Mazda topped-up the “zoom” quotient under the hood of its CX-5 compact crossover early this year, and has been watching its sales accelerate smoothly since.
Mazda launched the CX-5 in February, 2012 as a replacement for its Tribute and not-quite-right-sized CX-7 crossovers.
The Tribute had been jointly developed with Ford, which sold it as the Escape, and Ford’s version became the top-selling compact crossover in the country. The Tribute never managed to attain that level of stardom in Mazda’s model chorus line, and the CX-7 didn’t achieve any serious sales momentum at all.
But Mazda figured it had the market bulls-eye firmly in its cross-hairs with the initial version of its new CX-5, and in most ways it did.
The CX-5 had good-looking “Soul of Motion” styling, an attractive and comfortable interior that also provided enough cargo capacity to suit most, and trademark Mazda “fun-to-drive” handling, while its save-the-planet SkyActiv technology promised fuel efficiency, plus other benefits. But it didn’t deliver enough poke from its 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine to keep everybody happy.
The more powerful and torquier 2.5-litre-engined version, which arrived as a 2014 model in January, 2013 provides enough of these key ingredients to give the CX-5 considerably more pure driving appeal than the smaller motor, which has now been relegated to entry-level GX model status.
The appearance of the new SkyActiv-G 2.5-litre four, which now powers the GS and the line-topping GT, was always part of the roll-out plan for the CX-5, but it had to stand in line until it had made its debut in the new Mazda6 sedan.
The CX-5 lineup now starts with the 2.0-litre-engined, front-drive GX, priced at $22,995 or $27,895 with automatic and all-wheel-drive (AWD), plus some other additional equipment. The volume seller, however, is the GS (now with the new motor and automatic only), which lists for $28,650 with FWD, and $30,650 with AWD. An AWD GT tops the range at $33,250.
SkyActiv refers to a design philosophy adopted by Mazda that takes a fresh look at virtually every aspect of a vehicle, with the goal of optimizing whatever its individual role is in making the whole thing work efficiently, safely and in a way that will keep buyers happy.
Developed using this approach, the new 2.5 engine represents the latest thinking on the internal combustion process, and efficiently produces 184 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque, which is 19 per cent more than the 155-hp rating of the 2.0 engine and 23 per cent more than its 150 lb-ft of torque. The 2.0 is available with six-speed manual or optional automatic, the 2.5 only with six-speed automatic.
After driving the 2.0-litre-engined CX-5 last year I described its performance, rather kindly, as being “on the tepid side.” It was okay in most situations, but a bit more urge would certainly have been welcomed. And that’s just what the 2.5 provides. While the 2.0-litre takes almost 11 seconds to accelerate from 0-100 km/h, the 2.5-litre knocks a second or so off that, and feels more immediately responsive in most driving situations.
It doesn’t feel as smooth, though, zooming up to a rather growly 1,500 rpm on cold start-up, and generating a noticeable four-cylinder sound-track any time you’re heavy-footed with the accelerator pedal.
With either engine, the CX-5 is rated to tow 907 kilograms and attempting this won’t be pleasant, but if you do need to haul something around, opt for the bigger motor.
Comparing government fuel economy ratings for automatic-equipped, 2.0 AWD GX and 2.5 GS models, the former posts 8.0 litres/100 km city and 6.6 highway, and the latter 8.5 city/6.6 highway. The FWD version’s ratings are a little better.
Following similar driving weeks, the 2.0-litre tested averaged 8.1 litres/100 km, and 7.5 litres/100 km on a four-lane highway drive, while the 2.5-litre averaged 9.4 and 8.3 at highway speed.
That not-too-stiff fuel economy penalty would be one I’d be willing to pay for the added performance and flexibility delivered by the 2.5 engine.
As for the rest of the CX-5, it’s as competitive a species as you’ll find swimming in the richly stocked compact crossover pool. And after driving one, it’s easy to see why the GS is the popular model choice. It hits that sweet spot in the value/equipment equation, at a price point that suits a lot of Canadian crossover buyers.
The cabin doesn’t feel particularly roomy, but holds four comfortably, and five if you must. Behind the GS’s easy-to-use 40/20/40-split rear seatback is 977 litres of cargo space, which expands to 1,852 litres with it folded.
The GS comes with premium patterned cloth upholstery on firmly bolstered and sporty-looking heated front seats (the driver’s is power adjustable), lots of soft-touch surfaces, is tastefully dressed up with alloy and chrome trim pieces, and the things you need to operate are easy to find and reach.
The grade walk to the GS also includes Bluetooth, moonroof, blind-spot monitoring and rear-view camera systems, rain-sensing wipers, auto on/off headlights, 17-inch wheels, fog lights, uprated audio system, lighted vanity mirrors and a rear-seat centre armrest.
That’s a lot of swag for $30K and, along with the mechanical package, puts the CX-5 GS AWD high on my list of vehicles you should drive if you’re shopping in this category.
2014 Mazda CX-5 GS AWD
Type: Compact crossover
Base Price: $30,650; as tested, $32,545
Engine: 2.5-litre, DOHC, inline-four
Horsepower/torque: 184 hp/185 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.5 city/6.6 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Toyota RAV4, Kia Sportage, Mitsubishi RVR, Nissan Rogue
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