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Review: 2014 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring (fourth place)

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This review is part of a nine-car comparison of compact crossover SUVs. The CX-5 is ranked fourth place of nine.

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Mazda launched the CX-5 in the 2013 model year to replace the larger CX-7 and smaller Tribute. It won praise for its balance of ride, handling and fuel economy, with the most common complaints centering around just-okay acceleration from a 2.0-liter engine that's down 20 horsepower compared to most competitors.

The company, which pledges to build sporty “zoom-zoom” products, rectified that issue with the 2014 model, replacing the 2.0-liter with a 2.5-liter and an extra 30 horsepower on all but the base model. The new engine moves acceleration from a minus to a plus, with only a minor fuel economy penalty. The 2014 updates also brought an improvement in NHTSA crash test scores, from four out of five stars in 2013 to the top five-star score for 2014.

The CX-5 still isn't perfect for everyone. You give up some interior space compared to the roomiest competitors, some other small crossovers have smoother and quieter rides, and some buyers will want a glitzier interior design. It's also slightly more expensive than the class norm, with relatively high demand keeping discounts at a minimum.

Nor is it truly “zoom-zoom.” Acceleration is zesty and handling is composed, but the steering is less than razor-sharp.

But if you want the most fun-to-drive crossover with relatively few other compromises, the CX-5 delivers better than the competition.

Feels small

More than most small crossovers, the CX-5 feels more like a scaled-up car than a scaled-down SUV. There's not a towering seating position or particularly expansive forward view, and a car-style center console and significant front-seat bolsters make the cabin feel more intimate than vast and airy. Preferences will differ.

The CX-5 has a comfortable interior, though the bolsters on the front seats make it harder to simply pivot your way out of the car. They don't hold you in place as snugly as they look like they might, either. The rear is nicely padded and mounted high – comfortable for two adults but narrow for three.

The interior has a straightforward design without much flair, but ergonomics are very straightforward and interior quality is excellent. Most CX-5s include a touchscreen for audio controls that's surrounded by hard buttons and knobs.

Cargo space is class-competitive but not outstanding. There's a good 34 cubic feet of room behind the rear seat, and most of that is floor space. However, the sloping rear windshield diminishes the CX-5's ability to carry bulkier items without folding the seat. The CX-5's rear seat folds flat but not quite flush with the cargo floor. The seatback folds in three sections instead of the normal two – each section corresponding to a rear seating position – which adds a step to maximizing your cargo capacity but increases the flexibility of balancing passengers and cargo. Total capacity is 65 cubic feet.

But it's not the interior that's the highlight of the CX-5 – it's the driving dynamics. The steering could be more alert just off center, but you can corner more confidently in the Mazda than in competing crossovers as you start to get closer to its limits. It feels more like a small car than a crossover. It would be nice if the car had more gentle-driving verve, but the new-for-2014 increase in acceleration performance helps that a great deal. And unlike some powerful vehicles, the car pulls off a balance of feeling eager without being too sensitive and jumpy for smooth gentle driving.

EPA fuel economy estimates are an outstanding 26 miles per gallon in mixed driving with the 2.5-liter, just 1 mpg shy of the 2.0-liter model; no compact all-wheel-drive crossover beats 27 mpg.

The CX-5 has a decently smooth and quiet ride, but it's not as cushy or hushed as some competitors, especially with the large 19-inch wheels on the Grand Touring model (the only CX-5 available with leather seats.)

A little pricey

The CX-5 has an enticing $21,195 base price, which undercuts most competitors. However, unless you want a manual transmission, the price advantage wanes by $1,400. (The CX-5 is a rare crossover choice available for someone who wants to shift their own gears, but the manual is only available in the base front-wheel-drive Sport model; read review.) Standard features include the typical power windows, locks and mirrors, along with 17-inch alloy wheels.

Step up to the $24,615 Touring model for the 2.5-liter engine instead of the base 2.0-liter, along with a power driver's seat, touch-screen radio and Bluetooth connectivity, upgraded cloth upholstery, an upgraded sound system, a three-section folding rear seat (instead of two sections on the Sport), fog lights, a blind-spot monitoring system, and leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter. It can also call 911 in the event of an accident using a paired cellphone. A $1,500 Technology Package buys a navigation system and rain-sensing windshield wipers; for $1,100, another package brings a moonroof and Bose-brand audio system.

The model comparable to the leather-equipped crossovers in this comparison is the line-topping Grand Touring, which starts at $27,620. It adds heated leather seats, automatic climate control, rain-sensing wipers, a moonroof, the Bose audio system, and 19-inch alloy wheels.

All-wheel-drive adds $1,250 to all but the manual-transmission Sport, which doesn't offer the system. A CX-5 comparably equipped to others in this comparison is an all-wheel-drive Grand Touring with no other options; such a vehicle stickers at $29,665. Being able to haggle more than $800 off the price doesn't look promising, however; this makes the CX-5 about $1,000 to $1,500 pricier out the door than the class norm and several thousand more than the value leaders.

Buyers seeking more features can also add the $1,600 Technology Package with a navigation system and proximity key.

Worth it for some

If you like a dose of sport in your practical, comfortable crossover, the CX-5 makes a good case for being worth a bit more money than the competition – especially when you factor in the savings that result from its above-average gas mileage.

However, if that's not a priority, you can find roomier, plusher and less expensive crossovers.

Overall grade: B
- More photos of the 2014 Mazda CX-5
- Report card: Rating the CX-5 -- how does it compare in different ways, such as comfort, safety and fuel economy?
- Report card: Ranking the CX-5 -- how does it stack up for different types of buyers?

More from this comparison:
- Next article: 2013 Nissan Rogue (3rd place)
- Previous article: 2013 Ford Escape (5th place)
- Introduction
- Rating the nine compact crossovers
- Ranking the nine compact crossovers
- Quick summaries of the nine compact crossovers: Pros, cons, conclusions.

See also:
All Cars Examiner car reviews
Review: 2013 Mazda CX-5 Sport
Review: 2013 Mazda3 i Grand Touring
Review: 2014 Mazda6 Grand Touring
Review: 2012 Mazda5 Touring
Review: 2012 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring
Review: 2011 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Vehicle tested: 2014 Mazda CX-5
Vehicle base price (MSRP): $21,195
Version reviewed: Grand Touring AWD
Version base price (MSRP): $28,870
Vehicle price as tested (MSRP): $29,575
Vehicle price as comparable (MSRP)*: $29,665
Estimated transaction price as comparable**: $28,865
Test vehicle provided by: Ourisman Mazda; Rockville, Md. (Ray Palizkar; 240-593-1715)

Key specifications:
Length: 178.7 inches
Width: 72.4 inches
Height: 65.7 inches
Wheelbase: 106.3 inches
Weight: 3,532 pounds
Cargo volume behind rear seat: 34.1 cubic feet
Cargo volume with rear seat folded: 65.4 cubic feet
Turning circle: 36.6 feet
Engine (as tested): 2.5-liter I4 with 184 horsepower
Transmission (as tested): 6-speed automatic
EPA city mileage: 24 miles per gallon
EPA highway mileage: 30 miles per gallon
EPA combined mileage: 26 miles per gallon
Assembly location: Japan
For more information: Mazda website

*Prices as comparable refer to cars with all-wheel-drive; an automatic transmission; heated, power adjustable leather seats; and a sunroof, or the nearest equivalent.

**Estimated transaction prices are based on data from Truecar.com and dealer quotes.

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