2013 Mazda CX-5 Review: The Little Engine That Could Use Some Spices

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The Mazda CX-5 is unveiled at the LA Auto Show in Los Angeles, California
The Mazda CX-5 is unveiled at the LA Auto Show in Los Angeles, California, November 16, 2011.

The new 2013 Mazda CX-5 crossover is a bit confusing. On the one hand, it is an entirely uninspiring, somewhat drab, boring people-carrier. On the other hand, 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. In some ways, the biggest problem with the 2013 Mazda CX-5 is that there aren't really any problems to prevent it from being a great car, and price and high gas mileage combine to make it a potential best buy.

The 2013 Mazda CX-5 is the first iteration of the company's "KODO" design philosophy and is also the first car from the Hiroshima-based company to get the full Skyactiv Technology treatment designed to boost fuel-efficiency. The CX-5, for being a small crossover, is impressively light at just 3,208 pounds (the result of the Skyactiv technology), and it consequently gets great gas mileage, 26 mpg city, 35 mpg highway for the front-wheel drive manual transmission model (the CX-5 is also available with a front-wheel drive automatic transmission and all-wheel drive automatic).

The CX-5 squeezes as much distance as it can out of every drop of gasoline, partly by being ultralight, and partly because of its frankly rather petite 155 horsepower 4 cylinder engine. The tiny engine means the car is, well, a little slow. With a top speed of around 120 mph and a crawling 0-60 mph time of 9.7 seconds, the CX-5 can sometimes feel like it's getting left behind. Passing, especially on hills, for instance, can be a struggle, and we found ourselves missing chances to pull ahead on the highway. At the same time, though, the vehicle is plenty capable of all normal driving tasks.

The driving experience of the CX-5 was unremarkable. The manual transmission is quite gentle and even inexperience drivers should be able to master it quickly on the CX-5. The handling of the car, on the other hand, left a bit to be desired. The car understeered substantially on corners, especially at highway speeds, and we found it trying to drift into other lanes during tighter, faster turns on the highway.

Beyond the great gas mileage, the CX-5 has a variety of other positive utilitarian touches. The interior, while nothing special to look at (it is mainly gray plastic), is easy to clean, and the cloth seats are comfortable. Mazda also offers a variety of other trim levels, including leather heated seats, and some chrome in the "Grand Touring" package for the CX-5. The "Grand Touring" package also comes with some other important amenities like Bose speakers, Serius XM, and satellite navigation can be bought for a little extra on the side. The "Grand Touring" amenities, though, also push up the price. Whereas the base model comes in at $20,995 MSRP, the "Grand Touring" version runs $27,345, and even it doesn't include navigation standard.

So what you get, really is a highly efficient, easy to clean, but somewhat bland car for moving yourself, kids and groceries around town. The CX-5 has an enormous amount of storage space with plenty of room for bags or pets, and the rear seats have plenty of leg and head-room. In some areas, though, it does feel as if Mazda has gone with cheaper, or maybe lighter, options when some nicer trim could have made a big difference. The gray plastic dashboard is depressing and is not tactilely pleasing, and the rear-view and side-view mirrors vibrate rather alarmingly when the music is turned up.

In the end, the 2013 Mazda CX-5 is far from the perfect car. It's a little slow, rather boring to drive, gray and lacks many standard amenities. However, it is reasonably priced, gets great gas mileage and leaves the driver with the feeling that it's always possible to get the job done. The upside - the 2013 Mazda CX-5 is very useful and comfortable, the downside, it's not a huge amount of fun. So if you need a car that's fun, eye-catching and unbelievably beautiful, look elsewhere. If you need a car to efficiently transport you and your family, the 2013 Mazda CX-5 is a great bet.

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