2013 Mazda CX-5 first drive: An all-new compact utility vehicle that’s practical, frugal and fun

2013 Mazda CX-5 crossover vehicle

2013 Mazda CX-5 crossover vehicle

Okay, they didn’t reinvent the wheel, but the folks at Mazda really did re-imagine, rethink and re-engineer almost everything else as they developed the 2013 Mazda CX-5 compact crossover vehicle.

There are a couple of reasons for this intensive effort.

First, and most obvious, was the desire to build a practical small utility vehicle that could outshine the obvious competitors from Japan and many others around the world. The compact crossover is a hot item these days.

The second, and more important, reason was to showcase the first vehicle with the complete portfolio of what the Japanese manufacturer calls its Skyactiv Technology.

While many, perhaps most, manufacturers are looking at alternatives to traditional automotive power, Mazda is sticking with the internal combustion engines, gasoline and diesel.

The Japanese manufacturer concluded four or five years ago that the traditional power sources would remain viable for many years to come.

So, it decided to develop its fleet of vehicles to compete with hybrids and electric cars without becoming one.

Mazda CX-5 instrument panel

Mazda CX-5 instrument panel

Although the 2013 Mazda CX-5 crossover is the first vehicle to get the full treatment from the Mazda development team, the 2012 Mazda3 compact sedan has already received a version of the engine and the transmissions that are found in the CX-5.

And what did best minds of Mazda come up with?

For starters, the gasoline powered CX-5 gets the best highway fuel mileage in its class. The EPA estimates for it range from 26 mpg city/35 mpg highway for a front-wheel-drive model with manual six-speed transmission to 25 mpg city/31 mpg highway for an all-wheel-drive model with a six-speed automatic transmission.

An even more frugal CX-5 with a diesel engine will become available, but Mazda officials no details on what it can do or when it will arrive. There were hints that it will become available in the 2014 model year.

Second, although its external dimensions are noticeably smaller than the CX-7 crossover it will replace in the United States, the all-important interior dimensions are actually close.

Third, while it has 8.5 inches of ground clearance and the high-and-wide view from the captain’s seat that SUV and crossover owners crave, it has a sporty demeanor and drives and handles just like a car. Zoom Zoom is alive and well in the newest Mazda.

This is a big plus for anyone who needs the utility of a small crossover, but does not like the drivability penalty usually associated with such vehicles.

Styling is always a subjective matter, but there seems to be general agreement that Mazda utility vehicles are among the best looking on the market.

The CX-5 continues that tradition. It does not look like the box it might have come in. Instead it looks like the handsome present that was pulled out of the box.

Mazda CX-5 rear seat

Mazda CX-5 rear seat

Mazda officials freely admit that there there is no magic in what they have done. The CX-5, they say. is the result of intensive hard work, out-of-the box thinking and attention to every small detail.

Dave Coleman, whom Mazda has playfully dubbed director of technobabble, emphasized that “Skyactiv wipes the slate clean. Everything is new at the same time . . . The focus was on squeezing maximum efficiency.”

The major jobs to tackle were engine efficiency, weight, transmissions, interior, all-wheel drive system, interior design, exterior design and driveability —  in other words, just about everything about the vehicle

Coleman’s talk was necessarily not comprehensive, but he managed to convey in reasonably easy-to-understand terms some of the challenges that the Mazda crew overcame.