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The Globe and Mail

Mazda’s new compact SUV is ready to take on serious competition

2013 Mazda CX-5


Overall Rating
Buyers here have no shortage of options, so Mazda had to get this one right – and did. You’ll like this vehicle if: you want a tall, compact wagon with great fuel economy and entertaining road manners.
Looks Rating
It’s a box, but one tarted up with interesting creases and curves. Ford’s Escape is a more daring design, though. Mazda went a little conservative here.
Interior Rating
I like the roomy and airy cabin. The CX-5 is nearly as big inside as the CX-7 which, of course, is on the way out of Mazda’s lineup.
Ride Rating
Give Mazda credit for finding the handling/ride comfort sweet spot. Drivers who like to be entertained should approve, and those who just want peace and quiet won’t be disappointed, either.
Safety Rating
A Top Safety Pick, like almost all its rivals.
Green Rating
Fuel economy is quite good for this class, but room for improvement in city fuel economy.

We love our little car-like wagons, the Toyota RAV4s, Honda CR-Vs and such. No wonder Mazda put so much effort into the 2013 CX-5.

The truth is, to cut through the clutter, plucky little Mazda wiped "the slate clean," says Mazda senior engineer Dave Coleman. "No more parts-bin engineering."

In other words, no more leftover bits and pieces from the days when Ford called the shots at Mazda. This is a Mazda, top to bottom.

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All this matters because Mazda Canada certainly wants a chunk of the compact SUV buyers in Canada. We're talking 300,000 a year. Here we have a segment second only to compact cars in importance. Car-like wagons and compact cars account for nearly one in three new vehicles bought in Canada every year.

And we're hardly alone. Americans are going nuts about compact SUVs, too. This is, when last I checked, the No. 4 segment in the United States. The appeal here and there is so sensible and so obvious: fuel economy in a tall, useful wagon with a car-like structure underneath and some interesting, if not eye-popping, technology.

The CX-5 – like the Toyota RAV4 (which is being reinvented for 2013), the Honda CR-V and Volkswagen's Tiguan, as well as Chevrolet Equinox, Hyundai Tucson, Nissan Rogue and Kia's Sportage, to name several others – has some modest off-road abilities, but available four-wheel-drive is not there for blazing trails. No, it's just to keep you going when the roads are slick or dusted lightly with snow.

Mazda's rallying cry with the CX-5: "Squeeze maximum efficiency from existing technologies," Coleman told me not long ago. Thus, when it arrived in showrooms last year, Mazda touted the CX-5 as having "best highway fuel economy of any SUV sold in Canada – including hybrids": 7.8 litres/100 km in the city, 5.7 highway for front-drive models with the six-speed manual transmission. Front-drivers with the six-speed automatic get 7.7 city/6.1 highway and with AWD and the automatic, 8.0 city/6.4 highway. Using regular gas across the board.

Yes, your real-world fuel economy will vary. The reality, however, is that the CX-5 is anything but a gas guzzler, yet it can carry four adults in comfort with all their luggage in back, in a cargo area that is really generous and can be expanded via the near-flat-folding rear seatback.

Some quick facts: the base version of the CX-5, the GX with front-wheel-drive, starts at $22,995 and almost no one will buy it. The volume model, the GS, lists for $28,150 and the top-of-the-line GT with AWD starts at $32,750. All are well equipped but, of course, as you pay more, you get more.

The quick thumbnail of the CX-5 goes like this: capable, tight in the handling department, sharp looks and an appealing, competitive price. What separates the CX-5 from the pack, at least in the Mazda way of thinking, is the SkyActiv fuel-saving technologies.

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Don't get hung up on the engine and transmission pieces of the SkyActiv puzzle, by the way. Just as critical to fuel economy and even more important to handling and overall responsiveness: a relatively lightweight chassis and body and a rigid, and I mean rigid, architecture. The CX-5 is quicker and nimbler than anything else in this class, short of the also all-new Ford Escape.

The engine here, the only choice for power, is Mazda's new SkyActiv-G direct-injected, 2.0-litre, inline-four-cylinder gasoline engine. I could dig into all the reasons why this engine is so good, so strong, and so efficient and the essence of it all is the 13:1 compression ratio using regular gas. Some of you will be impressed by that number because it's a good one for an everyday car.

The 155 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque come to life quickly once you put your foot down. Yes, I'd like more power. Always. But there's enough here to get moving. And thanks to some fancy engine plumbing, the power comes on smoothly, without any knocking or hesitation. The next step for Mazda is surely turbocharging. That will pump up the output by 70, 80, 90 horsepower or more. The CX-5 is built to handle it, too; the engineering here is that good.

If you can afford it, choose the new automatic transmission, a $1,200 option on some models, though it's standard on pricier versions. The autobox is a standout for its delicious shifts. They're really something.

The shifts are so good for all sorts of reasons, not least of which is that the torque converter is basically on the job only during gear changes. When you shift up, the change is barely noticeable; downshifts are rev-matched and sporty. They are seriously snappy, too. As is the overall handling of the CX-5.

Meanwhile, the exterior design is an eye-grabber and the cabin is roomy, useful and airy. There's nothing cheesy or cheap about the materials here, though the interior design itself seems tame. Oh, and the CX-5 is safe – a Top Safety Pick.

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Mazda's efforts here, then, have been rewarded.

Tech specs

2013 Mazda CX-5 GS FWD

Type: Compact SUV

Price: $29,150 (freight $1,895)

Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder

Horsepower/torque: 155 hp/150 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.7 city/6.1 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson, Ford Escape, Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain, Jeep Patriot/Compass, Dodge Journey, Nissan Rogue, Mitsubishi Outlander, Subaru Forester, Volkswagen Tiguan, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Mini Cooper Countryman


Clarification: The 2014 model of this vehicle is available now, or will be available soon at dealerships. Buyers can choose either 2.0-litre or 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine on that vehicle.


Correction: The "Green" rating for this review was incorrect. It has been changed.

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