Mazda CX-5 muscles up for 2014

Big changes rarely occur in the second year of a new vehicle’s life, but Mazda’s CX-5 compact crossover faces off in a particularly bloody arena.

With a roster of rivals that includes the fine Ford Escape, the new Toyota RAV4 and the ever-popular Honda CR-V, the pressure is on the CX-5, and Mazda cannot afford to wait for a mid-cycle refresh, three or four years down the road, to get it right. 

Lucky for Mazda, that is just what it did. The big news is the arrival of an optional engine: a normally aspirated 2.5-litre inline four-cylinder unit with direct fuel injection. Matched to a six-speed automatic transmission, the 2.5 betters the standard 2-litre engine by 29 horsepower and 35 pound-feet of torque, but sacrifices only one mile per gallon on the EPA test cycle, dipping from 26mpg city to 25, and 32mpg highway to 31 (estimates for automatic transmission front-wheel drive models).

Last year’s CX-5 was no slouch in terms of driving dynamics, delivering excellent steering feel, admirable body control and keen brake response. Mazda’s “Zoom-Zoom” brand philosophy was baked into the bones of the small SUV, and as such, it was one of the most driver-oriented machines of its type.

The 2.5-litre model, however, delivers on all that promise. Mazda claims that the new engine clips close to 2 seconds off the CX-5’s zero-to-60mph time, now a brisk 7.2 seconds. And the character shift within the CX-5 does not require a stopwatch to discern. Peak torque of 185 pound-feet arrives at 3250 rpm (versus the 2-litre engine's 150 lb-ft at 4000 rpm), and the engine sounds much more like an eager participant than a stressed underachiever.

To get that reward, though, a buyer must forego the base model (the $21,990 CX-5 Sport), which still makes use of the 2-litre four, and pony up for one of two models: the $25,410 CX-5 Touring or – the model tested here – the $28,415 CX-5 Grand Touring.

For comfort and amenities, the CX-5 Grand Touring wants for little. Standard kit includes 19-inch alloy wheels; variable rain-sensing wipers; a power moon roof; automatic headlamps; fog lamps; a leather-wrapped steering wheel with controls for audio, cruise control and Bluetooth; leather-trimmed sport seats (heated up front, with an eight-way power driver’s seat); a Bose 9-speaker audio system; and a rearview camera with 5.8-inch colour touch screen.

One worthwhile option, the Grand Touring Technology Package ($1,625), bundles in-dash TomTom GPS navigation, adaptive bi-xenon headlamps and the Smart City Brake Support system, which quickens brake response if it determines there is a risk of a low-speed collision, and will automatically apply the brakes if the driver fails to.

Including the $795 destination charge, a well-equipped Grand Touring model will crest the $30,000 mark (all-wheel drive will add $1,250). While not inexpensive, it is hardly out of line with the CX-5’s prime targets, and the dynamic intangibles that come with a more balanced machine are difficult to put a sticker on.

Vital stats: 2014 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring

  • Base Price: $28,415
  • As tested: $30,240, inclusive of $795 destination charge
  • EPA fuel economy: 25mpg city, 32mpg highway (front-wheel drive)
  • Drivetrain: 184hp 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine, six-speed automatic transmission
  • Major options: Grand Touring Technology Package ($1,650)