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2013 Mazda CX-5 Review: What Is It
Replacing the Mazda Tribute as the automaker’s compact crossover suv, the new 2013 Mazda CX-5 blends family-friendly interior space, fun-to-drive dynamics, and class-leading fuel economy in a single package. So impressed were we with the CX-5 when it first debuted that we named it the 2012 Crossover of the Year.
While the 2013 CX-5 is an excellent all-around package, the SUV is particularly notable for two reasons. The CX-5 is the first Mazda to go on sale wearing the automaker’s new “Kodo” design theme, which will be applied to all future Mazdas, and which replaces the ill-conceived “Nagare” design theme, seen in its entire wavy and smiley splendor on the 2012 Mazda 5 minivan. The CX-5 is also the first Mazda to go on sale equipped with a full suite of SkyActiv powertrain and engineering technologies designed to maximize fuel economy. You guessed it. All future Mazdas will also go SkyActiv.
You could think of the CX-5 as the future of Mazda. Based on our week getting reacquainted with this spunky small SUV, that future looks bright.
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2013 Mazda CX-5 Review: Pricing and Trim Levels
Mazda offers the 2013 CX-5 in Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring trim levels, each available with an Active Torque Split all-wheel drive system. Prices start at $21,790 for the CX-5 Sport with the standard six-speed manual transmission, and rise to $31,875 for the CX-5 Grand Touring with an automatic transmission, all-wheel drive, and all the extras.
Choose the least expensive model, the CX-5 Sport, and you’ll enjoy a generous list of standard equipment that can be upgraded with a Bluetooth Audio Package with hands-free calling and streaming audio, HD Radio, extra stereo speakers, and a color in-dash touchscreen display. The only other factory options for the Sport model are an automatic transmission, fog lights, and a navigation system.
The CX-5 Touring model ($24,990) comes standard with an automatic transmission, fog lights, and the Bluetooth Audio Package, but the main reasons to choose this model are for its dark tinted rear privacy glass, reversing camera and a blind-spot monitoring system. The Touring is also available with appealing options. The Moonroof/Bose Package is self-explanatory, containing a power moonroof and a Bose Centerpoint premium surround sound system. The Technology Package adds a navigation system, active bi-Xenon headlights, rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a Homelink universal remote, and an alarm system.
The CX-5 Grand Touring ($28,140) adds a bunch of stuff you can’t get on the other models including 19-inch alloy wheels, leather seats, heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, automatic headlights, and heated side mirrors. The Moonroof/Bose Package is standard on this model, and the CX-5 Grand Touring can be equipped with the same Technology Package as the Touring model, with the addition of Mazda Advanced Keyless Entry.
As far as safety ratings go, the IIHS says the Mazda CX-5 is a “Top Safety Pick,” while the NHTSA gives the CX-5 an overall crash-test rating of 4 Stars out of 5 Stars. In addition to a curb weight within 100 pounds either side of 3,300 lbs., those scores indicate that the CX-5 is a good family car.
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2013 Mazda CX-5 Review: What It’s Up Against
A compact five-passenger crossover SUV, the Mazda CX-5 is designed primarily for use on pavement. It competes in a crowded segment that includes the Buick Encore, Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, GMC Terrain, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Compass, Kia Sportage, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, Subaru XV Crosstrek, Toyota RAV4, and Volkswagen Tiguan.
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2013 Mazda CX-5 Review: Exterior
What’s New for 2013:
- Debut of new “Kodo” design theme
- Available active bi-Xenon headlights
- Available rain-sensing wipers
How It Looks
Mazda’s new “Kodo” design language debuts on the CX-5, and means “Soul of Motion.” Mazda says that its new design language, to be rolled out across the lineup in years to come, is “inspired by nature which evokes how both startling beauty and immense power can be captured by a single motion.”
Mazda explains that on the CX-5, this design philosophy is expressed in the SUV’s “signature wing” grille design, wrap-around headlights, and a combination of rounded and creased body elements. We say that the CX-5 is the best looking new Mazda in a very long time, and we’re not going to miss the smiley-faced models one bit after they’re replaced in the years to come
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2013 Mazda CX-5 Review: Interior
What’s New for 2013:
- Reversing camera
- Blind-spot information system
- Bose Centerpoint surround sound system
- Bluetooth Audio Package with color touchscreen
- Mazda Advanced Keyless Entry
How It Looks and Feels
Mazda says the CX-5 has the longest wheelbase in its segment, contributing to a roomy and comfortable interior, and specifically cites generous rear legroom, foot room, and seatback knee clearance in relation to some competitors.
We crammed five adults and two children riding in forward-facing safety seats aboard the Mazda CX-5, and the person riding in the rear middle seating location, though slender, was not happy about the situation. Thus, we’re inclined to recommend the CX-5 for a maximum of four occupants.
Those four adults will be comfortable for the most part. The front passenger’s seat needs a height adjuster, and the rear seat cushions could stand to be raised for better thigh support and an improved view out. That criticism aside, my family took a five-hour road trip in the CX-5 and nobody complained. Additionally, because our CX-5 Grand Touring test vehicle provided a tilt/telescopic steering wheel and a power driver’s seat height adjuster with impressive range, we think the CX-5 proves suitable for drivers big or small, short or tall.
Our CX-5 Grand Touring included all the goodies, and we found the SUV’s features and materials to be entirely consistent with its near $31,000 price tag. The dashboard and upper door panels feature soft-touch material with gloss and graining reminiscent of a European luxury model. The controls look, feel and operate with measured refinement. The gauges and navigation screen feature pleasing graphics and illumination.
Better yet, Mazda’s new infotainment system is better than the Display Audio system Toyota began installing in its models this year. The screen’s touch sensitivity is superior, and it never suffered glare to the point of rendering it illegible to the driver.
Cargo space behind the second-row seat measures 34.1 cu-ft., and the available cargo cover raises with the hatch to eliminate the need to hunt in the dark below a typical cover. Fold the rear seats, and the CX-5 is capable of carrying 64.8 cu-ft. of cargo. During a trip to the beach, the littlest Mazda suv had no trouble swallowing a stroller, beach chairs, an umbrella, towels, sand toys, and a small cooler.
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2013 Mazda CX-5 Review: Powertrain
What’s New for 2012:
- SkyActiv engineering
- Active Torque Split AWD
How Does It Go
One of the key elements of Mazda’s new SkyActiv engineering philosophy is its SkyActiv-G 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with direct fuel injection. The “G” represents a gasoline engine; SkyActiv powertrains that use diesel fuel get a “D” designation. At 13:1, the CX-5’s SkyActiv-G engine features the highest compression ratio of any mass-produced vehicle, according to Mazda.
With 155 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 150 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm, the CX-5 does not provide the kind of acceleration that gets the blood pumping, and the maximum towing rating is 2,000 pounds. However, this SUV is nevertheless fun to drive, like all Mazdas are.
A six-speed manual gearbox or six-speed automatic transmission drives the CX-5’s front wheels. Mazda refers to these transmissions as SkyActiv-MT and SkyActiv-Drive, respectively. The optional Active Torque Split AWD system puts all of the engine’s power to the front wheels until they slip, and then can distribute as much as half of the power to the rear wheels. If you get AWD, know that the CX-5 offers a maximum of 8.5 inches of ground clearance.
With front-wheel drive, the Mazda CX-5 is rated to get 29 mpg in combined driving. Drop that figure by a digit for the all-wheel-drive model. Our Grand Touring front-driver averaged 28 mpg with an emphasis on highway driving.
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2013 Mazda CX-5 Review: How It Drives
We put more than 500 miles on the 2013 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring while it was in our care, running up and down the California coast, running family errands in the suburbs, venturing into the city, and subjecting it to our usual test loop in the mountains near Malibu.
Right off the bat, let’s all agree that the CX-5 is not fast. The central tenet of SkyActiv technology is to improve fuel economy rather than produce speed. That said, the transmission is geared to feel lively around town when you put your foot into it and is calibrated to hold a lower gear while climbing hills to help the CX-5 keep pace with traffic. Light throttle application encourages the CX-5 to upshift rapidly in an effort to conserve fuel.
Mazda provides a manual shift gate for the CX-5’s transmission, one located to the left of the main gate where it is easy for the driver to reach and use. Unfortunately, Mazda prefers to employ a counterintuitive manual shift program patterned after F1 racing. My position is that the driver ought to tap the gear selector down to execute a downshift and tap it up to produce an upshift. In the CX-5, the opposite is true.
Where the CX-5 shines is with regard to its steering, braking, and handling. While twisty mountain roads with lots of hairpin turns reveal more body roll and tire squeal than one might expect of a Mazda, there’s no arguing against the CX-5’s fun-to-drive factor. This is an entertaining little SUV – especially on downhill sections with higher speed sweeping corners.
We tested the CX-5 on a hot day with temperatures near 100 degrees. Despite heavy use, the brakes never faded, shuddered, pulsed, or otherwise behaved as though the heat was affecting them. Instead, they produced consistently perfect feel and modulation, a trait evident every time we slipped behind the wheel.
One thing we noticed about the CX-5 is that it is quiet on the highway, perhaps attributable to the SUV’s 0.33 coefficient of drag, and that it is almost silent at idle. This, in combination with upscale interior materials and design, imparts in the driver a sense of refinement few competitors, if any, can match.
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2013 Mazda CX-5 Review: Final Thoughts
The 2013 CX-5 provides a glimpse into the future of Mazda, one that preserves the automaker’s “Zoom Zoom” philosophy in terms of driving dynamics while moving the company forward in terms of fuel efficiency.
While we certainly wouldn’t discourage Mazda from finding a way to develop additional horsepower and torque from its SkyActiv four-cylinder, perhaps through the use of light-pressure turbocharging, there’s no arguing with 28 mpg – especially since the CX-5 was getting nearly 24 mpg before we headed off on our family road trip.
Better yet, the CX-5 isn’t just about fuel economy. This is an exceptionally well executed compact crossover SUV, one that we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone looking for a combination of style, safety, technology, and well-rounded driving character.
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2013 Mazda CX-5 Review: Pros and Cons
- Nimble and responsive handling
- Fuel-efficient powertrain
- Quiet and roomy cabin
- Quality where it counts
- Good looks inside and out
- Rapid-fire upshifts under light throttle
- Manual shift gate is counterintuitive
Mazda provided the vehicle for this review
2013 Mazda CX-5 photos by Christian Wardlaw
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