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Road Test and Review - 2013 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD

Benjamin Hunting
by Benjamin Hunting
November 13, 2012
7 min. Reading Time

Some might have found it odd when Mazda first announced that it would be introducing a new compact crossover, given that it already had the Mazda CX-7 filling that particular niche.  With the departure of the Mazda Tribute, however (itself a re-badged Ford Escape), and with the market moving towards more fuel efficient 'utes, the potential to phase out the CX-7 in favor of a smaller, nimbler, but still practical model held plenty of appeal to the Japanese brand.  This is especially true when considering Mazda's core competency as a builder of fun-to-drive automobiles.

Enter the 2013 Mazda CX-5.  More than a tall wagon, the CX-5 exudes true crossover appeal, and it also comes with the latest in Mazda's fuel-saving technology stuffed under the hood.  This clean-slate model is a much better fit for the current automotive climate than the competent, but otherwise unremarkable CX-7, and it provides a path forward for Mazda to snag additional family sales without compromising its identity.

2013 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD: Competition

The 2013 Mazda CX-5 sees the automaker for the very first time facing off against the wide, wide world of compact crossovers without former corporate partner Ford contributing a platform.  In fact, the CX-5 has to deal with the Blue Oval's own all-new small SUV, the Ford Escape, in addition to the usual suspects from Toyota (the RAV4), Honda (the CR-V), and Nissan (the Rogue).  Potential Mazda buyers will also most likely be looking at larger, somewhat more expensive vehicles such as the Chevrolet Equinox, as well as value-focused models like the Kia Sportage.  All-wheel drive versions of the CX-5 will additionally find themselves being compared to the equally fresh Subaru XV Crosstrek.


2013 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD: Pricing and Trim Levels

The 2013 Mazda CX-5 comes in three different models.  The base CX-5 Sport starts at an MSRP of $20,995, while the mid-range Touring checks in with an MSRP of $24,195.  The top-of-the-line CX-5 Grand Touring features a sticker price of $27,345.  Options such as all-wheel drive and an automatic transmission further add to the cost of purchasing the CX-5 'ute.

The week-long tester that we drove was a Canadian-market CX-5 GT, which, after including its optional gear as well as its drivetrain, is equivalent to the Grand Touring with all-wheel drive.  This makes the MSRP of our test vehicle roughly $28,595.


2013 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD: Exterior

The 2013 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD is a handsome vehicle, and one that goes a long way towards blunting some of the more extroverted aspects of Mazda's recent styling language in favor of a balanced, yet still unique appearance.  Vestiges of the large 'smiling' grille that have dominated past Mazda products are still present and accounted for, but these are tempered by bolder elements such as the CX-5's front bumper and its sharply-pointed headlights.  The hood also appears visually longer than it actually is, which benefits the short-wheelbase crossover by giving it a sense of heft that isn't reflected on the scales.  Black trim on the bottom of the front air intake, the rear bumper, and the door sills was a nice touch on our white-hued test vehicle, although we could have done without the matching black accent on the leading edge of the hood.

The Mazda CX-5 also strikes a good balance when it comes to its ride height.  The additional ground clearance offered by the crossover informs the driver's seating position, and the raked profile adds a degree of sportiness to the vehicle without giving off the impression that the CX-5 is in any way prepared to ford through anything deeper than a few inches of snow.  The lack of off-road adornment serves the crossover well, although we might have wanted slightly larger rims to help fill the fender gaps at all four corners.


2013 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD: Interior

The 2013 Mazda CX-5's passenger compartment is a straightforward collection of easy-to-use controls, simple lines, and convenient storage features.  There's nary an angle out of place, nor a flashy piece of trim stuck where it shouldn't be inside the CX-5, even in our tricked-out Grand Touring model.  It would seem as though the guiding philosophy behind the crossover's interior design was 'make it work,' as we were impressed with just how readily everything fell to hand and how no superfluous elements snuck into the final product.

Of course, this cuts both ways.  Simplicity can also be thought of as a lack of frills, and aside from heated leather seats, automatic climate control, and a touchscreen navigation system the Mazda CX-5 doesn't go out of its way to dazzle its occupants with equipment.  But you know what?  That's all right by us, as we were content to revel in the comfort of the front seats and the ease with which the second row seatbacks flipped up and down in order to handle additional, longer cargo across a flat load floor.  We also liked the intuitive Bluetooth connectivity menus, as well as the nice-for-the-price materials used on the door panels. 

Maybe the only part of the CX-5's interior experience that felt lacking had to do with the center console and the sunroof controls mounted directly over top.  The CX-5's automatic transmission gate felt just a little bit dated, and the hard plastics surrounding the sunroof switch came across as more low rent than anything else inside the cockpit.  That being said, we did love the extra-large cubby located just ahead of the shifter itself, which was perfect for storing media players and cell phones while driving.


2013 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD: Powertrain and Fuel Economy

The 2013 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD makes use of the same engine that is found across the entire CX-5 lineup: a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder unit that has been dubbed Skyactiv by the brand for its use of direct-injection and other fuel mileage-enhancing features.  The Skyactiv motor generates 155 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque, and it delivers fuel mileage of 26-mpg in stop and go driving and 35-mpg during highway cruising.  These are excellent figures for a compact crossover vehicle.  Buyers can choose between either a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic.


2013 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD: Driving Impressions

The 2013 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD is much more fun to drive than it has any right to be.  We say this because with very few exceptions (such as the Nissan Juke), entry-level crossover vehicles are typically tuned to provide milquetoast dynamics, including steering that is best described as 'vague' and suspension systems that feel largely disconnected from the outside world.  The Mazda CX-5 is a shining beacon to young families who need the additional interior room that a crossover provides, but who don't want to have their senses dulled by a chassis setup that is largely indifferent to providing any type of visceral thrill.

What surprised us most about the Mazda CX-5 is how the vehicle's willingness to engage the driver makes itself known almost immediately after slipping behind the wheel.  There's no need to wind the crossover up to limit-testing speeds in order to benefit from the extra attention provided to its platform - the CX-5's perfectly dialed-in electric power steering and willingness to turn a corner are front and center as soon as one pulls away from the curb.  The Mazda is a willing accomplice when asked to dart in and out of traffic, and its 3,200 lbs curb weight - roughly the same as a Nissan 370Z coupe - are a delight to throw from one side of a twisty road to another.  The vehicle's brakes are committed to bringing the vehicle to a stop with as little drama as possible, and even the vehicle's all-wheel drive system, a feature which typically adds weight and saps performance out of a compact crossover's bag of tricks, had no negative impact on the maneuverability of the CX-5.

Those concerned that the Mazda might be incapable of providing the kind of comfortable ride that most families are looking for due to its handling capabilities will be happy to know that at no point does the CX-5 come across as having sacrificed smoothness for sharpness.  Bumps in the road do not upset the crossover any more than they would any of its competitors, and the cabin does not rattle down the road at the mercy of aggressively-valved shock absorbers - rather, the Mazda shows a willingness to swallow pavement insults as discretely as possible.

Mazda has elected to keep the power output of the CX-5 modest, but the 155 ponies provided by its 2.0-liter Skyactiv engine are certainly more than adequate when it comes to satisfying the daily needs of most owners.  While definitely not quick, the CX-5 never feels slow in the way that some of its competitors do, such as the Subaru XV Crosstrek.  Although we were happy with the performance provided by the CX-5's engine, we were not quite as enamored with its six-speed automatic transmission.  It would be fair to say that the autobox was the biggest limiting factor when it came to the crossover's tepid acceleration off of the line, and we had the occasional sensation that the vehicle was searching for exactly the right gear to select prior to surging the CX-5 forward when the gas pedal was depressed at cruising speeds. 

The automatic transmission is the only gearbox available when all-wheel drive is selected as an option, but front-wheel drive buyers have the ability to source a more responsive manual unit instead.  Incidentally, while the CX-5's automatic offer the driver the ability to select gear changes using the center console shift lever, it lacked the steering wheel-mounted paddles that some associate with sportier driving.  We have no quarrel with their absence - those who want to blaze through the gears themselves will select the manual tranny.


2013 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD: Safety

The 2013 Mazda CX-5 makes use of the latest safety features in order to protect its passengers from harm in the event of an accident.  The Mazda CX-5 comes with front airbags, side-impact airbags mounted to both front seats, and side curtain airbags that deploy to surround those seated in the rear of the vehicle as well as those occupying the first two positions.  Electronic stability control, traction control, and anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist are also standard with the crossover.  Optional safety gear includes a blind-spot monitoring system as well as a rear-view camera.


2013 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD: Final Thoughts

2013 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD: Final Thoughts

It's rare for an automaker to knock the ball out of the park with its very first effort in a specific market niche, but Mazda has managed to do just that with the Mazda CX-5.  Although one could argue that the CX-7 gave the company a head-start on this particular model, the reality is that the CX-5 feels quite different from its now-departed predecessor, and it has also been designed in order to serve a different group of buyers.

From a fuel economy perspective, the Mazda CX-5 makes a strong argument as the most efficient compact crossover on the market (in base trim with the manual transmission installed), which is an excellent place to be when introducing an all-new product.  Less important for the majority of drivers, but an excellent bonus all around is the CX-5's sprightly handling and willingness to indulge drivers in the corners - a rare quality amongst its competitors, and something Mazda has traditionally excelled at. 

The crossover also provides practical storage, a roomy interior, and styling that represents an uncomplicated evolution of the brand's recent cues.  Sure, the passenger compartment might lack the 'wow' factor of some other small suvs, but when you get right down to it there's very little that the CX-5 won't do that its rivals will - and a whole lot that they just can't match in terms of driving experience and fuel consumption.

What We Like About The 2013 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD

  • A compact crossover that's fun to drive - how about that?
  • Excellent real-world fuel efficiency figures
  • Attractive styling
  • A straightforward, comfortable interior
  • Lightweight design makes the most of modest four-cylinder power

We Aren’t So Hot On

  • Occasional reluctance of automatic transmission to downshift quickly
  • Lack of a manual option for the all-wheel drive model


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