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If I had a nickel for everytime I accidentally wrote or said MX-5 when evaluating this 2014 Mazda CX-5, I'd have... well, about a buck-fifty. As small as that may seem, it does speak volumes about the automaker's mission statement and what "soul" can be found beneath its Kodo 'Soul of Motion' design language. Mazda wants us to believe that its city-friendly crossover shares its performance DNA with its sportier siblings; it wants the CX-5 to be fun...or maybe I've just got Miatas on the brain.
The last CX-5 to grace our crowded garage was a fun car. It stood out with bright Zeal Red Metallic paint and showcased its zippy, if underpowered, 2.0-liter Skyactiv G engine with a Sky Blue Metallic engine cover. The 2014 model we're looking at today may be slightly less flashy -- its Deep Crystal Blue paint is more likely to blend into traffic -- but it's also more powerful. The CX-5 is still a handsome little crossover with its athletic stance, approachable proportions, and puppy-dog face. (Once you imagine the pentagonal grill as a big wet nose, you won't be able to un-see it.)
Despite a shiny, chrome 'winged-M' emblem, the dull, plastic engine cover is anything but a showpiece. But beneath it is the more powerful of the two engines available to the 2014 CX-5 in the States. That's a 2.5-liter Skyactiv gasoline engine outputting a stated 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. This, combined with the CX-5's already lightweight construction, leads to better straight-line acceleration than our previous outing. Zero to 60 happens in just over 7 seconds, about a 1.5-second improvement over the smaller engine, but still nothing to brag about.
The direct-injected engine uses lightweight, low-friction materials and is mated with a six-speed automatic transmission with both front- and all-wheel drive variants. The EPA reckons the FWD model I tested will get 32 mpg on the highway and 25 mpg in the city, averaging out to a combined 27 mpg. I averaged about 25.5 mpg during my testing, lining up well enough with the EPA's numbers. Surprisingly, that's only about 2 mpg less than what I averaged with the 2.0-liter engine, a slight efficiency hit that I'd gladly take to have 29 more horsepower and 35 more pound-feet of twist at hand.
Handling and performance
It's no surprise that the CX-5's ride is controlled and firm. Not much has changed between this model year and the last. I felt the bumps and cracks in the road and got bounced around a bit by rougher roads, but I never felt the cringe-inducing bang that you get when rolling over potholes and the uneven pavement of our ever-under-construction downtown area.
The steering is electrically assisted and has a slightly muted fingertip feel, but I'll forgive that because the crossover was very responsive to my inputs. There wasn't a lot of mush between my fingertips and the treads of the front wheels, which made it easy to guide the crossover between slower-moving traffic, around those potholes, and through the tight turns of the city.
Zooming along at seven-tenths on a flowing back road with minor elevation changes, you may be able to fool yourself into thinking this is a much smaller car. Nowhere is this more evident than on the highway during a windy day, where crosswinds tend to bully the CX-5, pushing the lightweight crossover to and fro and causing me to have to work hard to keep the wheels between the lane lines. I expected a more planted feel from a vehicle of this size and couldn't help but wonder if the 156 pounds of mass added by the optional all-wheel drive system wouldn't help ballast the ponderous highway ride.
Despite having more power on tap, the 2.5-liter engine didn't feel significantly more powerful on the road than I remember the 2.0-liter. Perhaps back-to-back drives would highlight the benefits, but it's just as likely that the CX-5's automatic transmission is just as much of a wet blanket today as it was last year. Like most auto-boxes on the road today, this one tends toward the taller gears, which is good for efficiency, but not good for responsiveness when you need to make a quick pass. The result is that the powertrain feels alert and eager at stop-light throttle tip-in, but it's often caught sleeping on the job at moderate speeds.
In keeping with the emphasis on efficiency, the transmission lacks a dedicated 'Sport' program. Thankfully, it does have a manual shifting mode activated by pulling the shift lever to the left from drive and knocking it back and forth for up- and downshifts, respectively. However, even this won't transform the CX-5 into a sports car, rather than a tubby crossover with the soul of one.
Navigation by TomTom
Making a return appearance is the 5.8-inch Mazda infotainment system, which is powered by TomTom navigation. This system is optional at the Grand Touring trim level as part of a Technology package that also includes HID headlamps, which steer with the front wheels when cornering, and Smart City Brake Support. The GT also comes standard with a rear camera that makes use of the central screen when reversing.