2014 Mazda CX-5 first drive review: SkyActiv 2.5 is much more ‘Activ’

2014 Mazda CX-5

Mazda’s 2014 CX-5 is still efficient, but way more urgent.

At the time of its introduction at the Los Angeles Auto Show in 2011, the CX-5 team at Mazda seemed to have checked all of the boxes: Attractive sheetmetal, competitive utility, the goodness of a Mazda platform and – new to Mazda – efficiency fully competitive with anything in the segment. We said as much in our ‘opening’ remarks, noting the EPA estimate of 25 City/32 Highway for the 2013 CX-5 (front-wheel drive automatic) was considerably better than that delivered by the segment leaders, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and Ford Escape. Notably, it was even better than Ford’s Escape Hybrid.

Of course, we also assumed the CX-5 included a responsive powertrain (you know, Zoom-Zoom?). And while the 2.0 liter in the 2013 CX-5 certainly has enough urge to get out of its own way, some reviews likened it to Snooze-Snooze. Its 155 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque were perfect for the smaller/lighter Mazda3, but for some this powertrain seemed overworked by the bigger bulk of the CX-5. For those nodding off at the wheel, the 2014 CX-5 provides the perfect pick-me-up: 2.5 liters of SkyActiv 4-cylinder, delivering 184 horsepower (an increase of 19%) and 185 lb-ft of torque (up 23%, at a low 3,250 rpm). Oh-so-easily, the new 2.5 puts the ‘Activ’ in Mazda’s SkyActiv menu of enhancements.

2014 Mazda CX-5

The 2.5 liter four offers almost 20% more power.

In point of fact, the drivetrain – when matched with the standard 6-speed automatic and front-wheel drive – offers an absolutely superlative combo of responsiveness and efficiency. The CX-5 has an urge the early 2.0 liter could only hope for, going about its business – whether stop-and-go or merging into the fast-and-furious freeway – with an alacrity that belies the Mazda’s modest price point. And in a mix of blustery in-town driving with passive/aggressive highway speeds, we achieved a real-world average of 25 miles per gallon. We know we could have done better, but also knew we didn’t have to…

The balance of the 2014 CX-5 is largely unchanged; the only real differential is that we’ve now had a year to assimilate the new sheetmetal. And it’s sheetmetal we like, incorporating Mazda’s new corporate design philosophy, KODO, or ‘Soul of Motion’. This is in stark contrast to the previous design philosophy (still in evidence on the Mazda3 and Mazda5), which some wags have dubbed KODON’T. We wish the CX-5’s front overhang might be shortened, but on the street and in traffic the CX-5 equates itself  well, and reflects a design dictum which should age very well.

Inside, we like the clear analog instrumentation, the diameter of the leather-wrapped wheel and the oh-so-intuitive operation of audio and ventilation controls. And the seating is first rate, although the shape of the sport-type buckets may put off the overly wide (side bolsters are aggressive) or overtly short (knee support is kinda’ longish). We’d ask for a cupholder on the doors accommodating more than a cup – a map pocket or stuff holder would be a nice expansion of the basic concept. Our Touring edition was mid-level, above the entry-level Sport but south of the upmarket Grand Touring. And its $25K MSRP hits – we think – the sweetspot in the CUV segment, costing little more than a well-equipped Mazda3 or Civic.

In sum, we think the addition of more ponies (usable horsepower and torque) is exactly what Dr. Zoom would have wanted. It isn’t the MazdaSpeed edition of the CX-5, but 184 real horsepower may have rendered that idea effectively moot.

Specs follow…