We were invited to a ride-and-drive event sponsored by Mazda through the scenic Angeles National Forest on the eve of the LA Auto Show to sample the company’s new small SUV, the 2013 CX-5. First impressions: It looks pretty good.
The driving route showed that the CX is relatively agile. It goes without saying that the CX-5 zooms way past the vehicle it’s replacing, the ancient Tribute. (Its Ford Escape twin is also new for 2013.) We also think that it may make the larger, but less roomy, CX-7 superfluous. Think of the CX-5 as a bigger Mazda3 hatchback with extra utility and still-sporty character.
Although on paper the 155-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine may look a little puny, on the road it proved amply responsive for most situations. The six-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and quickly drops a ratio or two when you need more power. A manual-shift override feature provides rev-matching in downshifts, adding to driving involvement.
Handling is the CX-5’s forte. It hustles through corners with gusto, and the body maintains an even keel even when upping the pace. The electrically-assisted steering feels quick and well-weighted, but it falls short on true feedback, especially around the center. Although Mazda engineers are proud of it, it doesn't compare to the CX-7's sharp steering.. Body control over undulations is tight and buttoned down. While the ride is compliant and the suspension absorbs urban bumps quite well, there was noticeable choppiness on California’s concrete-slab highways. Then again, on those roads a BMW X5 also rides a bit rough.
While the cabin seems reasonably quiet, we didn’t have any competing models on hand to drive back-to-back on the same roads to judge. Some road and engine-rev noise permeates, but overall the noise levels seem relatively subdued and unobjectionable.
The interior is not particularly upscale, but the soft dash-top adds some class. The center-dash vents are rather low, allowing air blow at your elbows instead of face. Controls are straight forward. The seats are firm, supportive, and nicely bolstered without feeling confining. The spacious rear seat has surprisingly generous leg room.
You can expand the cargo area by folding the 40/20/40-split rear seat. The seatbacks fold flat and folding the mid-section helps you carry long objects while still retaining seating for four.
The overall takeaway is that the CX-5 is an agile small SUV that’s more involving to drive than some of the boxier, perhaps more functional entries. We’ll see how it stacks up when we buy one for testing after it goes on sale in March.
Revised steering comments based on further experience.