Mature Life Features

Cecil Scaglione, Editor

Mixed bag of technology in Mazda’s all-new CX-5

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By James Gaffney

Mature Life Features


As a rule, I tend to like Mazdas. Over the years I’ve tested the Mazda 2, 6, CX-7, CX-9 and the MX-5 two-seater (even owned one for a spell). Most were well designed and fun to drive, whether it was a subcompact or mid-size SUV.

But the all-new Mazda CX-5, a compact crossover unveiled at the 2011 Geneva Auto Show and introduced for the 2013 model year, is a mixed bag of sorts.

The CX-5 is being celebrated as the first vehicle featuring Mazda’s full Skyactiv Technology suite, with its rigid, lightweight platform, combined with a new series of efficient engines and transmissions resulting in reduced emissions and fuel consumption. With an EPA-estimated fuel economy of 26/33 city/highway miles per gallon, respectively, the four-passenger, five-door hatchback offers a glimpse into the automaker’s gas-pump-conscious design direction. Ditto for the relatively roomy interior space with better-than-average leg room for two rear-seat passengers (a third is going to make the going cozy at best) and more than ample front-cabin headroom, all of which makes this compact SUV a surprisingly good candidate for long hauls and road trips.

Cargo space is by no means best in class but is competitive thanks to a choice of 60/40 or 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats, depending on trim level, that create enough room for toting skis for weekend trips to the mountains in winter. Another road-trip boost comes in the form of the full-size spare the CX-5 packs beneath the cargo lid in lieu of the skinny-minnies found in most small cars today.

A retractable full-size black skirt running the length of the hatchback window completely any cargo in back.

Mazda has long excelled in creating eye-pleasing cabins that combine thoughtful design with quality materials and soft-touch surfaces while resisting the temptation to incorporate cheap-looking faux alloy and polished plastic trim. Unfortunately, the CX-5’s headliner feels like egg-crate material.

Mazda’s cabin color palettes, as a rule, not only are tasteful and understated but occasionally downright elegant. My CX-5 was no exception. It scored extra points for a driver’s-side instrument cluster that utilized black gauges with white lettering to optimize contrast for better visibility, especially at night, for over-40 drivers.

Center stack and center console layouts may be user-friendly but the on-board touchscreen proved a frustrating near hair-pulling experience for my frequent traveling companion and test-car-savvy guinea pig. She spent 20 minutes to no avail attempting to hook up her iPhone’s song list to the car’s audio system.

“This is ridiculous,” she finally said in defeat.

Mazda’s designers at its North American studios in Irvine, Calif., did excel in sculpting body lines that make this bantam crossover look bigger than it actually is, thanks to a rising front-to-rear belt line, slightly protruding roof spoiler, and angular tail lights that buff out the rear end. Receding headlamps and a honeycomb grille badged with Mazda’s signature wing-like logo imbue the front fascia with an unusual level of contemporary flair for a car whose base-trim model starts at $20,695.

During around-town and highway hauls the handling is firm, responsive and reasonably agile, the steering tight, and the cabin relatively quiet, with overall road manners worthy of Mazda’s well-earned reputation for producing blacktop-worthy vehicles.

The problem is, the CX-5 just isn’t much fun to drive. If there is an inherent flaw, it’s that it comes to the table with only one available power plant — a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine that which kicks out a rather miserly 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque.

Forget about performance-oriented driving. Merely accelerating on a freeway onramp — using the manual-shift mode of the six-speed automatic tranny — left this driver wondering why Mazda would shortchange such an otherwise promising crossover. By comparison, the comparably priced 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, a compact crossover and CX-5 rival I tested the previous week, proved a spirited drive. And, yes, this was in no small part due to the fact its 2.0-liter, four-cylinder tranny was turbocharged and blasting out 264 horses and 269 pound-feet of torque.

That said, the CX-5 comes in three trim levels: the base Sport (starting MSRP $20,695), mid-level Touring ($23,895) and top-tier Grand Touring ($27,045).

Standards in the Sport include 17-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry, tilt-telescoping steering wheel, height-adjustable driver’s seat, 60/40 split-folding rear seats, four speaker sound system with CD player, and iPod/USB audio interface with audio jack. The Touring trim adds fog lamps, rear privacy glass, upgraded cloth interior, six-way power driver’s seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel, blind-spot warning, rearview camera, six-speaker sound system, and optional touchscreen navigation system. Grand Touring adds 19-inch wheels, sunroof, auto headlamps, heated mirrors, eight-way power driver’s seat, leather upholstery, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, and premium nine-speaker Bose sound system with satellite radio.

Like many first-generation automobiles to roll off the assembly line, my top-tier CX-5 Grand Touring test car still has a few power-plant and on-board technology issues to iron out before it earns its stripes as a global competitor in the compact crossover market. Time will tell how the Japanese automaker Mazda, named for the Shinto god of wisdom, choses to tackle these matters.

(James Gaffney is automotive editor-at-large at Seven magazine and the former automotive columnist at The Times-Picayune in New Orleans.)



Written by Cecil Scaglione

May 26, 2014 at 8:47 am

Posted in Auto

Tagged with , ,

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