EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 22, 2013

Mazda conquers crossovers with new CX-5

Motor Mouth
Jeffrey Zygmont

---- — The Mazda CX-5 is a smart car that sits in a sweet spot of the American auto market. The CX-5 is a compact crossover, a small SUV, dwelling among vehicles that are prized and popular for their manageable size and versatile character – with all-wheel drive that makes them determined travelers in our soon-to-be-snowy climate.

The compact crossover class contains some prominent models, like the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape.

The new entrant from Mazda holds its place among the best of them. Its smoothly tapered shape and clean body styling give the wagon a stand-out presence. Its airy cabin is comfortable, attractive and functional. The model handles crisply and steers precisely, making it entertaining to drive.

At an opening list price of $21,490, which includes a generous equipment list that bundles in such features as alloy wheels, dual exhaust outlets, roof spoiler, adjustable steering wheel with cruise and audio controls, push-button start, trip computer, carpeted floor mats, split and folding rear seat, dynamic stability control and tire-pressure monitoring, the CX-5 adds up to an alluring value and a good buy.

It’s such an appealing buy that the new model has become the top seller at Lannan Mazda in Lowell, accounting for more than a third of the new cars sold at the dealership.

“We ran out of them last month,” said Anthony Scenna, general sales manager at Lannan. “We sold everything we had on the ground and then we were pre-selling them, taking deposits on models that were still in-bound. The CX-5 has made quite an impact both on Mazda and on us.”

He stated that the new model has become a magnet for drivers of moderately sized crossover wagons from other brands.

“In the last two months alone we’ve traded about 10 RAV4 owners into these,” Scenna said.

CX-5 is a new vehicle, introduced by Mazda in the spring of 2012 as a 2013 model, now carrying into the 2014 model year needing no substantial updates.

The company says the CX-5 is its first model to incorporate the full suite of its “Skyactiv Technology” features.

Skyactiv Technology is a baffling term that suggests wireless communications more than mechanical engineering, and you have to wonder why someone in Mazda’s marketing department didn’t veto its use. But Mazda boldly advertises Skyactiv as the full integration of engine, transmission, suspension and body to achieve optimal fuel economy without sacrificing spirited performance.

The heart of the new crossover SUV is a 155-horsepower four-cylinder engine matched to a six-speed transmission. In the entry-level CX-5 Sport model, you can get a manual six-speed, but only with front-drive versions of the wagon.

At Lannan, almost all buyers opt for all-wheel drive, which comes only with a six-speed automatic transmission. Higher trim levels, called the Touring and Grand Touring editions, also come only with the automatic gear box.

In engine and transmission alike, Mazda engineered internal geometries, cut weight, and reduced friction with the aim of maximizing fuel efficiency while maintaining suitable performance. Together with such measures as a total weight reduction for the vehicle body, Skyactiv Technology in the CX-5 yields the best highway fuel economy available in any sport utility vehicle, according to Mazda.

The front-drive CX-5 with manual six speed earns a rating of 35 miles per gallon in highway driving, with a city-travel rating of 26 mpg. When equipped with all-wheel drive – with the automatic transmission riding along – the CX-5 earns ratings of 25 mpg city, 31 mpg highway.

The model’s superior fuel economy is a principal selling point, said Scenna.

“Being able to drive an SUV, have all the space and capability, and still get that kind of fuel economy is really winning people over,” he said.

The high gas mileage adds to the overall value people find in the car, Scenna added.

“Even a base-level CX-5 still gives you a lot. There is no skimping,” he stated.

According to Scenna, the model’s abundant features and affordable purchase price attract drivers from across the spectrum.

“We don’t have a specific type of buyer looking at this car. Instead it’s a wide range of people. We’re seeing new drivers getting into these, all the way up to retired couples,” the manager said.

The CX-5 joins a Mazda lineup of six additional models, including the MX-5 Miata sports car, the small, sprite Mazda2, the compact Mazda3 available in sedan, hatchback and sport editions, the clever Mazda 5 wagon, the Mazda 6 sport sedan and the CX-9 crossover. All tilt toward Mazda’s approach to motoring as an engaging and rewarding activity that should be abetted by nimble cars that encourage athletic maneuvers.

A big mystery about Mazda cars is why we don’t see more of them. Like the CX-5 in particular, Mazdas as a whole are smartly styled and distinctively shaped. They are well engineered, thoughtfully equipped and solidly built. They are comfortable.

I’m surprised they aren’t more popular. So far this year, over a span of eight months, Mazda has sold about 200,000 cars in the United States. General Motors, Ford and Toyota each sold more than that in the month of August alone.

Scenna said Mazda’s position in the second tier of U.S. auto brands is a result of the company’s insistence on making out-of-the-ordinary cars.

“Mazda makes fun cars,” he said. “They’re not cookie-cutter cars, where there’s a million of them out there. They’re sporty cars. They’re reliable cars. They give you everything you need in an automobile, and they’re still fun to drive.”

Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction and non-fiction books, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at www.jeffreyzygmont.com.

2013 Mazda CX-5 :Vehicle type: 4-door, 5-passenger, front- and all-wheel-drive compact crossover Price range: $21,490 to $29,090 (plus options) Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles basic warranty; 5 years/60,000 miles powertrain warranty; 5 years/unlimited miles corrosion warranty Engine: 2.0-liter I4 Power: 155 horsepower at 6,000 rpm; 150 lb.-ft. torque at 4,000 rpm Base transmission: 6-speed manual Fuel economy: 26 mpg city; 35 mpg highway Wheelbase: 106 inches Length: 179 inches Width: 72 inches Height: 66 inches Weight: 3,208 pounds Fuel capacity: 14.8 gallons Turning circle: 36.7 feet