prevent rust.

CX-5 Reviews:

Thankfully more conventional than Mazda3, with a larger nav screen. Very good ergonomics.

Price or payments
Price or payments: Much better Better Worse

Even my fully loaded tester lists for just over $30,000 ($30,415 to be precise.) This is just a few hundred more than a Hyundai Tucson or Kia Sportage with AWD, sunroof, leather, and nav, so it's among the least expensive compact crossovers. The aging Toyota RAV4 is actually less expensive than the Mazda and the Koreans, but a new Ford Escape with these features costs about $4,000 more.


Handling
Handling: About the same Better Worse

The CX-5 handles very well...for a crossover. I've put this "pro" fourth because that qualifier is a big one. While the CX-5's chassis behaves very well, with admirable precision and poise, the crossover's higher seating position and center of gravity (compared to a car) never fades from awareness. The steering has a relatively meaty feel to it (that I liked but Gayla did not), but isn't nearly as quick, communicative, or nuanced as the steering in a Mazda3 hatchback or a Mazda5 compact minivan. Beyond the details, I simply didn't enjoy driving the CX-5 nearly as much as I expected to, given the reviews elsewhere and my experience with other Mazdas.


Rear seat room & comfort
Rear seat room & comfort: Better Better Worse

There's plenty of legroom in the rear seat, but the same can be said of most compact crossovers. Based on the official specs the Mazda has 4.4 inches more total legroom than a VW Tiguan, but to me the Tiguan's rear seat seemed slightly roomier and more comfortable owing to a higher position. The rear seat reclines in the VW and some other compact crossovers, but not in the Mazda. The Escape's rear seat is considerably less spacious than the others. Adults will fit, but with less knee room to spare.


Why Not the 2013 Mazda CX-5?

  Compared to the Escape
Powertrain performance
Powertrain performance: Worse Better Worse

My evaluation of the CX-5's handling was likely colored by the performance (or lack thereof) of its powertrain. Mazda's new six-speed automatic does its job well, but simply can't compensate for the 155-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine's grunt deficit. Acceleration is merely adequate. Ford, Kia, and Volkswagen offer turbocharged 2.0-liter fours in their compact crossovers, while GM and Toyota offer V6s. Honda, like Mazda, offers only a naturally-aspirated four-cylinder engine, but it's a 2.4-liter with 185 horsepower. Mazda needs to at least offer buyers the option of trading off some of that stellar fuel economy for more power. On top of its low output, the Mazda's direct-injected engine doesn't feel responsive and sounds a bit clattery, especially when cold.


Driving position & visibility
Driving position & visibility: Better Better Worse

Aside from engine performance, nothing else stands out as a weakness. Small windows limit visibility to the rear, but this is common among recently designed vehicles, and a rearview camera is available. Rearward visibility is no better in the Escape, while forward visibility is considerably worse owing to a much deeper instrument panel. So, compared to the Ford, even this "why not" becomes a "why."


CX-5 Reviews:

Commanding appearance.

CX-5 Reviews:

Good legroom, but cushion a little low, window line high, and seatback doesn't recline.

Conclusion

With the CX-5, Mazda delivers on its new goal of class-leading fuel economy. On the brand's traditional forte, handling, the CX-5 also leads the segment, but a Mazda3 or Mazda5 is still much more fun to drive. In most other areas the new Mazda also stacks up well, and it's priced very competitively. The glaring exception: engine performance. If you're set on a compact crossover, and don't require a lot of the last, you definitely want to check out the CX-5.

CX-5 Reviews:

Not what the grille promised.

CX-5 Reviews:

Pockets in the sidewalls perfectly sized for a gallon of milk.

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2013 Mazda CX-5 pros and cons, according to Michael Karesh: the best reasons for buying (or not buying) the 2013 Mazda CX-5. Join TrueDelta to post your own impressions.
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