2013 Mazda CX-5

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This new CX-5 ought to do pretty well.

Though it’s technically a compact crossover SUV – it looks (and actually is) almost mid-sized. So it’s substantial and roomy.

That’s one.

Two, it starts at just over $20k – vs. over $22k for its most obvious rivals, the popular Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape.

Third – you can get a manual transmission – a six-speed manual transmission – in this new Mazda. The competition is automatic only – and often, five-speed automatic-only. (The current/2012 RAV4 comes standard with a completely out-of-date four-speed automatic.)

Last item: 26 city, 35 highway – best in class – and exceptional for a crossover SUV.

Oh, yeah. It looks really nice, too.


The CX-5 is a new (for Mazda) sporty crossover SUV – with seating for 4-5 in two rows. It is the replacement for the current CX-7, which will be retired after the 2012 model year runs its course.

The CX-5 is available in either FWD or AWD versions, and with either a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic. Base price is $20,695 for the Sport with FWD and manual transmission.

Adding AWD bumps the MSRP to $23,345.

A top-of-the-line Gran Touring CX-5 with AWD and six speed automatic lists for $28,295.


The ’13 CX-5 is an all-new model for Mazda.


The looks.

The price.

The gas mileage.

The drive.


Manual transmission only available with base Sport trim – and not with AWD.

No optional engine (the retiring CX-7 offered a 244 hp turbo) for those who might want more Zoom Zoom.


The ’13 CX-5 is powered by a version of the new “SkyActiv-G” 2.0 liter four that made its debut last year (well, technically still this calendar year) in the 2012 Mazda3. This engine achieves very high fuel efficiency via direct gas injection, a very high (for a gas engine) compression ratio of 13:1 and special design lightweight pistons and crankshaft, among other internal upgrades. The high compression design delivers two desirable things – better fuel economy and 10-15 percent more low and mid-range torque, relative to a similar engine without such a high CR.

In the past, it was not feasible to build gas engines for normal street driving with such high compression ratios, because of the possibility of engine-killing pre-ignition (that knocking/gurgling sound) caused by not high-enough octane gas, or too much heat build-up, or ignition timing that was too far advanced for the fuel/ load placed on the engine – and so on.

But alloy engines dissipate heat much more effectively – and modern engine controls can deal with knock (by dialing back ignition timing, automatically) before it becomes a threat to engine life. SkyActive takes it a step or three further by specifically designing the engine around the high-compression layout. It not only doesn’t knock – it runs on regular 87 octane unleaded gas.

High octane premium is not required.

The result is an extremely impressive 25 MPG city – and 35 on the highway – with the six-speed manual and FWD. This is best in class – better than the Honda CR-V’s best-case (FWD) 23 city, 31 highway and better than the just-redesigned (2013) Ford Escape’s standard 2.5 liter engine can deliver (22 city, 31 highway) and also better than the Ford’s optional turbocharged 1.6 liter “Ecoboost” engine, which registers 23 city, 33 highway.

Note that Mazda was able to beat the Ford’s best-case fuel economy without resorting to a smaller engine – or a turbo.

And what about those other measures of performance – hp and acceleration?

The Mazda’s 2.0 liter engine seems a bit weak on paper, maxxing out at 155 hp – vs. 185 for the Honda CR-V’s standard 2.4 liter engine and the Escape’s standard 168 hp 2.5 liter engine.

But, out on the dragstrip, all three are packed together in the low-mid nines, 0-60. The FWD CX-5 gets there in about 9.3 seconds – a virtual dead heat with the FWD CR-V, which takes about 9.4 seconds.

Probably, the Mazda makes up for its lower hp with more favorable gearing – it comes standard with a closer-ratio six-speed manual vs. the Honda’s standard five-speed automatic.

The Honda also weighs about 100 pounds more – 3,305 lbs. vs. 3,208 for the Mazda.

The Ford – just redone, incidentally –  is a stronger challenger. Chiefly because it offers an optional 2.0 liter turbocharged version of the Ecoboost engine that makes 240 hp. Gas mileage is still competitive, too: 22 city, 30 highway. You also get a six-speed transmission with the Escape – although no manual six-speed.

Another potential competitor – the Toyota RAV4 – is scheduled for a complete overhaul for 2013. So we’ll have to wait and see on that one. The current (2012) model does offer a very powerful 3.5 liter, 269 hp V-6, whereas the Mazda has no optional engine to upgrade to.

The CX-5 can tow up to 2,000 lbs. – more than the CR-V (1,500 lbs.) and the new Escape (also 1,500 lbs.)


High horsepower is not essential to having a good time behind the wheel. Mazda seems to know – and practice – this philosophy more than most. The Miata, of course, being the obvious example. But the same genetic characteristics manifest when you’re behind the wheel of the CX-5, too – especially when your right hand is on the shifter for the six-speed manual transmission.

As good as modern automatics are – they shift with precision, efficiency and (usually) verve – it’s just not as fun as rowing your own. And probably never will be. On this score alone, the CX-5 has an appeal its competitors don’t – because none of them – at the time of this review at least – even offer a manual transmission.

With a small, not-so-powerful engine especially, a manual adds immeasurably to the sheer fun of driving. Banging off a perfect upshift – right on the sweet spot, revs matched to your footwork – is enthusiast driver catnip no automatic can deliver.

The only catch is the CX-5’s six-speed manual is offered only in the base Sport model with FWD. If you want one of the higher trims – or AWD – you get the six-speed automatic. However, it’s a pretty good box, too – with rev-matching downshifts and (Mazda claims) quicker gear changes than even dual-clutch automated manual transmissions.

I drove the manual version, so I can’t confirm – or deny. But I can tell you the manual-equipped CX-5 is both pleasant to drive (easy clutch, with hill-holder feature, nice gear spread well-matched to the engine’s power curve) and more fun to drive than solid but stodgy crossovers like the CR-V and RAV4.

I haven’t yet driven the new (2013) Escape, so if you’re shopping vehicles in this class, be sure to do that. It also looks good, at least on paper – especially the 2.0 liter version.


Several people commented on the CX-5’s looks – specifically, commenting that it looked like a “$25k car” – or more. When I told them the base price was just over $20k, they were all surprised – and, impressed. You can get into a six-speed CX-5 – well-equipped, with AC, 17 inch alloy wheels, the power equipment most people want (locks, windows, cruise plus remote/keyless entry and ignition) for about $1,800 or so less than the base price of the CR-V or the RAV-4 or the Ford Escape.

Interior space – head and legroom – in both rows – is roughly the same as in the CR-V and 2013 Escape. All these technically “compact” crossovers are effectively mid-sized and can comfortably carry four good-sized adults, five in a pinch. 

The CX has slightly less cargo space than its two principal rivals, with 34.1 cubes behind the second row and 64.8 with the second row folded down vs. 37.2 (and 70.9) for the CR-V and 34.3 (and 68.1) for the Escape.

The biggest difference between the Mazda and the others is reflected in the styling – and the driving. The Mazda’s much more sport wagon-like than crossover SUV-esque.

Surprisingly, the CX-5 sits considerably higher off the pavement than some of its competitors: 8.5 inches vs.  6.3 for the CR-V and 7.9 for the Escape. But the voluptuous, undulating sheetmetal – including Coke bottle scalloping along the sides punctuated by subtly flared out fenders and a very bold-looking front end with a huge grille opening give the Mazda a rarin’ to go sportwagon squat. Ditto on the inside, which is typically Mazda – meaning, typically sport-minded. Serious grays and pewters with piano black trim plates for accent. Orange-red back lighting for the gauges and secondary controls.

Ready to get down to business.


An interesting option is the GPS unit. It’s a TomTom, but it’s in-dash, integrated with the car and not removable. The upside is it looks factory (because it is) and so less susceptible to being stolen. Probably, the TomTom will be easier (and cheaper) to update, too. The downside is this unit, like other factory in-dash navigation systems, stays with the car. I’m a big fan of the removable/portable TomToms, which can be used in multiple cars – or taken with you when you’re on foot. But of course they’re not as seamless looking as a factory in-dash unit.

As much as I admire the SkyActiv-G gas engine, Mazda’s new Sky-D diesel engine would be even better. Diesels produce the low-end grunt that a fairly heavy (3,208 lb.) vehicle like the CX-5 needs to move swiftly off the line – along with even better economy than the SkyActiv-G gas engine delivers.

As commendable as a 35 MPG CX-5 may be, I think people would cheer a 43 MPG diesel CX-5.

I know I would.


This one’s hard to fault – and so, hard not to like.

Or recommend.

Go see one yourself – and see what I mean.

Throw it in the Woods?


  1. I’ve always liked Mazda, have one now, but instead of another SUV they should come out with a small 1/4 ton truck, like Toyota used to have in the 90s. Bet they’d sell like hotcakes, as they’re useful for sportsmen and average people, where the 3/4 ton trucks are more useful for tradesmen/building contractors.

    • I wish anyone would come out with a compact-sized truck! Now that the Ranger’s gone, the smallest you can get is mid-sized. I’d like to see something along the lines of the ’98-04 Nissan Frontier. Available with a diesel four and 4WD.

      • I to lament the loss of the early, little pick-ups, Eric. And have been hoping that they would come back with the high cost of fuel.

        I bought a new 1980 Chevy LUV ‘Mikado’ 4X4, which turned out to be one of the best vehicles I have ever owned. Great mileage, tough, and handled like a sports car which is the way I drove it. Put 120,000 trouble free miles on it in five years. Unfortunately it had an untimely end.

        I picked up a new Nissan ‘720’ 4X4 extra cab in 85′ to replace it, it has been a good truck, but I sure missed the LUV’s handling and 22-31 MPG. Nissan was about 15-20 MPG, and I drive most of the time for mileage.

        The Nissan went down a couple of weeks ago with, I suspect, a bad number 3 main and I can’t even give it away. The truck is in excellent condition with the only real issues being the motor and peeling paint, and about 6 hours worth of minor body work. Interior is nearly perfect after 19 years.

        No rust, never been wrecked with a new or recent, head, carb, alternator, exhaust, master cylinder, brakes/cylinders, clutch/servo cylinder, radiator, Pump(s), tires, miscellaneous, hoses, belts etc., and new Alpine stereo.

        So rethinking it, I have decided to pull the motor this week and go through it, and repaint it, and go another 150,000 miles or so…I should live that long..col!

        The rebuild and paint will put it back in service looking good, and will help with reducing my consumption footprint, and keep the old coerced insurance costs down. And the new paint and short block build will cost far less the the optional premium package that I would have had to get, to get a sliding rear window and a radio in a new Nissan Frontier.

        By the way, the Chinese(Mahindra) are planning on building a basic ‘little’ truck for this market. It will be diesel powered, which suits me fine, but really is quite small, so it will have a hard time finding customers here in NA.

        GM builds a small pick-up for the China and third world markets. Maybe it will find its way here.

        Well, I guess I have some time left today to start sanding the hood on the old hauler.


        • I give the Chinese respect for having the balls to bring a compact truck here, and a diesel makes it tops in my book – I think it’s badly needed, but what will cripple sales of it here are the unknowns – is it a quality truck? Will I still be able to buy parts for it in 3 years or will China bail out of this market? Personally I think they’re serious about entering all markets, but it will take some time for them to prove themselves, before people put down thousands on a Chinese automobile.

          Personally, if I ran Toyota, I’d come out every 5 years with a neat compact version of the Tacoma, along with their regular mid-size.

          • Hi! Alex,

            Yes, a lot of unknowns, but, hopefully, a catalyst, along with high fuel costs too bring back small economical haulers.


  2. “This engine achieves very high fuel efficiency via direct gas engine” should probably read “This engine achieves very high fuel efficiency via direct INJECTION gas engine” instead. Either that, or my English needs work (and it no doubt does).

    I have been crossover SUV shopping for a family member lately and personally would put the CX-5 high on my list except for the sluggish straight-line performance. I don’t know that a 0-60 time under 10 seconds was ever considered supercar territory, as another commented (and a Thunderbird was never considered a supercar and only the first gen were even considered sporty). Today, I would say a 9-10 sec 0-60 is adequate and anything less than that is borderline dangerous.

    Much like that mid-70s T-Bird, we are again facing an artificially induced die off of performance. Back then it was due to emissions controls, exorbitant insurance premiums, and later on a fuel shortage, all governmentally influenced/mandated. Today we’re facing the same as the Obama-dictated gas mileage averages will make even this high-efficiency Mazda fail the short-term 2016 AVERAGE fleet gas mileage requirements of 34mpg. The CX-5 doesn’t even get this on the highway, and it’s currently pegged as one of the best available. And this is a brand new model that will still be in production come 2016. By 2025, the fleet average will have to be 54.5 mpg.

    While it is theoretically possible to get that sort of mileage, especially with diesel (which I’d love to see in the CX-5 as long as it doesn’t require urea injection), you’re really going to be facing several challenges.

    First, power will have to drop significantly, as it did in the mid-1970s.

    Second, size will have to drop as well, to save weight.

    Third, safety is at odds with this since safety equipment weighs a lot but you need to make the car as light as possible to save gas. Therefore, more exotic materials will be needed to manufacture these vehicles that provide less capability and performance.

    Fourth, much greater complexity of design will be required to create this fuel efficiency (think hybrid with two powertrains, vs. a diesel with only one) and use these exotic materials. Thus there will be more things to go wrong/break and it will be much harder to repair/replace parts. It will be less reliable and harder to repair, in short.

    Fifth, due to the more exotic materials and more complex manufacturing process, cost will increase significantly, both to build as well as to later repair, say, after a car wreck.

    Sixth, this will be an environmental nightmare. Setting aside the gains in gas mileage and any arguments as to how significant these might be, just realize that the more exotic the materials used, the more likely those materials require a lot of energy and time and resources to produce vs. simpler materials. They’re exotic for a reason. Thus the energy costs to manufacture a car made out of exotic materials is much higher than one made out of simple steel and plastic and rubber. Similarly, the more complex the system is, the more energy it requires to manufacture. Both of these will count against any potential gas mileage gains made. Furthermore, since we’re talking lighter, more complex, and more fragile components designed to save weight while performing the same function, they will fail more frequently and require replacing more frequently. Thus using up even more energy while contributing to the global landfill. Then, considering how much more expensive such vehicles will likely be to repair after even a minor fender bender, the point at which it’s cheaper and easier, relatively speaking, to simply throw away the old car and buy a new one is shifted even further in favor of buying a new car. Cars will sort of become disposable, though very expensive, items. We’ve already passed this point to some degree as it’s actually preferable to only buy a used car if it’s less than 10 years old, given the fact that it’ll be cheaper to replace than repair anything older than that, unless you’re buying a really old car that is simple and easy to repair.

    Which brings me to my next thought. I love cars. I love technology. I love new stuff. That makes me pretty much like 99% of the other folks who read this blog. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that my next “new” truck will not be a new truck at all. I’m planning on getting something around 1972 or earlier vintage and just building/repairing it to my liking. They’re simple, easy to repair, and if you pick the right vehicle, have plenty of new and modern parts to upgrade or replace old stuff, improving both reliability and performance and even, yes, fuel economy. I have a friend with a 1965 Stingray 327 that gets 27mpg highway, for example. That’s not a vehicle I’d choose as a project like this, but it’s a good example of what can be done without half trying.

    I’m betting a lot of people will be looking at this solution. Old VW Beetles may suddenly make a come back. Old Toyotas and Chevys and Fords will suddenly start popping up more and more. We may even end up sort of like Cuba.

    • Typo fixed – thanks! This is what comes of writing – and editing – my own stuff. I proof-read each article multiple times and still, things escape attention.

      I would not sweat the 0-60 time. Try the CX-5 out and see for yourself. I’d tell you if it was uncomfortably underpowered or slow. It’s not.

  3. Eric, as mentioned before, I work for Mazda at a very low level (disclaimer).

    Word all around is that the dealers cannot keep the CX-5 in stock. To make more of them available, for the time being we employees cannot lease one through the company. (That’s okay, as the company made it up to us with special packages on other Mazdas.) The Media Mazda feed says that CX-5 and Skyactiv engine production will be expanded in response to the demand.

    Word also is that Skyactiv diesel versions of the CX-5 and the 2014 6 will soon appear in the US. You think demand for the present gasoline CX-5 is high, oh my goodness, wait for the diesel.

    Motor Trend tested economy sport-utes in the current issue and placed the CX-5 second, just behind the new Ford Escape. The main criticism was that the Mazda is “slow”, but it was only 0.5 second slower from 0 to 60 mph than the Escape (8.9 vs. 9.4 seconds). There was more difference in acceleration times to higher (read: illegal) speeds, but for most buyers that’s not relevant.

    Thing is, it wasn’t that long ago that any 0–60 time under 10 seconds was considered supercar territory. To give some perspective, I was recently looking at the late Tom McCahill’s test of the 1974 Ford Thunderbird in Mechanix Illustrated, and that (admittedly huge) car with a whopper 460 V-8 took 10.4 seconds to hit 60. And it was considered a stellar performer then. Now a car a full second faster to 60 with a much smaller, thriftier engine is “slow”? In what world is this?

    Anyway, speaking strictly for myself, I thank you for the kind words about this nice new Mazda. Back in February I said you’d like it. Looks as if I was right for once. 🙂

  4. Eric,

    Great review. I concur 100%

    A point not mentioned is that the back seats are a bit higher then the fronts for a better view from those seats. And the hatch/tailgate covers you when you are loading or just sitting on the back cargo area, something North-westerners appreciate when the precious H2o is abundantly drowning everything.

    I really like this vehicle, good looking, capable, practical, sporty, efficient, well finished, with a lot of features for its price point… in a word…a bargain even at full MSRP. And recent information made available to me, indicates that it is likely the diesel will be available in the near future. Global demand for the diesel, currently exceeds mfg capacity.

    Being a bit of Mazda fan, I followed the development of the CX-5 with interest. A friend of mine who is the local Mazda Regional Rep, kept me advised as to its progress and called me in February when he had one available to test drive.

    We took it up to the Gorge and ran the increasingly famous Rowena Loops, and then back to PDX on Washington’s Hwy 14, another road with a lot of curves . It was a base model with the auto box, but it sure tackled the twisty loops road and faster hwy curves with alacrity and put a smile on my face, despite the fact that I have no use for FWD’s. It certainly earns a place in the pantheon of historic Zoom! Zoom! Mazda vehicles.

    I had it on my list for a much needed new trip vehicle, but I really want another sporty RWD coupe since I spend so much time off the interstates when I travel. But, The CX-5 and the recently tested Veloster, could ride to the top on their merits and price points

    PS! I was really impressed by the Veloster and I drove it after doing a performance test loop in a new 2013 2.0T ‘R’ Spec, model GenCoup with the manual(hard to find), running the Veloster over the same course. Makes me curious as to how the coming turbo model will perform. At around $18,000, the Veloster is a very good value


    Rowena Loops road. I have been testing cars on this great piece the historic Columbia River Gorge hwy since 1975. A lot of automotive commercials feature this road, most recently, Infiniti during the Olympics.


    • PS! Speaking of Hyundai’s. One thing that is never mentioned in the automotive press, about newer Hyundai’s is the quality of their paint. No clear coated Orange peel. Really impressive. And I have been painting since 1966 and paint all of my vehicles so can appreciate great paint. Check out a new Sonata sometime, especially the metallic’s.

      Note; I’m not a professional painter, just cheap and particular, but I have won awards for ‘Best Paint’, but I sure like suede….col!

      I have been building 26′-27′ Tees since I was fourteen(lost track of how many) and have only painted one. Rat Rods get suede too. My new 62′ Olds ‘Speedster’ though, will get ‘Starfire’ paint.

      • Yes! I’ve mentioned in my reviews that Hyundai (and Kia) also clear-coat the not-immediately visible surfaces, such as under the trunk lid/hood, door jambs and so on. I’ve had a number of “premium” cars recently that had dull, not-clearcoated finishes in these areas – I assume to save a few dollars per car during MFGR.

        I have a ’13 Kia Optima SX turbo right now. A really slick car – and it starts at just over $20k.

    • Hi Tre,


      I am also a Mazda partisan. Along with Nissan. These are my personal favorites overall right now. It’s not just individual cars; rather, their entire lineups. Consistently interesting, consistently fun, consistently well-built and good value for the dollar. Disclosure: I own two Nissan Frontiers – by far the best trucks I’ve ever owned.

      I hope we get the Sky-D in the CX-5, too. I expect it’ll be offered next spring as an early ’14 option.

      • Hi! Eric,

        Were on the same page with Mazda, and Nissan/Infiniti. I have too add the Hyundai-Genesis/Kia in the mix.

        Funny you should mention the Frontiers. My old 86′ shop truck just developed serious internal problems, expected after nearly 300,000.
        Pinned the title to the shop bulletin board last night, hoping one of the young guys who frequent the shop, take it on as a project.

        Called my guy this morning at the local Nissan emporium, and they have a $2,500 discount _incentive_ going on currently with the Frontiers.

        Just want a base model, but apparently they are pretty stripped down. Not even a radio, or air, let alone a sliding rear window. Probably find one a few years old as I can’t afford a new pick-up and a new trip coupe.

        The new Optima is a great value and quite an attractive sedan. I first saw one at the 2010 LA auto show, and knew they were on to something. And they seem to be selling well as I see them everywhere these days.


  5. When I saw the first picture I thought that it looked great.

    When I got to the bottom, I started thinking: “Buick? especially the grill.”


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