2013 Mazda CX-5 review

Peppiness aside, the 2013 Mazda CX-5 conducts itself on the road with a self-assuredness rarely afforded cars of its class.
Peppiness aside, the 2013 Mazda CX-5 conducts itself on the road with a self-assuredness rarely afforded cars of its class.
Peppiness aside, the 2013 Mazda CX-5 conducts itself on the road with a self-assuredness rarely afforded cars of its class.

Highs

  • Truly impressive fuel technology
  • Tech features are (mostly) easy to navigate
  • Sleek and stylish design

Lows

  • SkyActiv engine, while ultra-efficient, is woefully sluggish
  • Engine has a tendency to get noisy when accelerating
  • Interior is a little bland

For automakers, bringing a new model to the market can be an exciting, albeit stressful, occasion. Some of the time they are heralded with the sort of pomp and circumstance befitting a royal procession; other times they just mosey on in with little more than a whisper. The 2013 Mazda CX-5 manages neither — but it does enter the market with a decent amount of hype and a whole lot of tech inside and under the hood.

You see, the CX-5 is on a mission, and that mission is simple: Replace the poorly aging (and discontinued) Mazda Tribute with a sporty, smallish crossover utility vehicle (CUV) that could duke it out with segment heavyweights such as the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, and the Toyota RAV4.

Its weapons: An array of tech features that do more than simply guide you to the nearest Starbucks (although it does that too, courtesy of its new navigation system power by TomTom), but provide some of the most impressive — if not the most impressive — fuel economy we have yet to see in the small crossover segment, which comes courtesy of Mazda’s ultra-fuel-efficient SkyActiv Technology and lightweight construction techniques.

So how does the 2013 Mazda CX-5’s entire package stack up? Let’s climb inside and find out.

Function over flash

Without question, technology forms the nucleus of the 2013 CX-5. But it’s never overbearing, and perhaps more importantly, never overwhelming. Depending on your take this can be either good or bad. If you’re looking for a flashier tech-wonderland full of illuminated instrument clusters, LED lighting, and more buttons than Ramblin’ Rod (look him up), you’ll be largely disappointed. If, however, you yearn for a more subdued aesthetic, the 2013 CX-5 will more than suffice.

2013 Mazda CX 5 Review exterior right side angle low
2013 Mazda CX 5 Review exterior front   2013 Mazda CX 5 Review exterior right side   2013 Mazda CX 5 Review exterior back   2013 Mazda CX 5 Review exterior headlamp   2013 Mazda CX 5 Review exterior badge closeup

That’s because, on the inside, the CX-5 courts substance over style, functionality over flash. Our top end Grand Touring trim review unit sported some nice visual touches throughout the cabin, like metallic detailing along the dash, steering wheel, and below the climate controls. But apart from that, there isn’t much vibrancy, save some sporty cluster gauges to go along with the TomTom-powered navigation system and its 5.8-inch MID touchscreen.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the CX-5 isn’t bringing the tech heat — quite the contrary. The 2013 Mazda CX-5 is available in three different trim levels: Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring. Standard tech and comfort features include keyless entry, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, USB/iPod interface with AUX jack for MP3 players, and a CD player. Mazda also offers a Bluetooth package that adds phone and audio connectivity, as well as an HD radio option and color monitor.

Moving up the ladder, the Touring trim adds a six-way power driver seat, as well as a blind spot warning system, which we found worked really well. The car will monitor your blind spot for you, beeping aloud and flashing a warning icon on the driver’s and passenger’s side mirror when some mindless nit is hiding out in the pocket. It might not be the most revolutionary feature, but it is a welcome safety tech addition that will surely please drivers (and possibly save lives).


At the front of the lineup sits the Grand Touring trim, which adds 19-inch alloy wheels (as opposed to the standard 17-inch variety), automatic headlamps, heated mirrors and front seats, eight-way power driver seat, as well as dual-zone comfort control and leather upholstery. The Grand Touring trim also includes satellite radio and a nine-speaker Bose system, which we found adequate, if not a little disappointing. Mazda also offers a Technology package ($1,325) that adds the aforementioned TomTom sourced nav system, adaptive xenon headlamps, and keyless ignition.

2013 Mazda CX 5 Review interior bose speakersIt might not be glitzy, but our time with Mazda’s tech features was pleasant enough. Pairing our smartphone was easy, although it can only be undertaken when the vehicle is stopped. Once paired, you’re given the option of downloading your contacts and call history. This is important because you won’t be able to use the hands-free calling by simply saying the name of your contact without going through this step first. Thankfully, downloading is super quick; and once completed, making calls is as easy as pressing the voice-recognition button located on the left side of the steering wheel.

While the voice recognition manages to work well when placing calls, the same cannot be said when searching for directions — which is strange considering it’s the same voice-recognition technology being utilized. Here, we constantly had trouble getting the system to understand where we wanted to go, and placing an address took multiple attempts before being recognized. Strangely, saying aloud the address in a faster, more natural manner seemed to gather better results than slowing our speech down and speaking more consciously.

2013 Mazda CX 5 Review interior front seats
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However, once we did get it working, the turn-by-turn navigation was excellent. On top of giving detailed directions aloud and on the screen, the CX-5’s navigation system shows your current speed and the posted speed along with easy-to-recognize point of interest icons. The navigation system also displays maps in 3D, although it’s not as detailed or vivid as some of the other nav systems we’ve encountered. In addition to route options and directions, the system provides live traffic reports courtesy of TomTom’s HD traffic service. Drivers with any degree of familiarity with standalone TomTom navigation systems will feel right at home thanks to large screen icons and an intuitive interface.

For the audio controls, we felt the 5.8-inch display worked excellently. The capacitive controls are tight and responsive. Screen glare was never an issue. And we found it just as easy to navigate using the touchscreen as it was with the buttons mounted on the steering wheel — which is a rare occurrence indeed. For those planning to use Bluetooth audio or hook up their MP3 player, the Mazda CX-5’s straightforward nature is a welcome change to the convoluted systems we continuously come across. Again, the CX-5 isn’t the flashiest, most elegant system, but it gets the job with little to no fuss. Indeed, there is a striking beauty to its simple nature.

Of course the CX-5 is a car, not a computer — though it’s getting hard to tell the two apart these days. Nevertheless, this competent crossover provides a great deal of comfort and utility for its front and backseat passengers. We have to point out though that space does tend to feel a little cramped in the rear quarters at times, especially for taller folks, but it never breaches levels of unacceptability. For a compact crossover, there is also a great deal of cargo space, with the rear hold able to swallow up 34 cubic feet of luggage on its own, and a massive 65 cubic feet with the rear seats folded forward.

Kudos for Kodo

Stepping outside the vehicle we’re treated to an attractive, high-riding CUV that does more than just indulge our stylistic desires. The first thing you’ll notice — we sure did — is how stylish the CX-5 is. Whereas many CUVs opt for a cute and often contrived aesthetic, the CX-5 eschews a handsome, self-confident vibe. It’s the first production vehicle to feature the Japanese automaker’s new Kodo “Soul in Motion” design language, which will eventually make its way across the entire model lineup. Mazda has wisely done away with smiley-face Nagare design seen on existing models — a change that makes us downright giddy. While we’re not exactly disgusted the by the current crop, we’re much more excited to see the new design language make its way into the fold.

SkyActiv’s the limit

Truthfully, we’re just as excited about the tech under the hood as we are with the car’s bold design and cabin features. That’s because 2013 Mazda CX-5 is the first vehicle to come fully equipped with the Japanese automaker’s Skyactiv Technology, which is aimed at delivering the greatest possible fuel economy. And so far, it seems to be working.

2013 Mazda CX 5 Review exterior skyactiv technologyAccording to the EPA, fuel economy for the front-wheel drive version is rated at 25 mpg in the city, 35 mpg on the highway and 29 combined when mated to a six-speed manual. Opting for the automatic sees those numbers dip slightly to 26/32/29, while the all-wheel-drive version nets an impressive 25/31/28. During our week-long road tests, which included a roughly equal amount of highway and city driving, our AWD Grand Touring review unit averaged an extraordinary 33 mpg.

Don’t be fooled into thinking all the magic is in the engine though. While it’s true the CX-5 sports a 2.0-liter inline-four available in either a six-speed manual or automatic transmissions, and is capable of producing 155 horsepower ad 150 pound-feet of torque, SkyActiv is much more than just a fancy new powertrain.

On top of the improved, low-displacement mill, a large chunk of the efficiency initiative is centered on designing every component of the CX-5 to be as lightweight as possible — including the new unibody SkyActiv chassis. Factor in the CX-5’s low curb weight (which ranges between 3208 and 3400 pounds) and impressive compression ratio of 13:1 — which Mazda has eagerly pointed out is higher than a Ferrari 458 Italia (12.5:1) – and it’s easy to understand what Mazda is aiming to achieve. With such a ratio, and because the exhaust manifold has been essentially designed from the ground up, with the utmost efficiency in mind, the CX-5 doesn’t need to rely on turbocharging or a hybrid powertrain to squeeze out its impressive fuel economy numbers.

2013 Mazda CX 5 Review exterior engineWhile the SkyActiv Technology is undoubtedly impressive, with Mazda duly deserving credit for its engineering prowess, the reality is many will be turned off by its sluggish, underpowered performance. We’ll be the first to champion its unapologetic fuel-sipping ways — but in certain scenarios, driving the CX-5 requires more work on the driver’s part than it normally would. Climbing a hill, merging onto an uphill freeway onramp, or passing another car isn’t the mechanical task relegated to muscle memory like it is in so many other cars. The CX-5’s humble horsepower and timid torque requires you plant your foot down with conviction as it takes some time for the car to muster its strength.

Strong character, lack of motivation

Peppiness aside, the 2013 Mazda CX-5 conducts itself on the road with a self-assuredness rarely afforded cars of its class. Suspension tweaks, paired with an unusually responsive electric steering system give it a unique and engaging drive character, and one that ultimately distracts from the powertrain’s shortcomings.

You see, while the CX-5 grips the road and navigates the most arduous of turns, the low-end torque sullies the experience to a degree, requiring a concentrated effort to mine the most out of its efficient, yet oh-so-stubborn SkyActiv powerplant. On the highway this isn’t as much an issue, but during tight uphill corners, squeezing out an adequate amount of power can be taxing on your foot and the engine.

Still, rarely have we been so impressed with the handling character of a compact SUV and it’s clear Mazda has put in a great deal of effort to provide a compelling and stiff ride that rarely loses its composure on the road.

Finish Line

Like so many other CUVs, the 2013 Mazda CX-5 requires you make some serious decisions about which features are most important, but ultimately asks you to sacrifice much less. Here, you won’t find a syrupy-sweet design, sterile drive mechanics, or a fuel-guzzling powertrain. Instead, the CX-5 delivers class-leading fuel economy and fun-to-drive mechanics wrapped in a sexy-sleek shell. Throw in a healthy-helping of cabin tech, and a very competitive price point (base price starts at just $20,695, while a fully-loaded Grand Touring Trim like ours will set you back just north of $30,000), some spacious quarters, and there isn’t much to complain about the Mazda’s “Soul in Motion” inspired CUV.

There are times where you’d almost be forgiven for thinking the CX-5 descended from the automotive heavens, but sadly its origins are far less celestial. And with that reality comes some harsh truths. While there is certainly a lot to admire about the CX-5, those of you seriously considering one will need to ask whether or not you can live with a car that aims to provide the greatest fuel-efficiency and handling character – with a good deal of comfort sprinkled in — over anything that possesses proficiency in power.

Highs

  • Truly impressive fuel technology
  • Tech features are (mostly) easy to navigate
  • Sleek and stylish design

Lows

  • SkyActiv engine, while ultra-efficient, is woefully sluggish
  • Engine has a tendency to get noisy when accelerating
  • Interior is a little bland
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