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The 2013 Mazda CX-5 represents a number of firsts for Mazda. It's the first new vehicle to be built from the ground up using that automaker's SkyActiv suite of technologies and lightweight construction techniques. It's the first new vehicle to showcase the automaker's new Kodo design language. It's also the first vehicle to incorporate the new Mazda navigation system, which is powered by TomTom.
There's never been a Mazda before that's quite like the CX-5, but is that a good thing? I grabbed the smart-key transponder for a 2013 CX-5 Grand Touring, pressed the start button, and hit the road to find out.
Kodo 'Soul of Motion'
Gone is the goofy grin that the rest of Mazda's current generation of vehicles are either blessed or cursed with, depending upon your aesthetic preference. The old style has been replaced with Mazda's new Kodo "Soul of Motion" design language. Large, eyelike headlamps and a large, inverted-pentagon-shaped black grille make the CX-5 look a bit like a mischievous cartoon puppy from certain angles. From other angles, particularly the side and rear quarter, the crossover's compactness is evident. Mazda clearly wants its drivers to think "zoom-zoom" upon approaching it.
Although much taller than, for example, a Mazda3, the CX-5 is still relatively easy to enter and exit. There is a step up to the crossover's elevated seating position, but not much of one. Once inside this Grand Touring model, I was greeted with a simple, yet crisp electroluminescent instrument cluster and a start button. The center stack is home to simple amber illuminated automatic climate controls. And at the top of that center stack is Mazda's new touch-screen infotainment system, which looks like an entry-level aftermarket unit. The whole cabin is remarkably understated, which for fans of Mazda simplicity is a good thing.
Navigation by TomTom
Digging into the 5.8-inch Mazda multi-information display, I see that it's not just a drop-in aftermarket deal. This system is deeply integrated with the CX-5's security and convenience features, so you can adjust everything from the behavior of the keyless entry system to the timing of the courtesy headlamp illumination when approaching the vehicle. This screen is also where you'll view the CX-5 Grand Touring's standard rearview camera while reversing.
More prominently, this receiver boasts GPS navigation powered by TomTom. 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. Also, getting back to the Live Map requires tapping the small Done button in the bottom-right corner of the TomTom menu interface, sometimes repeatedly depending on how deep into the menu you happen to be at the time. It would be nice if tapping the physical NAV button dropped you back on the Live Map like it does in most cars, but in the CX-5 this just cues the system's text-to-speech engine to read the last direction -- which if you're not currently navigating is, "You have reached your destination."
Fight up the interface's maddening learning curve and you'll be rewarded with TomTom'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 8 a.m. could be different from the same trip planned at 5 p.m., if historically there's a significant difference between the traffic on that route -- for example, it's rush hour on a weekday.
Additionally, you can skip the bizarre menu structure for many trips by simply 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 you'll 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.
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.
I did run into an weird glitch with the Bluetooth audio system and its ability to decode A2DP metadata. When playing an audio source that displayed metadata, the system worked just fine. However, if I attempted to switch to an audio source that did not output its "Now playing" information over Bluetooth, the Mazda system would assume that the audio playback had been paused or stopped and mute its output. This meant that the only app that I was able to listen to on my Android phone was the stock music player -- no podcasting apps like Stitcher or Doggcatcher and no streaming apps like Pandora, Spotify, or Mog. I ended up unpairing my phone and simply using the auxiliary input for all but hands-free calls.
Other standard comfort features at the Grand Touring trim level include a power moonroof, heated leather front seats with power adjustment for the driver, and 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.
Lifting the CX-5's Zeal Red Metallic hood reveals the 2.0-liter SkyActiv G engine, itself mostly hidden beneath a Sky Blue Metallic engine cover. This is the same four-cylinder engine found in the new 2012 Mazda Mazda3 i, outputting 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque. If Mazda's numbers are to be believed, the larger CX-5 crossover actually weighs about 30 pounds less than the Mazda3 hatchback, thanks to new lightweight building techniques that are part of Mazda's SkyActiv efficiency initiative.
The low-displacement, 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 26 mpg in the city, averaging out to a combined 29 mpg. My empty-tank average of 27.2 mpg at the end of a week that included highway cruising, city stop-and-go, and a bit of spirited backroad motoring seems to affirm that claim.
On those spirited backroads, I learned two things: First, that Mazda's suspension engineers may be geniuses, but they're no miracle workers. Secondly, that the price you pay for the SkyActiv G's fuel economy is lackluster acceleration.
Handling and performance
Let's start with the good: the suspension tuning. The CX-5's ride is controlled and firm. I felt all of the bumps and cracks of San Francisco's streets, but the crossover didn't crash over them. Additionally, I liked that the chassis was very responsive to my steering 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. 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. However, push too hard and the laws of physics will reassert themselves. The relatively lightweight crossover still features a higher center of gravity than a sporty hatchback and is subject to a bit of lean when taxed. Keep pushing and the CX-5 never gets scary, just dull.
Fortunately, the CX-5 simply isn't powerful enough to be in much real danger of outperforming its suspension. The 155-horsepower SkyActiv G engine supplies, at best, merely an adequate amount of power. There's a reasonable amount of torque at low speeds to make the crossover feel responsive in that 0 to 35 mph band where most urban driving happens. However, hop on the freeway and you'll find that the 2.0-liter engine simply runs out of steam at the 50 mph mark. Toss a moderate uphill grade or a headwind into the mix and you'll have a hard time maintaining 60 mph without dropping down to fifth or even fourth gear.
Part of what's happening here involves the CX-5's automatic transmission, which, like most auto-boxes on the road today, is madly in love with top gear. At lower speeds, the transmission is much more likely to stay in the meaty part of the torque curve, which is why the crossover feels so responsive around town. Pay close attention and you may even catch it downshifting as you slow for a corner. However, cross the threshold into what the CX-5's electronic brain considers highway speed and it will jump to sixth gear and hold onto it as though its very life were at stake. Goad the gearbox enough with the accelerator pedal and it will drop down and give you the power to maintain your speed, but the CX-5 just never feels as effortless on the highway as it does on lower-speed roads.
The CX-5 is a harbinger of many great things to come from Mazda. Its new styling is less polarizing than the clown faces of the previous generation. Its SkyActiv suite of technologies helps this crossover to be lighter and more agile than you think it should be and more efficient to boot. Additionally, the new suite of TomTom-powered infotainment is a step in the right direction.
However, it's not perfect. There is room for improvement. While the cabin tech has all of the right building blocks, it's needlessly complex and could do with a great deal of simplifying. More competent performance at highway speeds would also help.
This fully loaded 2013 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring weighs in at $29,165 as tested. That includes a $795 destination charge and a $1,325 Tech Package that adds navigation, keyless entry and start, HID headlamps that steer slightly with the wheels, and an autodimming rearview mirror. All-wheel drive is available for an additional $1,250, but our vehicle was not so equipped.
Drivers who want to save a buck can step down to the CX-5 Touring for $23,895, which loses many comfort and convenience functions, such as the heated leather seats, power adjustments for the driver's seat, the automatic climate controls, and automatic headlights and wipers. You'll also lose the nine-speaker Bose audio system in favor of a basic six-speaker rig. And those who hold fast to the "less is more" Mazda Miata school of car shopping can drop down to the CX-5 Sport for $22,095, ditching the Bluetooth connectivity, blind-spot monitoring, the rearview camera and 5.8-inch touch-screen display, HD Radio, and the split-fold rear seat, while stepping further down to a four-speaker stereo and cheaper seat upholstery. The Sport trim level has the distinction of being the only trim level that's available with a six-speed manual transmission, for $20,695.
|Model||2013 Mazda CX-5|
|Trim||Grand Touring FWD|
|Power train||2.0-liter SkyActiv G engine, direct injection, 6-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||26 city, 32 highway, 29 combined mpg|
|Observed fuel economy||27.2 mpg|
|Navigation||Powered by TomTom, optional|
|Bluetooth phone support||Yes|
|Disc player||single-slot CD w/ MP3 decoding|
|MP3 player support||Analog 3.5mm auxiliary input, USB connection, Bluetooth audio streaming, iPod connection|
|Other digital audio||SiriusXM Satellite Radio|
|Audio system||9-speaker premium Bose audio|
|Driver aids||Blind-spot monitoring, rearview camera|
|Price as tested||$29,165|