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Mudfest 2013: Tom's Hardware Helps Test 23 SUVs

Mazda CX5

Mazda released its CX5 for the 2013 model year after many years of sitting in the shadow of Ford’s Escape-derived Tribute. The CX5 debuted with a 2.0-liter SKYACTIV-G motor that delivered over 30 MPG on the highway. However, the small four-banger proved a tad anemic, so Mazda addresses that with its mid- and top-level 2014 CX5 trims.

New for 2014 is the SKYACTIV-G 2.5-liter engine that bumps power up to 184 hp, but drops gas mileage by 2 MPG on the highway. Nevertheless, the vehicle still offers a respectable 24 city, 30 highway, and 26 combined MPG rating.

Our test vehicle was the flagship Grand Touring trim with all-wheel drive and an automatic transmission. Mazda's part-time AWD system is called Active Torque Split (ATS), and is shared with the bigger CX7 and CX9s. As it constantly monitors traction, the system can send up to 50 percent of torque to the rear wheels. During our drive, the CX5 reacted quickly and didn’t exhibit any of the understeering issues typically associated with reactive front-wheel drive systems.

Mazda's CX5 features an infotainment system with TomTom navigation. We had no trouble plugging in the fourth-gen iPad or pairing the HTC Droid DNA. We were disappointed in the display's outdated graphics and poor clarity though. Strangely, the navigation portion of the TomTom infotainment system was not working during the event, so we didn't have a chance to use it. Beyond its infotainment capabilities, the CX5 features a blind spot monitoring system, hill launch assist, and optional adaptive front lighting that automatically pivots the headlights according to vehicle speed and steering angle.

Of the compact crossovers, the CX5 displayed the best driving dynamics. It felt more like a nimble hatchback than a tall crossover, which isn’t surprising given Mazda’s reputation for sporty driving vehicles. The company does a tremendous job with this thing's weight savings. The CX5 weighs in at 3532 lbs, about 250 less than the Ford Escape.

Overall, driving feel was simply fantastic. Throttle and steering response were outstanding. A car this large should not be as agile as the CX5, but Mazda's engineers somehow dial in the suspension perfectly. It was easy to fall in love with how well the CX5 handled turns on the courses and curves on public roads (almost enough to forgive Mazda for the dated infotainment system).

Styling-wise, the CX5 debuts Mazda’s KODO “soul of motion” design language. We find the aesthetic subtly aggressive and a massive improvement over the company’s previous smiley-face Nagare style. This is the best-looking vehicle in its class.

Vehicle Specifications
Vehicle2014 Mazda CX5
Trim levelGrand Touring AWD
Engine2.5 L SKYACTIV-G
TransmissionSix-speed Sport Automatic
DrivetrainActive Torque-Split (ATS) AWD system
Infotainment5.8-inch Color Touch Screen display with TomTom Navigation
Notable featuresBlind-spot monitoring system
Fuel economy24 city, 30 highway, 26 combined MPG