published Saturday, April 28th, 2012

Kennedy: Mazda CX-5 crossover lets the good times roll

The new Mazda CX-5 compact crossover is the face of things to come for the Japanese auto-maker. 
 Staff Photo
The new Mazda CX-5 compact crossover is the face of things to come for the Japanese auto-maker. Staff Photo

FAST FACTS


• Model: 2013 CX-5 Touring.

• Exterior color: Black metallic.

• Interior color: Black.

• Engine: 2.0 liter, four cylinder.

• Horsepower: 155.

• Transmission: Six-speed automatic.

• Fuel economy: 32 mpg highway, 29 mpg city.

• Dealer: Edd Kirby’s Adventure Mazda.

• Price (as tested): $24,250.

Mazda, the “Zoom Zoom” car company, is trying to corner the market on fun.

While other automakers hope to be synonymous with reliability or prestige, Mazda wants to be the default nameplate for buyers who value an energetic driving experience.

The brand new CX-5 small crossover from Mazda is the embodiment of a fun-time philosophy, offering crisp handling in an efficient package that squeezes 155 horsepower out of a smallish, 2.0-liter engine.

The CX-5 is in the vanguard of new products from Mazda as the company tries to make good on its goal to “realize 30 percent fuel efficiency gains” by 2015 across its entire product line. The CX-5 boasts 32 miles per gallon in highway driving.

The 2013 CX-5 has been available at the Edd Kirby Mazda store on M.L. King Boulevard for about three months. Sales consultant Garrett Beaver said Mazda has been generous with its allotment of CX-5s to the dealership because of brisk sales there.

STYLING AND COMFORT

The CX-5 comes in three trim levels, and our tester was a mid-range CX-5 Touring edition with front-wheel drive. (All-wheel drive is available but accounts for only about 10 percent of CX-5 sales here, Beaver said.)

While most modern Mazda products are known for a fascia shaped like a wide smile, the CX-5 has more of a bemused grin. If the CX-5 were a gun, it would be a snub-nosed revolver. The horizontal lines are clean, almost Audi-esque. Handsome 10-spoke alloys are standard on the Touring trim.

Inside, the cloth-covered seats are well-bolstered, which comes in handy on our Chattanooga area mountain roads. The beefy little steering wheel is perfect for dancing with the CX-5’s nimble suspension. Mazda notes the CX-5’s steering is “self centering,” which in an automobile is certainly no character flaw.

The crossover’s array of technical features includes a tire pressure monitoring system, halogen headlights, rearview camera and HD radio. A multi-function, 5.8-inch info-screen can be upgraded with a navigation system for only about $500 extra.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

We took our CX-5 tester on a loop around I-24 and Brainerd Road. On the freeway, the little Mazda scooted through late-afternoon traffic without breaking a sweat. On city streets, the absorbent suspension soaked up potholes and uneven pavement.

The 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine has the pound-for-pound strength of a welterweight boxer. Through deft used of direct fuel injection, the CX-5 feels like a much more powerful ride than its 155 horses would lead one to believe. (The CX-5 shares its new powerplant with the 2012 Mazda 3.) Importantly for the pocketbook, the CX-5 runs on 87 octane gasoline.

Mazda declined to join the rush to continuously variable transmissions on the grounds that Mazda drivers want a more traditional driving feel. A new six-speed automatic is standard on the CX-5.

The CX-5 also has blind-spot monitors. Indicators in the side mirrors light up when traffic intrudes. This is especially helpful because rearward sight lines in the CX-5 are pinched by a rearward sloping roofline.

BOTTOM LINE

Our nicely equipped test car stickers for $24,250, which puts it right in the small crossover segment’s sweet spot along with the new Honda CR-V, the forthcoming Toyota RAV-4 and the Ford Escape. This will be a real fight for market share, but the Mazda CX-5, the new kid on the block, has a puncher’s chance to prevail.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is the editor of the Times Free Press opinion pages and writes the Sunday “Life Stories” column. He also writes a Saturday automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for Best Community Lifestyles four times during his tenure. Before Chattanooga’s newspapers ...

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