There are some pretty good advantages to being a title sponsor at one of the world’s most exciting and challenging race tracks, and for Mazda, that includes a production launch of its all-new 2013 Mazda CX-5 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Yes, we’ve already driven the CX-5 and named it our 2012 Crossover of the Year, but while those were pre-production units with roughly 80 percent completed interiors, the vehicles used for this test drive are the exact same models that customers can now find at Mazda dealerships.
Coming from the company that makes the MX-5 Miata and the Mazda3, the driving dynamic is where the 2013 Mazda CX-5 really stands out. In our recent drive along the Angeles Forest Highway (just outside of Los Angeles), the CX-5 was given the chance to show off how well it handles everything from sharp turns to rough road surfaces. When the roads got twisty, the ability to hold the transmission as long as possible was definitely an advantage which helped the little crossover accelerate even faster out of the turns. While these roads were fun to drive on, most CX-5 owners will likely be tackling city commutes and highway traffic, and once again Mazda showed it did its homework by tuning the electric power steering system to feel just as good in traffic at low speeds as it does while taking a blind hairpin turn on a mountain road. Mazda has also tuned the suspension with higher pivot points which is supposed to make for a smoother ride over bumps, and the CX-5 definitely handled itself well over varying road conditions including annoying interstate expansion joints and harsh road transitions in construction zones. We did not have the opportunity to drive the CX-5 off road, but it does feature a stiff chassis and 8.5 inches of ground clearance which means that it should be able to tackle most terrains it will encounter.
In the U.S., the 2013 Mazda CX-5 will launch with only the 2.0-liter Skyactiv-G inline-four gasoline engine, but fans of even more enthusiastic and fuel-efficient driving will want to mark 2013 on their calendar. Mazda has said that it plans on bringing the new Skyactiv-D diesel engine to the U.S. in 2013, and although it did not say which vehicle this engine would debut in, the European-spec CX-5 will offer this engine at launch. Like the CX-5 itself, the Skyactiv-G is a completely new engine that has been optimized for performance and efficiency with lower weight, higher compression and less internal friction (and parasitic power loss) all of which help make the engine's 155 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque more enjoyable. Attentive eyes will notice that the CX-5's torque rating is slightly higher than the Mazda3 which uses this same engine, and this is a result of the unique 4-2-1 exhaust manifold not used on the 3.
The 2013 CX-5 will offer both of Mazda's Skyactiv-branded transmissions, but while we had a brief opportunity to drive the Skyactiv-MT manual gearbox, most of our day was spent with the Skyactiv-Drive six-speed automatic transmission. Skyactiv-Drive stands out from other automatics on the market by adding the quick shifts of a dual clutch transmission with the low-speed smoothness of a conventional automatic's torque converter; to put it simply, the torque converter is locked up for take-offs (eliminating the jerky, low-speed operation of DCTs) and after about 5 miles per hour, the clutches take over. The result is a smooth and responsive transmission that adds to the driving enjoyment of the CX-5, and in manual mode, the transmission shifts are all dependant on the driver meaning that each gear can be held as long as the driver wants to with no babysitting upshifts and there is rev matching on downshifts. Fuel economy is also a crucial element of Skyactiv technologies, and the CX-5 is expected to return best-in-class EPA estimates of up to 26 miles per gallon in the city and 35 mpg on the highway (with the Skyactiv-MT), but we spent most of our time in the models with the automatic transmission which dropped highway fuel economy by 3 mpg. Mazda says that the all-wheel drive models will be rated at 26 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. As for Mazda Raceway, the current racetrack is 2.238 miles in length with a 300 foot elevation change, and it features eleven turns, including the famous "Corkscrew" at Turns 8 and 8A. A variety of racing, exhibition and entertainment events are held at the raceway, ranging from superkarts to American Le Mans racing to music festivals.