Editor's note: This review was written in February 2013 about the 2014 Mazda CX-5. Little of substance has changed with this year's model. To see what's new for 2015, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
With its newfound power, the 2014 Mazda CX-5 is the complete package for crossover-minded driving enthusiasts.
The CX-5 burst onto the small crossover market a little more than a year ago and established itself as one of the most fun-to-drive models in the class. It had everything going for it — except one thing: Its 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine frequently felt weak. Mazda zeroed in on this shortcoming for the 2014 model year with a newly optional 2.5-liter four-cylinder that makes 19 percent more horsepower and 23 percent more torque.
The CX-5 sees a slight price increase for 2014, now starting at $21,990 for a base front-wheel-drive Sport model with the 2.0-liter four-cylinder (all prices include a $795 destination charge). The midlevel Touring trim adds the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and starts at $25,410 — a $420 increase over last year's Touring with the 2.0-liter engine. I drove a well-equipped all-wheel-drive Grand Touring version with an as-tested price of $31,890 (see the Monroney sticker). To see the CX-5's specs compared with the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape and Toyota RAV4, click here.
What the CX-5 Needed
The new 2.5-liter four-cylinder transforms the CX-5 driving experience. While the base 2.0-liter feels burdened by the crossover's weight and produces leisurely acceleration, the 2.5-liter engine makes the CX-5 move out strongly and attack hills with purpose. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder completely vanquishes the sluggishness that accompanied the 2.0-liter. (For a full rundown on the 2.0-liter CX-5, check out our review of the 2013 model.)
Despite the 2.5-liter four-cylinder's significantly better performance in everyday driving, gas mileage hasn't taken much of a hit. EPA-estimated automatic-transmission gas mileage drops to 25/32 mpg city/highway with front-wheel drive (from 26/32 mpg with the 2.0-liter engine) and 24/30 mpg with all-wheel drive (from 25/31 mpg). Mazda still sells the front-wheel-drive CX-5 with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder and a six-speed manual transmission, which is rated at a frugal 26/35 mpg.
A responsive six-speed automatic transmission makes the most of the CX-5's newfound power. Part-throttle kickdowns happen immediately, and the transmission's refinement — especially its shift quality — is top notch.
Know What You're in For
The CX-5 remains one of the most engaging small crossovers thanks to good driving dynamics, precise feedback-rich steering and controlled body motions. Not everyone, though, will be a fan of the crossover's ride, which is unapologetically firm.
The firm suspension tuning, regardless of trim level, means you feel all the little aspects of whatever road surface you're driving on. Even on pothole-free roads like the ones in Austin, Texas, where I tested the CX-5, the ride was a little jostling, and the constant jitters may be too much for some shoppers. The overall emphasis is clearly on driving precision at the expense of comfort.
The Inside Stays Mostly the Same
Apart from the new engine, the 2014 CX-5 sees few other changes. Newly available features include Pandora internet radio integration and a system that can display and read incoming text messages from a compatible smartphone as well as reply with a preset response. The CX-5 can also have Mazda's Smart City Brake Support system for the first time, which is designed to avoid or lessen the severity of a low-speed collision by automatically applying the brakes if the driver fails to do so.
The crossover, however, didn't really need much in the way of interior changes. The cabin features nice materials, including a soft-touch dashboard and upper door trim surfaces and convincing metal-look accents. The front bucket seats are comfortable and have enough bolstering for aggressive driving. The backseat readily accommodates adults, and the backrest folds flat with the cargo floor when more utility is needed.
The one aspect of the cabin that lags behind the rest of the interior and the class in general is the available built-in navigation system. The screen measures only 5.8 inches and the TomTom-based operating system isn't intuitive.
The CX-5 earned a 2013 Top Safety Pick rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, representing top scores in the agency's moderate-overlap crash test, side-impact crash test, roof-strength test and rear-impact neck-protection assessment. Standard safety features include side-impact airbags for the front seats, side curtain airbags, antilock brakes and an electronic stability system. Besides the Smart City Brake Support system, a backup camera and a blind spot warning system are also optional.
CX-5 in the Market
The CX-5 is off to a strong start in the U.S., and the changes for 2014 make an already appealing small crossover even better. The segment is relentlessly competitive, but with the CX-5's newfound power, it can hang with the best of them.
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