Road Test: the sporty, agile Mazda CX-5

Prices for the Mazda CX-5 start at $21,490. Prices for the Mazda CX-5 start at $21,490. Photo Credit: Bloomberg

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If there's an ideal vehicle for every buyer, consider matching Mazda's 2013 CX-5 with Zeus or, better yet, his kids' baby-sitter.

Although no gilded chariot, this all-new compact sport utility vehicle has the sturdy construction to climb Mount Olympus, impressive safety features to keep little Heracles in one piece and the adroit handling ability to outmaneuver any errant lightning bolt thrown its way.

Plus, for anyone with a bit of a commute and interested in saving gas, consider the CX-5's fuel economy. The vehicle is the first from Mazda to be designed from the ground up using an engineering philosophy that's on a quest for efficiency.

What does Mazda call this new approach? SkyActiv. If that doesn't sound like a Twitter handle for Zeus, I don't know what does.

The CX-5 starts at $21,490 and presents itself as the sporty, fun alternative to a segment dominated by the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Chevy Equinox and Ford Escape.

Point the CX-5 at a winding road, and it'll move like a "Dancing With the Stars" contestant. The steering on the front-wheel-drive model I tested was tight and communicative; the suspension was firm but comfortable while allowing less body roll than you'd expect; and the entire vehicle just felt agile.

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But don't confuse the relative driving enjoyment borne from handling with enjoyment borne from raw power. The CX-5 is decidedly low on the latter. Its 155 horsepower is a significant deficit compared with the rest of the segment where 175 hp. is average.

Although fine for city driving, the engine's power disadvantage is noticeable on on-ramps or in passing situations, which require more time than some drivers will like. The engine earns a gold star for its quiet and refined demeanor, however, and the low power output is a key reason the vehicle can boast above-average fuel economy. SkyActiv is basically Mazda putting a name to the practice of adapting existing technologies to make the automobile and its components lighter and more efficient.

Safety is doled out in heaps, with all CX-5s coming standard with six air bags, stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes and a tire-pressure monitoring system.

Although low on power and interior moxie, the CX-5 is high on driving enjoyment, safety and efficiency. The trade-off will probably suit plenty of buyers unenthused with what the rest of the segment offers.

 

Mazda CX-5 specs

BASE PRICE: $21,490 (including destination charge)

PRICE AS TESTED: $29,165

POWERTRAIN: 2.0-liter, DOHC, direct-injected, four-cylinder engine; six-speed automatic transmission with manual shifting

HORSEPOWER: 155 at 6,000 rpm

TORQUE: 150 pound-feet at 4,000 rpm

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0-60: 8.6 seconds, according to Mazda

CURB WEIGHT: 3,272 pounds

WHEELBASE: 106.3 inches

OVERALL LENGTH: 179.3 inches

EPA FUEL ECONOMY: 26 mpg city/32 mpg highway

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