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July 10, 2012 > Auto Review: Mazda CX-5: Mazda of the Future

Auto Review: Mazda CX-5: Mazda of the Future

By Steve Schaefer

The 2013 CX-5 is a look at the Mazda of tomorrow. All new, and the first Mazda to carry all of the company's SKYACTIV TECHNOLOGY, this compact crossover SUV has something else you won't find out there - a manual six-speed transmission. Yes, the folks who have brought you the wonderful little MX-5 Miata for more than two decades lets you choose your own gears.

The new manual uses the forces of gravity to ease upshifts; a lock ball-type synchronizer for smooth gear changes and a shift load canceller to make the lever action lighter. By employing a slide ball bearing and putting 2nd and 3rd gears on a common shaft, the Mazda engineers made the SKYACTIV-MT manual about 4.4 pounds lighter and more efficient. The CX-5 weighs only about 3,200 pounds.

According to Mazda, SKYACTIV TECHNOLOGY is an all-encompassing philosophy. It's designed to provide more power, more torque and more miles per gallon without sacrificing fuel economy, design or safety. SKYACTIV represents lots of small things the company does to improve efficiency and reduce weight. The Mazda 3 sedan and five-door hatchback introduced elements of the technology, but the CX-5 is the first Mazda to have the whole deal.

You can decide how much is real and how much is marketing, but Mazda says that the CX-5 began with the philosophy of "Jinbai ittai," the oneness between car and driver, which is instilled within every Mazda. It also has a new design philosophy - getting away from the "Joker" grin grille and wavy lines as seen on the Mazda 5 mini-minivan - and into the new KODO motif.

KODO, or "Soul of Motion," is a design language inspired by nature. It was first unveiled in 2010 on the SHINARI concept car, a four-door sports coupe, and then on the MINAGI concept SUV, on which the production CX-5 is based.

As part of that new design language, the car's face carries a new five-point "signature wing" front grille. I noticed that the body itself, as well as the all-new interior, features interplay of edges and smooth surfaces, and the transition from one to another. BMW started that years ago, but these are subtle - and even compelling. For example, the scallops on the sides of the car seem to emerge from the convex surface and retreat again. The tops of the interior door panels are folded over but over the length of the door fade into a soft curve. I found this over and over, even on the smaller details of the instrument panel and places like the outside mirrors. A lot of thought and planning went into this; it gives the design a unified feel.

Some of this, according to Mazda, is for improved airflow, for example the side fins on the rear spoiler. The .33 coefficient of drag is excellent for a tall crossover vehicle.

The CX-5 uses the SKYACTIV-G 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, which puts out 155 horsepower and 150 lb.-ft. of torque. It feels like barely enough. As with the Miata, it isn't impressive for sheer horsepower but more how it works in sync with the whole driving experience.

At 13:1, SKYACTIV-G features the world's highest compression ratio for a mass-produced car. An all-new exhaust system, redesigned pistons and other components prevent issues often associated with high compression engines, such as knocking and requiring premium fuel. The SKYACTIV-G is 10 percent lighter, delivers more torque, improves fuel economy and lowers emissions when compared to the previous 2.0-liter gasoline engine.

Other vehicles, such as the Honda CR-V, offer significantly more oomph (185 horsepower) and that can make a difference.

Fuel economy is good, at 26 City, 35 Highway (average 29) for the two-wheel-drive model (all-wheel drive is optional). I averaged 30.1 mpg for my test week.

CX-5's start with the Sport. On the outside, it comes standard with 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels, power side view mirrors, a body-colored rear spoiler and a shark-fin antenna. Inside, there's a push-button start, power windows, cruise control, a tilt and telescopic steering column, steering-wheel-mounted audio and cruise control functions, air conditioning, a four-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3-compatible radio and a USB connection port.

The Touring level adds fog lamps, privacy glass, upgraded cloth seats, a six-way power-adjustable driver's seat, rearview camera an upgraded audio system, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, steering-wheel-mounted audio, Bluetooth and cruise control functions and a Blind Spot Monitoring system. Try the Grand Touring for special features, such as leather upholstery, 19-inch wheels, heated seats and full climate control.

CX-5 Sport models with the six-speed manual transmission start at less than $22,000, including shipping. That's pretty reasonable, especially for a car that feels so upscale.

It's a new round for Mazda in the compact crossover competition. Let the games begin!

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