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All-new compact crossover has a lot to offer

by: MAZDA NORTH AMERICA - Crisp styling and good mileage are just two of the things the 2013 Mazda CX-5 has going for it.My test 2013 Mazda CX-5 returned around 30 miles per gallon in a week of mixed driving throughout the Portland region. That's good for a compact crossover, even one with front-wheel-drive instead of all-wheel-drive. It shows Mazda is achieving its goal of boosting mileage with its SKYACTIV technology. The 2013 CX-5 includes more of it than any other Mazda released so far.

Unfortunately, conversations with friends suggests a lot of confusion over the term SKYACTIV. Almost everyone I talked with thought it was a new satellite-based information/entertainment system. That's not a bad guess since so many manufacturers are making a big deal about the connectivity of their vehicles these days. It's easy to think SKYACTIV means connected to the Cloud. The sky is active. Get it, Mazda?

Instead, SKYACTIV apparently means cleaning up the sky of greenhouse gas emissions or something like that. It is a push at Mazda to improve mileage by refining every component in a vehicle to save gas. The CX-5 features a thrifty new 2.0-liter engine, lighter chasis components, transmissions tuned for economy and other improvements, all aimed at maximizing how far it can go between fill-ups. Our CX-5 was EPA rated at 26 miles per gallon in the city and 35 on the highway, which is better than some small cars were getting just a few years ago.

Mazda's approach differs from that of other manufacturers offering high-tech fixes, like small turbocharged engines, hybrid drive system, all-electric power or specially-designed "economy" models of particular vehicles. Although the goal is the same, the high-tech fixes come with a cost — higher prices that may or may not be made up over time with fuel savings. In comparison, the base drive CX-5 costs around $21,000, about the same as most other front-wheel-drive compact crossovers.

And buyers get a lot for that price in addition to better mileage. The exterior styling is sleek and contemporary, especially when viewed from the rear. The interior is roomy and comfortable, with supportive seats and good head and leg room for back seat passengers. Controls are simple and easy to use. And the cargo space is considerable, growing to enormous when the back seat is folded down.

The CX-5 also drives pretty well, although performance falls short of Mazda's Zoom Zoom image. The suspension is a little too soft to be considered sporty and the gears in the six-speed manual transmission in our test vehicle were too widely spaced for quick shifts. The ride was pleasant enough, especially over rough pavement, but not exactly what we were expecting from a company that brags about its racing experience. This is a little surprising, since we recently drove a Mazda3 compact sedan with SKYACTIV technology that was quick and crisp. But the CX-5 is a crossover not a car, and it is designed to carry an optional all-wheel-drive system that adds weight. AWD models are only available with a six-speed automatic transmission. That combination drops the EPA estimates to 25 city and 30 highway miles, which is still pretty good.

Most buyers shouldn't be disappointed, however. The ride in the CX-5 is still an improvement over the Ford-based Tribute compact crossover that it is replacing.

Our test CX-5 was the base model, which is termed Sport. Standard equipment includes keyless entry, push button start, 17-inch alloy wheels, full power accessories, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, cruise control and a sound system with a CD player, an iPod/USB audio interface and an auxiliary audio jack. A Bluetooth audio package is available that includes Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, an upgraded sound system, HD radio and a color monitor.

Two more trim levels are available. The Touring level adds foglights, rear privacy glass, upgraded cloth and interior trim, a six-way power driver seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a blind-spot warning system. The Grand Touring level adds 19-inch alloy wheels, a sunroof, automatic headlamps, automatic wipers, heated mirrors, an eight-way power driver seat, leather upholstery, heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control and a premium nine-speaker Bose sound system with satellite radio. Grand Touring models can also be ordered with their own Technology packages. Adding all options pushes the price to over $27,000, which is not unreasonable for all the features.

The affordable compact crossover market is especially hot these days, with Ford introducing its new Escape, Honda updating the popular CR-V, and Kia undercutting the competition with the boxy Soul (not available with AWD). But potential buyers should definately put the 2013 CX-5 high on their list. It has a lot going for it, including, at least for now, the best mileage in the class.

Facts and figures (all models)

• Model tested: 2013 CX-5.

• Manufacturer: Mazda.

• Class: Compact crossover.

• Layout: Front engine, front and all-wheel-drive.

• Style: Five-door, five passenger SUV.

• Engine: 2.0-liter inline 4 cylinder (155 hp, 150 lbs-ft).

• Transmissions: Six-speed manual; six-speed automatic.

• EPA estimated city/highway mileage (engine/transmission): 26/35 (2.0/manual, FWD); 25/30 (2.0/automatic, AWD).

• Price: Beginning at approximately $21,000 ($21,490 as tested).

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