2014 Mazda CX-5 Quick Spin: Crossover SUV Review

2014 Mazda CX-5 Quick Spin: Crossover SUV Review

When the Mazda CX-5 debuted, we named it our pick for Autobytel Crossover of the Year. Since then, our affection for Mazda’s cute ‘ute hasn’t faded. In fact, this year, Mazda gives us even more reasons to like the 2014 CX-5, which went on sale in January of 2013 with a more powerful 2.5-liter SkyActiv 4-cylinder engine as standard equipment for the Touring and Grand Touring trim levels. Additionally, the 2014 CX-5 is available with Smart City Brake Support technology and infotainment features including SMS text messaging capability, HD Radio, and Pandora streaming Internet radio.

Evidently, we’re not alone in our affection for Mazda’s compact crossover suv; the CX-5 is now the second best-selling model in the automaker’s lineup. Given the model’s increased importance to Mazda, and the changes for 2014, we figured it was time to take another look at the CX-5.

2014 Mazda CX-5 Quick Spin Crossover SUV Review: About Our Test Car

The last time I test-drove a Mazda CX-5, I sampled a loaded Grand Touring model painted Sky Blue Mica and equipped with the 155-horsepower, 2.0-liter SkyActiv-G 4-cylinder engine that is now standard and exclusively offered in the base CX-5 Sport model. My 2013 model-year tester did not have Mazda’s Active Torque Split all-wheel-drive system, which delivers power to the front wheels until they slip, and then transfers up to half the engine power to the rear wheels to improve traction.

This time around, my test vehicle was the more popular Touring model, painted Liquid Silver Metallic and equipped with the new, more powerful 2.5-liter SkyActiv-G 4-cylinder engine. Standard for Touring and Grand Touring models, the larger engine adds horsepower and torque without much of a penalty in terms of fuel economy.

In addition to the stronger motor, the CX-5 Touring is equipped with a number of upgrades over the standard Sport trim level. Highlights include a touchscreen infotainment system with a 5.8-inch color touchscreen, Bluetooth calling and music streaming, SMS text messaging capability, HD Radio, Pandora Internet radio, an E911 automatic emergency notification system, and a reversing camera. The Touring model also includes fog lights, dark-tinted rear privacy glass, a power driver’s seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, upgraded cloth for the seats, and a Blind Spot Monitoring system. A 40/20/40-split rear seat replaces the Sport’s standard 60/40-split arrangement, which doesn’t sound like a big deal…until you need it.

My 2014 CX-5 also had the optional, and self-explanatory, Moonroof and Bose Package ($1,130), which upgraded the sound system while adding a hole in the roof, as well as the Touring Technology Package ($1,485). This option adds a navigation system, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with a universal garage door opener, bi-Xenon headlights with an Adaptive Front Lighting System, rain-sensing wipers, and a Smart City Brake Support system. All told, my test CX-5’s price tallied $29,275, including the $795 destination charge.

2014 Mazda CX-5 Quick Spin Crossover SUV Review: Styling and Design

There’s just one thing wrong with the CX-5 Touring’s packaging: it has the same 17-inch aluminum wheels that are found on the base CX-5 Sport model. The 10-spoke design isn’t necessarily plain, but compared to the larger and more intricate 19-inch wheels offered for the Grand Touring model, they look a little small. Plus, the tires have thicker sidewalls, which add to the amount of squish and squeal in corners. This Touring model deserves a set of unique 18-inch wheels, at a minimum.

Otherwise, I’ve got no complaints about the CX-5’s styling, which introduced Americans to a new Mazda design philosophy that is spreading rapidly to other models in the automaker’s lineup. This is a distinctive-looking crossover SUV, one that I happen to find very appealing, though I can understand why some people might not. At least it isn’t smiling at everyone, like previous Mazdas did.

The CX-5’s interior employs many components that are shared with the new 2014 Mazda 6 family sedan, and I won’t be surprised to find them in the upcoming redesign of the 2014 Mazda 3. This isn’t a bad thing, as it keeps development costs down while building a cohesive look and feel for Mazda’s lineup. My only suggestion for models with the black interior is to swap the piano black dashboard trim for more of the smoked chrome accents to help lighten up what is a rather serious and somber environment.

2014 Mazda CX-5 Quick Spin Crossover SUV Review: Comfort and Quality

The Mazda CX-5’s interior materials are of good quality, from the soft-touch dashboard and upper door panel surfaces to the appealing premium cloth upholstery installed in my Touring test model. There are no obvious signs that costs were cut during the construction of the CX-5’s cabin.

I’ll also commend the car’s comfort levels. During my first evaluation of a Mazda CX-5, I found the driver’s seat and driving position to be comfortable, but opined that the front passenger’s seat and the back seats sat too low in the vehicle for optimum comfort. On second examination, I stand by that assertion, but clarify that seat height is low for my preference. Most people will wonder what the heck I’m complaining about.

In any case, you ought to know that the seats are firm, supportive, and ideal for extended trips. At the dealership, you might sit in a CX-5 and decide the seats are too hard. Hold on. Go for a drive. Sit there while the salesperson shows you how to pair your smartphone to the infotainment system. Get to know these seats. Support is a critical component for long-term comfort, and the firm chairs in the CX-5 definitely deliver.

A 40/20/40-split folding rear seat is standard for the CX-5 Touring and Grand Touring models, and this design saved by butt during an IKEA run. “Yeah, that will fit,” said I, without first measuring. Guess what? It did not fit. But thanks to the Mazda’s ingenious 40/20/40-split rear seat, I slid the unexpectedly long, narrow box through the 20 section between the kids, saving an extra 60-mile round trip in a larger vehicle to retrieve my new stand-up desk.

2014 Mazda CX-5 Quick Spin Crossover SUV Review: Features and Controls

Mazda’s optional TomTom navigation system is really aggravating. I like to zoom in and zoom out as I please, checking traffic far ahead and then determining how many more blocks I must travel before my next turn. But with this system, the zoom-out function won’t stay zoomed out. Additionally, in its apparent zoomed-in default setting, the names and roads on the screen are constantly in movement, wiggling around like the app-delete mode on an iPhone.

I also found that the system had trouble finding and properly placing the CX-5 on the map. Sometimes it showed me traveling north on a side road while I drove west on a freeway. Sometimes it showed me on the opposite side of an intersection. And when it realizes it has made a mistake, the screen refreshes by blinking off and then re-loading. It’s all very distracting, and causes a lack of faith in the system’s ability to actually provide trustworthy directions.

I first noticed these characteristics in the Mazda 6 and Mazda CX-9 models I recently tested, but just thought it was the technology moron in me doing something wrong. Maybe that’s still the case, but if there’s a way to change this setting, neither my tech-savvy wife nor I could figure it out in any of these three vehicles.

Its too bad TomTom botched the navigation system, because aside from the size of Mazda’s new touchscreen display, I haven’t got any complaints when it comes to the CX-5’s controls and displays. The gauges are excellent, the Bluetooth is easy to pair, the Pandora is easy to stream, and the switchgear is clearly labeled and simple to find and use.

2014 Mazda CX-5 Quick Spin Crossover SUV Review: Matters of Safety

Smart City Brake Support is a new feature for the 2014 Mazda CX-5, an option for the Touring and Grand Touring models. When so equipped, the CX-5 uses a laser to identify obstructions in the road ahead, prepare the braking system for a quick stop, and can even initiate automatic braking if the driver fails to respond. The system operates at speeds between 3 mph and 19 mph.

Since our last stint behind the CX-5’s steering wheel, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has performed its new small overlap frontal-impact crash test on the compact crossover. The result is a rating of “Marginal.” If Mazda wishes to retain its “Top Safety Pick” designation in the future, that score needs to improve.

2014 Mazda CX-5 Quick Spin Crossover SUV Review: Driving Impressions

Mo’ power equals mo’ better. With 29 additional ponies and 35 extra lb.-ft. of torque, each of which peaks lower in the rev range than the 2.0-liter engine, the new 2.5-liter SkyActiv 4-cylinder engine cures the CX-5 of its lazy acceleration thanks to 184 horsepower at 5,700 rpm and 185 lb.-ft. of twist at 3,250 rpm. Though the new engine contributes to a weight gain of more than 110 pounds, the Touring is quick enough that a lack of power isn’t the first thing that leaps to the driver’s mind if someone asks: “What’s the worst thing about your new CX-5?”

Better yet, the 6-speed automatic that Mazda bolts to the engine is expertly calibrated, and always knows exactly what gear it ought to be in at any given time, and for exactly how long in order to either maximize acceleration and responsiveness or to maximize fuel economy. Its only fault is a lack of shifter paddles, and a manual shift gate saddled with a counterintuitive shifting pattern.

Despite some additional weight over the front tires, and their taller profiles, the CX-5 remains tossable, light on its feet, and eager to turn into a corner even if the tires are too vocal about it. Fun and flingable, the CX-5 is as adept at tackling a twisty road as it is threading city traffic. The little sport-ute also offers a generous 8.5 inches of minimum ground clearance, meaning it can cover terrain that many of its competitors can’t. Do not, however, take this to mean the Mazda can go off-roading. Well-traveled dirt trails represent its limit.

As I noted last year, the CX-5’s steering, brakes, and suspension are exemplary, delivering consistent response and athletic feel without being abrupt about it. Driving dynamics are entertaining but refined, smooth yet communicative, engaging for people who love to drive yet perfectly tuned for people who just want to get from one place to another.

The primary penalty associated with choosing the 2.5-liter engine is an increase in fuel consumption. The EPA says this engine returns 26 mpg in combined driving when paired with AWD, compared to 28 mpg for the smaller engine. I averaged 24.3 mpg during my week behind the wheel. That’s a 3.7-mpg drop in comparison to the CX-5 Grand Touring with front-wheel drive that I tested last year.

2014 Mazda CX-5 Quick Spin Crossover SUV Review: Final Thoughts

Like my colleagues here at Autobytel, I am a fan of the practical, affordable, stylish, fuel-efficient, safe, and fun-to-drive Mazda CX-5. This isn’t a faultless vehicle – none of them are – but it is an impressively well-rounded choice in a popular and competitive segment. And while the CX-5 is gaining in popularity, it’s still a comparative rarity in a sea of Ford Escapes, Honda CR-Vs, and Toyota RAV4s, which means you won’t see yourself coming and going every time you get behind the wheel.

Mazda provided the 2014 Mazda CX-5 Touring for this review

2014 Mazda CX-5 photos by Christian Wardlaw

By Christian Wardlaw