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

Starting at $21,395
  • Engine 4 Cylinder Engine
  • Drivetrain Front Wheel Drive
  • MPG 29 MPG
  • Passenger Capacity 5
  • Body Type Crossovers, SUVs

Roadshow Editors' Rating

6.9 Overall
  • Performance 7
  • Features 6.5
  • Design 7
  • Media 7

The Good The lightweight 2014 Mazda CX-5 boasts better-than-average handling and good low-speed grunt from its 2.5-liter engine. Fuel economy is largely unchanged despite the power bump. A full suite of digital-audio sources is available for the Grand Touring's Bose audio system, and many of the tech glitches from last year have been worked out. The TomTom routing software is top-notch.

The Bad Bluetooth text-messaging support simply doesn't work. Crosswinds tend to push the tall, light crossover around.

The Bottom Line Small improvements to power, performance, and tech keep us charmed by the 2014 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring, but buggy, limited cabin tech continues to annoy.

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.)

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The CX-5 puts on a fun-loving, puppy-dog face. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Skyactiv technology

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.

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The crossover's steering is precise and its ride firm, but controlled. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

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.

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The TomTom navigation system features a separate menu and voice-control system. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

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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