New car sales results through August indicate that traditional car sales continue to decline — less than 30 percent of the new car market — while crossovers and trucks climb steadily to new heights. There are critics who note many of today’s small five-door crossovers are really tall cars based on the same underpinnings as their siblings, yet there is no arguing about the market’s unabashed march to all things named crossover.
It should also be noted that not only are mainstream automakers creating more crossover models, but luxury and sports car makers, too. It’s where the customers are headed, hence the profits as well.
Mazda, one of the smaller Asian automakers retailing vehicles in America, realized this long ago when the brand was an alliance partner with Ford. Remember the Mazda Navajo, the two-door sibling to the original Ford Explorer? During the lean years after Ford and Mazda split (Ford has dumped a lot of its acquired partners during the last 20 years, with most all of the brands doing much better, thank you) Mazda reinvented itself. It developed its own SkyActiv engine technology, which is proving to be more efficient than some rivals, plus it developed several small cars that drew universal admiration everywhere except in showrooms. And of course, there is the matter of the little MX-5 Miata, now celebrating over 1 million sold. Not quite McDonald’s levels of success, but far greater than the little sports cars sold at Honda and Toyota dealerships. Oh right, they don’t have any.
Currently, the CX-5 accounts for over 50 percent of Mazda’s new car sales — overshadowing every other model in its limited lineup. More than the brand’s bread-and-butter, the CX-5 is the steak, potato, salad and dessert too. It has to be better than good. It is.
Refreshed last year, Mazda added more standard equipment while enhancing the direct-injection 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with deactivation programming to further improve fuel economy. Making 187 hp and almost identical torque output, the SkyActiv motor provides better than average acceleration while rendering exactly 34 mpg during most of its 700-mile visit, beating the EPA mileage estimates of 24/30 mpg for AWD models. Teamed with a six-speed automatic transmission while many rivals use CVTs, the Mazda occasionally hesitated under heavy throttle as the two sleeping cylinders came back to life to deliver the desired power, yet it’s difficult to argue with the CX-5’s fuel efficiency.
CX-5 buyers might be most attracted to the crossover’s road manners, where its nimble feel and adroit composure reveal the chassis emphasis engineered into this family wagon. More than a little Zoom-Zoom tickles the nerves of any pilot as the steering agility and neutral handling of this 3,590-pound wagon will bring a smile to an enthusiast’s face. Perhaps more than the multitude of electrical driving aids proliferating in our new vehicles, of which the Mazda has several, responsive handling can also protect you and your family when exercised properly.
Inside, our Grand Touring, $29,645, trimmed CX-5, (Sport–$24,150 and Touring — $26,215 are the other trims, with AWD another $1,300) Mazda has borrowed some polish from the Germans. Fine textures and complementing surfaces produce a cabin that feels, and works, better than earlier editions. Again, some “zoom-zoom” philosophy is felt in the proper layout and the correct ergonomics utilized, leading to long-drive comfort. There is ample room in the second row, the power liftgate aids access to the low load deck, plus the excellent heads-up display also shows your safety interventions/icons so you need not look down, or listen to beeps, buzzers or other annoyances.
The same cannot be said of the entertainment system. Using a circular console control plus a panel of buttons to navigate through the various menus, the center dash screen lacks any conventional knobs. A volume switch for the 10-speaker Bose audio resides on the console, plus steering wheel toggles, however the whole system requires multiple steps for simple changes and is too distracting when compared to the efficient dials and buttons used for the dual-zone climate panel. Sirius and Pandora come with the audio, plus navigation in Grand Touring trim, but Apple/Android compatibility remains missing.
The CX-5’s cabin proved to be hushed at road speeds, a virtue that some top-selling rivals have forgotten to provide. There is keyless access and push-button ignition, plus bling-spot monitoring and cross-traffic alerts are now standard along with a rear camera.
Sales of the CX-5 are up 25 percent this year for good reason; it is a capable, comfortable, fun-to-drive crossover that delivers what it promises.