Crossover SUV Boasts Best-in-Class Fuel Economy

Njuguna Kabugi | 10/3/2012, 1:19 p.m.

Many readers may recall that for more than two decades, the Ford Motor Company owned a significant chunk of Mazda. The long co-habitation ended in 2010 when Ford, severely battered by recession in the U.S. market, dumped most of its 33.3 percent controlling share in the Japanese carmaker in a fire sale. The CX-5 is Mazda's first completely new vehicle designed without Ford's input. It's a five-seat crossover wagon designed fresh from the ground up with no hand-me-down components. It replaces the Tribute compact SUV, which was based on the Ford Escape.

The crossover, which went on sale early this year, will please many car buyers. It emphasizes essentials such as lower emissions and higher gas mileage, as well as desirables such as added safety features and new creature comforts. The CX-5 is the first model to fully incorporate SKYACTIV - a series of technologies developed by Mazda which increase fuel efficiency and engine output. The SKYACTIV includes new engines, transmissions, body and chassis.

Gone is the aesthetically-challenged goofy grin that currently graces the rest of the Mazda's lineup. The old style has been replaced with Mazda's new Kodo "Soul of Motion" design language that embraces large, eyelike headlamps and an inverted-pentagon-shaped black grille.

Inside touches include an elevated seating position, a simple; yet crisp electroluminescent instrument cluster and a start button. The center stack is home to simple amber illuminated automatic climate controls. The 40:20:40 split fold-down seat backs and nifty folding configuration means that even when carrying long objects, two adults can sit comfortably in the rear seats.

I drove the CX-5 for a little over a week and I have to admit I somewhat like it. It is highly utilitarian, relatively rugged, reasonably priced, gets great gas mileage and doesn't have any major flaws that would be a real turn-off. The Mazda offers the best highway fuel economy of any gasoline only SUV sold in North America, at 35 miles per gallon [mpg], and features class-leading overall fuel economy performance versus its direct competitors.

I loved the CX-5's handling and great corner-hugging ability. It's near-perfect manual transmission makes the vehicle really engaging to drive in crowded D.C. and Northern Virginia roads where stop and go traffic patterns are the norm. While I appreciated the CX-5's ability to squeeze distance out of every drop of gasoline, the Mazda was a letdown traveling uphill.

The 155-horsepower four-cylinder engine was a bit lethargic merging onto interstate highway traffic. On a trip to the hill country in western Virginia, I found myself missing chances to pull ahead on the highway or successfully merge with confidence.

Mazda throws in lots of safety and performance technology in the CX-5, including six airbags [front, side and full side-curtain], four wheel disk brakes, anti-lock brakes [ABS], daytime running lights, Dynamic Stability Control, a Traction Control System and a tire pressure monitoring system . Also available are a Blind Spot Monitoring system, Adaptive Front-lighting System with auto-leveling bi-xenon headlamps and a rear view camera with distance guide lines.

Our manual transmission-equipped CX-5 had a sticker price just under $20,000. CX-5s equipped with six-speed automatic transmissions start at $22,095 MSRP. When equipped with Mazda's all-new active torque-split AWD system [SKYACTIV-Drive models], the starting price is $23,345 MSRP. A Bluetooth Audio Package is available for an additional $400 MSRP and includes Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio connectivity, a 5.8-inch in-dash color information touch screen and HD Radio Technology.