2014 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring review: Mazda's little crossover is more powerful, still fun

Tapping the NAV button to the left of the screen drops you into an interface that will be immediately familiar to anyone who has used one of TomTom's most recent portable navigation devices. Tapping anywhere on the Live Map screen brings the user to the main menu, where there are options for selecting a destination or browsing the map. There are also smaller buttons that let you browse traffic reports, supplied by TomTom's HD Traffic service, and adjust more options specific to the TomTom navigation interface, such as map color and routing options.

Like every TomTom PND that I've tested, this interface does have its weakness. For starters, it's more complex than it needs to be. There are two different map screens: the live-updating Live Map that is used for navigation, and the second, browsable, scrollable map that is accessible via the menu screen. Mazda seems to have fixed my previous complaint about not being able to quickly jump back to the main map screen when burrowed deep into the menu structure. Now tapping the physical NAV button takes you directly back to the live map. Thanks for that.

Being TomTom-powered means the CX-5 uses the company's excellent IQ Routes trip-planning algorithms, which take into account historical and current traffic data supplied anonymously by other TomTom users to plan the best possible route specific to the time the route is being planned. So, a trip from point A to B planned at 8am could be different from the same trip planned at 5pm, if historically there's a significant difference between the traffic on that route -- for example, it's rush hour on a weekday.

However, I'm still a bit annoyed that the TomTom navigation interface is wholly separate from the rest of the infotainment system. It's got its own menus, its own visual style, and even its own voice-command system. Where the audio sources and hands-free calling screens use simple white graphics on a black background, the TomTom-built areas of the interface are lighter with smoother graphics. Visually, this is a bit jarring.

On the bright side, I did enjoy using the TomTom system's voice-command system, which lets you search for points of interest by simply speaking a category name and enter full addresses in one go. Tap the microphone icon to initiate the voice command function, say "Drive to an address" and then "2300 Jackson Street, Gary, Indiana," and be on your way. This is one thing that the TomTom-powered navigation system does extremely well, so take full advantage of it.

The navigation software lives on an SD card stored in a slot to the left of the steering wheel, which can be removed and plugged into an Internet-connected computer to periodically update the IQ Routes traffic algorithm.

The Smart City Brake Support also added as part of the Tech Package uses a laser sensor located behind the rearview mirror to monitor the CX-5's closing speed with the vehicle ahead. If it detects that you're approaching a slowed vehicle too quickly, it will sound an alert and prep the brakes for faster response. If the driver reacts too slowly, Smart City Brake can automatically grab the brakes in an attempt to prevent or reduce the severity of an imminent collision. The system also includes safeguards that cut engine power in the event that the driver panics and stomps the accelerator instead of the brake pedal.

Bose premium audio

In addition to the TomTom navigation system, the Mazda infotainment system features an array of digital-audio sources, including a USB port for iPod and mass-storage connectivity, Bluetooth hands-free calling and audio streaming, AM/FM tuning with HD Radio decoding, satellite radio provided by SiriusXM, a single-disc CD player with MP3 decoding, and an auxiliary audio input. Audio is output through a nine-speaker Bose-branded stereo that features a powered subwoofer, speed-sensitive volume, and surround-sound enhancement for its stereo audio sources. If you've ever uttered the phrase, "I like the part where the bass drops," you'll find a lot to like about this system's cabin-filling low end.

The system supports Bluetooth MAP text messaging, but don't bother. It simply doesn't work. Incoming message prompted a "Would you like to download messages?" screen, but when I clicked "Yes," nothing ever happened. You're better off just ignoring your phone altogether until the end of your trip than trying to get this bit to work. Fortunately, hands-free calling seems to work just fine.

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2014 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring with Technology Package. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

It also looks like Mazda fixed the glitch that I experienced last year with the A2DP streaming, but it may just be that Android apps are getting better about including metadata when streaming audio. Whatever the solution, I was able to listen to audio using the stock music player and third-party apps like Pocket Cats and Spotify. Additionally, the receiver now features baked-in Pandora controls, allowing me to take control of the Internet radio app to select stations, view song info, and tag and rate songs, all using the Mazda's touchscreen.

Other standard comfort features at the Grand Touring trim level include a power moonroof, heated leather front seats with power adjustment for the driver. Also standard is a blind-spot monitoring system that watches for obstructions flanking the vehicle at highway speeds and warns the driver with an illuminated icon in the side mirrors and an audible beep.

In sum

The 2014 CX-5 Grand Touring retains most of what we liked about last year's model. It's still lighter and more agile than you'd think and more efficient to boot. The extra power of the larger engine is a welcome addition, but 29 ponies won't do that much to change character of this nimble, yet underpowered, machine. And while the TomTom-powered infotainment is slightly improved, its UI still a mixed bag.

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The CX-5 Grand Touring is as charming as ever, but there are still kinks to be worked out. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

This fully-loaded 2013 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring rings up at $30,285 as tested. That includes the $27,970 price tag, a $830 destination charge, and the $1,425 Tech Package that adds navigation, HID headlamps and the only optional bit of safety tech: Smart City Brake Support.

Tech specs
Model 2014 Mazda CX-5
Trim Grand Touring
Powertrain 2.5-liter Skyactiv G engine, direct injection, six-speed automatic transmission, FWD
EPA fuel economy 25 city, 32 highway, 27 combined
Observed fuel economy 25.5 mpg
Navigation Optional TomTom navigation with IQ Routes
Bluetooth phone support Yes
Digital audio sources USB, Bluetooth audio, HD radio, satellite radio, Pandora app integration
Audio system Nine-speaker Bose audio system
Driver aids Blind-spot monitoring, Smart City Brake Support, rear camera
Base price $27,970
Price as tested $30,285

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