2013 Mazda CX-5 SkyActiv GT – Best in class fuel economy

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Mazda introduced the CX-5 as an all-new compact crossover SUV earlier this year as a 2013 model as a fresh-faced replacement for the trusty, but boring Tribute.  This ground-up redesign boasts Skyactiv Technology – Mazda-speak for a new corporate design philosophy based on a lightweight chassis with high output and high efficiency engine/transmission combinations.

The new CX-5 goes up against plenty of competition.  ‘Cute-utes’ are big sellers in Canada, and the segment is crowded with excellent choices such as the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV-4, Kia Sportage, and Subaru XV Crosstrek to name a few.

To sell well, the CX-5 has got to score some knockout punches, and the new sheetmetal is a good start.  An aggressive, large front grill, pronounced front fender flares and expressive character lines the sides give the CUV an athletic, rakish look, and the attractive ten-spoke 19-in. alloy wheels (standard on our top of the line GT test vehicle) give the CX-5 good visual ‘grounding’ it to the pavement.

Inside, the cabin offers they typical Mazda ‘look’, with a cleanly-styled instrument panel and an easy-to-decipher centrestack housing HVAC/audio/navigation and 3-level seat heating controls.  Our CX-5 arrived very well equipped, with perforated black leather seat coverings, and front seats with multiple power control (including lumbar adjustment on the driver’s side.)  My one complaint is the front seats are hard.  That’s unusual, as I generally prefer firm seats (typical of German cars), but in this case, I’d like a little more cushioning for my backside.  The rear bench offers good legroom for adults, and the rear seats flip down easily using release latches mounted on the side panels of the rear cargo hold.

Our GT demo unit was jammed with convenience features like keyless entry and ignition, power moonroof, backup camera, blind spot indicators, dual zone automatic climate control, and a very nice sounding 9-speaker Bose audio system.  The only item missing is a power opening/closing tailgate, which isn’t available.

Mazda has a well-deserved reputation for building ‘drivers’ cars, and while some  may see the ‘Zoom-Zoom’ slogan as advertising bluster, auto writers agree that Mazdas are a cut above the competition when it comes to driving fun.  Based on the excellent Mazda3 platform (one of my favourite cars), the CX-5 delivers the goods with responsive handling that makes it feel agile and more car-like than a practical box on wheels.  Steering is direct and the firm suspension keeps body roll to a minimum in fast cornering.  And the CX-5 doesn’t punish occupants with a stiff suspension.

But just when you think the driving fun’s about to start, the engine throws a damper on the party.  Around town, the 2.0-litre ‘Skyactiv’ engine works well as a fuel-sipping workhorse.  This is a high-tech engine (with a remarkably high 13:1 compression ratio), but with 155 horsepower it just doesn’t have the juice to make the CX-5 REALLY fun.

That’s not to say I don’t like the CX-5 GT.  I do.  Part of the ‘Zoom-Zoom’ driving magic that Mazda has admirably achieved on the larger CX-7 and CX-9 SUVs is missing on the CX-5.   (In many ways, the new CX-5 feels very ‘European’, possessing a fine-handling chassis that makes blasting through the bendy bits fun, but it’s still hauling considerable mass, making the powerful, but small engine feel somewhat weak-kneed.  We’re eagerly anticipating a turbocharged or turbo-diesel variant for a boost in torque.)

If you’re shopping for a CUV (and you know who Sebastian Vettel is without the help of Google), you’ll want to cross-shop the 231 horsepower Ecoboost Ford Escape and the 269 horsepower V6 Toyota RAV4, the undisputed hot rods of the compact SUV segment.

Overall, the 2013 Mazda CX-5 GT has a lot going for it.  The new styling is crisp, contemporary and gives good on-road ‘presence.’  The CX-5’s on road dynamics are excellent and handling is top-of-class (matching the new Ford Escape and Volkswagen Tiguan.)  And the new, high efficiency Skyactiv Technology 2.0-litre engine (packaged with all-wheel-drive/automatic transmission) is the Mazda’s greatest strength, soundly trouncing the other manufacturers’ 4-cylinder/AWD/automatic transmission equipped CUVs in fuel economy.

If best in class fuel economy and excellent road handling dynamics wrapped in a terrific looking, all-wheel-drive, compact SUV package are on your new vehicle wish list, the 2013 Mazda CX-5 GT is highly recommended and a ‘must drive’.

The Specs

2013 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD

Type of vehicle:  Compact all-wheel-drive sport utility vehicle

Engine: 2.0-litre DOHC direct injection 4-cylinder

Power: 155 horsepower at 6,000 r.p.m; 150 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 r.p.m.

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Brakes: Front/rear ventilated disc brake. ABS with brake assist, electronic brake force distribution (EBD) and Dynamic Stability Control

Tires: front/ rear 225/55R19, temporary spare

Price: $32,750;  As-tested:  $34,390 (includes $1,795 frt/PDI; $100 ACE)

Transport Canada fuel economy (L/100 km): 8.0 city, 6.4 highway (regular unleaded)

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