Mr. Green Car: Mazda CX-5: Fun to drive and suitable for everyday use

January 23, 2013

“In all, it (the Mazda CX-5) was a fun car to drive that will suit most drivers’ purposes of everyday family use.” — Allen Penticoff (Photos by Allen Penticoff)

By Allen Penticoff
Free-lance Writer

The Mazda CX-5 is one of the cars named by Green Car Journal in its “Top 5 Green Cars for 2013” report. Over the last year, I’ve reviewed each of the named top five — or similar models, except the CX-5.

The Mazda CX-5 is a small SUV with a tall, five-door body, has many competitors in this popular market segment.

Japan-based Mazda, which is largely owned by Ford Motor Company, prides itself in producing “sporty” vehicles. By sporty, they include even their mini-van model in their approach to car design, and the CX-5 is no exception to Mazda’s keep-it-light-with-responsive-handling approach. Their MX-5 Miata and RX-7 rotary sports cars are legends with auto enthusiasts.

Mazda also has a different approach to meeting fuel efficiency standards. They are eschewing going the hybrid route — but are instead seeking out vehicle weight reduction and engine efficiency to achieve similar results to hybrids without the complications. The front-wheel-drive version of the CX-5 weighs in at 3,210 pounds, which is fairly light for a vehicle of this size. By comparison, the smallest hybrid, the Prius-c, is 2,500 pounds — with an all-plastic interior. But the CX-5 is not a Spartan vehicle — it fills the average consumer’s desires much more fully.

That leaves the engine, which is a normally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder. It is rated at 150 horsepower and has achieved the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (ULEV) standard.

Mazda calls their most advanced engine technology “SkyACTIV.” The SkyACTIV philosophy extends to body weight reduction as well, so when you see it in advertising, you know it is part of a comprehensive objective.

SkyACTIV technology is simply a fancy name for using every tool in the engine designer’s bag to make a normal internal combustion engine as efficient as possible. State-of-the-art direct injection fuel systems, direct-fire computerized ignition and variable-computer-controlled valve-timing enable Mazda to mimic the Atkinson Cycle engine (the Nov. 14, 2012, “Mr. Green Car,” describes this). With the mimicked Atkinson cycle and other technology tweaks, Mazda is able to increase the compression ratio to a race car-high 13:1, yet still operate on 87-octane (regular) fuel. Higher compression yields more power and greater efficiency, but is seldom used because consumers do not like to pay for premium fuel that is normally necessary.

Mazda leaves no stone unturned. They tune the exhaust system, and even the water pump is more efficient (uses less power). A new, lightweight, six-speed automatic or optional manual transmission connects the power to the ground. All-wheel-drive is available as well — and the model I test drove was the top-of-the-line Grand Touring AWD version ($31,935 sticker price).

Green Car Journal reports that the front-wheel drive version cannot only tow a 2,000-pound trailer, but can achieve 35 mpg on the highway. They speculate a carefully driven CX-5 could better that mileage. City mileage is 26 mpg. The AWD version shows an EPA mileage rating of 25 city/31 highway. Not too bad for an AWD SUVish vehicle that is loaded with all the modern gizmos and comforts.

With the help of an enthusiastic sales consultant, Hans Salberg (he actually was not even working but helped me out anyway — as he loves Mazdas), I took a brief test drive from Anderson Mazda’s new facility on East State Street in Rockford. Hans just had to show me all the bells and whistles. This includes backup cameras and blind-spot detection.

The steering wheel hub is command central for many of the common driving and audio system functions, as well as control of the excellent analog/digital instrument display. It was also very comfy with an interesting rear-seat back that folds down three different ways — 40/20/40. The 20 in the middle would allow the downhill skis of four people to be carried inside — with those four people still traveling comfortably together.

Handling and acceleration were quite good, spritely, actually. I spent much of my time in the vehicle using select shift to zoom about town. The suspension, being “sporty,” is a bit stiff for Rockford’s beat-up streets, but not so bad that you’ll dislike it. I found that throttle response lagged a bit when I really put my foot into it. This is an effect of using the Atkinson Cycle in the engine. Once it spins up a bit, then it really goes. If you need to accelerate hard, then I’d use the manual shift feature of the automatic to drop down a gear and rev it up. As with all Mazdas, it likes to be revved up. In all, it was a fun car to drive that will suit most drivers’ purposes of everyday family use.

Presently, the smaller Mazda 3 incorporates the SkyACTIV technology as well. The soon-to-arrive all-new mid-size sedan, the 2014 Mazda 6 will also feature SkyACTIV technology. I suspect Mazda will eventually have this in their full lineup — and be copied by other manufacturers as well.

Driving the CX-5 all-wheel-drive version inspired some themes for my next series of “Mr. Green Car” reports. I’ll describe the technical details, advantages and disadvantages of the major drive systems: rear-wheel-drive, front-wheel-drive, four-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive. Stay tuned.

From the Jan. 23-29, 2013, issue

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