By on March 15, 2012

Driving my old 993 to work at 5:30 this morning, listening to the blat of the Billy Boat exhaust competing with Corinne Bailey Rae’s sublime second album for my attention, I had a pair of random thoughts. First thought: I will never own a Ferrari, and that’s okay. This represents a sort of satori for me, because I’d always planned on buying a nice 575 or, resale and sense of aesthetics permitting, one of those awkward 612 Scags, after my all Porsches were paid off. The titles for said Porkers have been in my file cabinet for years now, but there’s no Memorandum Title for a long-nosed Italian next to them.

Second thought: I really, really, liked that CX-5 I drove two weeks ago.

Hmm.

I wonder if those two thoughts are related?

Regardless, something about the way I value and enjoy automobiles has changed. My desire to own the flashiest and sexiest whip I can (not quite) afford has been cauterized by endless exposure to “Cars and Coffee”, YouTube videos, and braying-donkey print-journos Facebook-bragging about selling their souls in exchange for temporary access to the transportation enjoyed daily by their betters. My notions of “fast” have been shattered by cars like Switzer’s thousand-horsepower GT-Rs and 997 Turbos. Fatherhood and occasional forays into performing music have given me new respect for something which can be parked on the street without concern. Racing in spec classes has led me to respect the rider, not the mount. The seemingly irrevocable decline of the American economy makes me wonder if it isn’t possible to consume a bit less and enjoy a bit more.

If the Ferrari 575 was the embodiment of my thirty-something philosophy — fast, brash, pedigreed, aggressive to a fault — then the Mazda CX-5 might just be my fortysomething philosophy embodied. It’s one of the few truly great cars I’ve driven since entering this business. How can a “cute-ute” with modest power and zero curb appeal be great?

Don’t worry, I’ll explain.

There’s a lot to be said about the CX-5′s “SKYACTIV” construction, its precise dimensions, its market positioning, and its competitive prospects. You’ll be able to find all of that in Brendan McAleer’s review, which should come out next week. If you’re in a hurry, you can always check out the short drive review I did for LeftLane here. Prior to leaving for Mazda’s CX-5 preview event, which was held at Laguna Seca, I’d been very dismissive regarding the merits of debuting a small SUV/wagon/crossover/whatever on a racetrack. I’d even considered leaving my helmet at home, since it doesn’t fit in a RegionalJet overhead compartment and I therefore find myself forced to gate-check the thing and spend my flights worrying about whether I will ever see it again. “What’s the point of bringing a helmet for three laps?” I wondered.

As it turns out, I did nearly sixty laps of Laguna Seca in the CX-5. The first three were for you, dear readers; the rest were for me. A few months ago, I asked where all the great Japanese cars had gone. Here’s one answer to that question. The CX-5 is meant to channel the spirit of the Miata in the way that Porsche claimed the Cayenne would for the 911 — but unlike the Germans, Mazda’s pulled it off. Finally, we have a modern small wagon that feels light on its feet, eager to change direction, frisky and friendly.

Truth be told, the least impressive part of the whole package is the much-ballyhooed SKYACTIV engine. It’s no better, or more characterful, than the old 2.3/25 Duratecs found in the old Focus and the outgoing Fusion, and it’s fighting a curb weight which, although it is lightest in the class, is still about a half-ton more than the iconic Japanese compacts of yore had to carry.Still, matched to the six-speed manual which comes standard on the base model, it is fast enough. It’s no trick to stroke along even the tightest California back roads at speeds in the 70-90mph range. Too much more than that, and the four can’t hang. Watching the radar speed displays at Laguna Seca was instructive; the rate of acceleration falls flat just before the magic hundred mark.

The fact that we are even discussing the CX-5′s triple-digit potential, however, is a testament to the chassis. Just like my old Porsche 944 — a vehicle with a remarkably similar power-to-weight ratio, by the way — the suspension is way ahead of the engine, and the brakes are somewhere in the middle. During the press preview, the PR people droned on about the trucklet’s spiritual ties to the RX-8. Having run an RX-8 in SCCA National Solo, I dismissed those claims out of hand, which was a mistake. This is one of the best-steering front-wheel-drivers I’ve ever experienced, and you can rest assured it stands head and shoulders above the rest of the class. The CX-5 can be finessed through fast roads by thumb and forefinger on the wheel and it never fails to inform and reassure. During the rough single-lane sections of my drive, the ground clearance was actually an advantage. I didn’t hit the bump stops a single time during the course of the drive, even though I tried to force the issue a few times by full-throttling my way through some very dicey whoops and camber changes. Something like a Subaru Outback would be left for dead by this nimble little box.

I didn’t have the time or inclination to make a finely-judged comparison of the CX-5′s dash-pad polymer composition or rear cargo-area height with that of the competition, but the overall impression given by the interior is certainly in line with the expectations one would have at the price. Inside and out, the vehicle looks solid, well-finished, and pleasant. The seats are just about up to the task of fast driving, the stereo is acceptable, and nothing fell off or rattled.

Some of LeftLane’s readers took me to task for suggesting this was an “enthusiast vehicle”. They cited the lack of power and inability to either dominate the Autobahn or pose convincingly as a dominator of same. I think they missed the point. Power and raw speed may have distinguished “enthusiast vehicles” in the past, but we live in an era where a Camry on DOT slicks can rip a thirteen-second quarter and your ex-wife’s SUV can bully the air at a buck-forty or above. Ford and Chevrolet both sell ponycars that would humiliate my old dream Ferrari 575, and they sell them brand new for half of what the Ferraris still cost on the used market. The Porsche PanArabia Turbo S Carrera GT2 Orthodontist Edition handily outpaces its own Cayman R on the racetrack. Numbers aren’t telling the story any more. In 2012, enthusiast vehicles are ones which whisper to the driver with steering feel and predictable trail-braking, not scream at him with six hundred horsepower and single-use ceramic brakes. Forget the numbers.

There is, however, one number to remember: $20,895. That’s how much the CX-5 I drove costs new at the dealer, assuming you pay full whack. It’s a complete proposition at that price. Everything you need and more. No reason to be ashamed of buying the entry-level car here. We won’t weigh your worth by the length of your model designation. After three hours in the little Mazda, I couldn’t think of a single change or additional feature that would significantly increase the enjoyment factor.

This being TTAC, I feel compelled to remind you of a few potential issues. This is a brand-new vehicle design from a manufacturer known to suffer from a bit of fragility and oxidationophilia. Your neighbors will call you reckless for not buying a CR-V. If you are one of the henpecked beta-males who make up something like forty-two percent of cute-ute buyers, making the Mazda move may result in your monthly allocation of you-know-what being slimmed-down to bi-monthly. I have no idea whether or not the CX-5 will last to 200,000 miles, and neither does anyone else.

Okay. You’ve been warned. If you haven’t been warned off, good for you. This new Mazda is something we haven’t seen in a while. It’s a great little car. Pun intended. It’s a car for us. If you’re looking in this market, consider yourself advised to look at the CX-5. Maybe you’ll get as excited about it as I did.

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111 Comments on “Trackday Diaries: In which our author falls in love with a cute-ute....”


  • avatar
    Ubermensch

    How would you compare this to the GTI you recently tested?

  • avatar
    zznalg

    Jack, Love your writeup of this vehicle. I also loved your writeup of the GLI. Although they seem so wildly divergent, I’ve actually been thinking about cross-shopping them. I love simple/light/communicative/alive vehicles that are not necessarily power-masters.
    I’ll throw it out there: How would you compare the two vehicles in terms of fun-to-driveness?

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      The GLI’s engine is wayyyyyyyyy better. Chassis-wise, I think it’s fair to say that the gap between the two is smaller than one would expect given the difference in center of gravity.

  • avatar
    laphoneuser

    I will be in the market soon to replace my 2003 Jetta Wolfsburg. I will definitely take a look at this.

  • avatar
    threeer

    Jack,

    Thanks for continueing to stoke the fires for me in regard to the CX-5. I know it isn’t the fastest, biggest, etc…blah, blah, blah trucklet out there…but the prospect of a six-speed manual in a genuinely fun to drive and useful vehicle has me truly interested in the Mazda. For around $21k with Bluetooth, I’d be quite happy with the “base” Sport. From what I’ve read, the 17″ rims don’t make it any less of a handler than the 19″ you get on the next two trim levels…and you can’t get the manual in anything but the Sport. I hope the CX-5 finds success…how do you think it’ll compare to the upcoming Escape?

  • avatar
    michal1980

    Jack,

    Ever get to drive the Regal GS?

    P.S.

    I asked before I read the article. Because the top veiw of this car made it look like it had a buick front end.

  • avatar
    GeeDashOff

    I would be in love with this car if Mazda made it just a normal wagon instead of a bloated CUV. Of course nobody (but me) would buy it that way.

    The whole jacked up, fake offroading potential, high seating position, car based CUV thing needs to die a quick death. Regardless of this things (seemingly very good) handling and track manners, I would imagine it would be even better as a normal hatchback/wagon.

    I promised myself I would never buy a CUV, and I don’t see this car coming close to changing that. Ironically, all the soccer moms promised themselves the same thing about minivans & station wagons, and now we’ve come full circle.

    • 0 avatar

      While I agree with your premise, I would point out that Mazda does build such a car: the Mazda3. I’m guessing the interior dimensions on the hatchback 3 would come very close to the CX-5

      • 0 avatar
        ringomon

        Was thinking same thing.

        Anyone shopping in this class that cares about driving feel needs to at least test drive a 3, even if it’s not got the media momentum like the focus, cruize, and elantra. I think it stacks up to them- and you have the Speed3 option for the track days.

      • 0 avatar
        srogers

        I’m assuming that the CX-5 has a lot more interior room than the 3. If it doesn’t, then this is a pointless vehicle to me; I realize that it wouldn’t be pointless to people who feel that CUVs are more stylish than hatchbacks.

        I’ll be looking forward to seeing how the next generation Mazda 3 turns out.

      • 0 avatar
        srogers

        Here’s Mazda.ca’s listed volumes for the CX-5 vs 3

        Passenger volume: 3947L vs 2678L – 47% more
        Cargo volume (behind seats): 966L vs 481L – 100% more
        Total volume: 4434L vs 3159L – 40% more

        These numbers are screwy. The Mazda 3 numbers add up, the CX-5 total doesn’t. Maybe Mazda US has it right?

      • 0 avatar
        niky

        The second number seems to be seats down. That’s where the discrepancy lies.

    • 0 avatar

      The common cute ute is often misunderstood by those who don’t own them. I also felt this way until I drove one. Yes, they are tall…but I wouldn’t describe this as bloated. Compared to many sedans (and many modern wagons) this isn’t very big, nor bloated. These things may not be low-slung racecars, but they do deliver numerous advantages: higher perspective = easier to park (in many cases), taller = more headroom, ground clearance = not hitting every. single. GD. curb and steep entrance with your bumper (having owned a Mazda3, I speak from experience on this one). Higher ride height appeals to anyone who is older or taxis older parents…SO much easier to get in and out of, etc. etc. I’m not saying they are great…I’m just suggesting you be less judgemental about them. They aren’t as useless as most car writers would have them seem.

      • 0 avatar
        afflo

        I just wish all the low cars didn’t seem to be disappearing with manufacturers cranking seats and roofs higher and higher. The fusion feels unnaturally tall… It’s a nearly three inches taller than an early 90′s Taurus. I like driving ei my feet out in front of me, close to the floor, and there are fewer and fewer cars that offers tht position.

  • avatar
    Banger

    Thanks for this write-up, Jack. The CX-5 is one I’m watching closely. Despite lack of local Mazda dealership support (nearest dealer is a two-hour drive), I find myself really considering one of these. They look like a compelling alternative to the new-age Ford Escape, which will doubtless be $2,500 or more higher in terms of MSRP, if the previous Escape/Tribute twins give us any idea about Ford’s and Mazda’s pricing strategies in the small CUV market.

    Glad to hear it’s got some Mazda “zoom-zoom” too! Should be more fun to drive than my folks’ Mazda6, which is no slouch itself. Manual transmission is appealing.

    • 0 avatar
      Ubermensch

      The engine choices for the new Escape look far more appealing to me. Sorry, but 150hp in a 3300lb vehicle just doesn’t sound exciting to me at all. I am looking to upgrade from a 170hp/3200lb vehicle so this is off my radar unless they up the ante in the engine department. I realize driving enjoyment isn’t always about power, but that is a big part of driving enjoyment for me. I already have the slow car that handles, I want a little more.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        That’s the trade-off for best in class fuel economy.

        Besides, let’s be completely honest here, will the Escape be that much faster or relevant from stoplight to stoplight, when this is measured at 8.2 seconds 0-60 with the manual (it may be 8.0 seconds flat with the manual, actually)?

        I liked this review very much.

        This is the right vehicle at the right time.

        I am not a huge fan of the front fascia nor the side profile, but it’s not so offensive as to be a deal breaker.

        I like that it offers great utility, with great fuel economy, has an austere cabin (thankfully with a lack of plastic faux-metal trim that’s all the rage), and one of the biggest backseats in its class. In fact, the dash reminds me of BMW circa mid 1990s; nothing more I’d want, nothing there that is unwanted.

        If I was going to transition into the small CUV segment, something I used to swear wasn’t even remotely possible just a year ago, this would be the first vehicle on my ‘to drive’ list.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    Though she departed this world several years ago, my mother would have loved this vehicle. My friends always gave me grief about my turbocharged Omni’s reputation being made when my mother drove it. One night on a return Upcountry via a cane haul road shortcut followed by a blast up Pulehu, I was treated to the full proof of that fact. Her wonderful wild abandon when confronted with a twisty road in a vehicle with decent power and good chassis dynamics made me realize what kind of tigress my father had married. From the “Whoo, that was fun!” declaration after exiting a particularly exhilarating off-camber corner to the “quick, grab a pineapple!” order as she screeched to a halt by a not-yet-picked patch on the upper slopes, I treasure that night when mom showed me just how much fun she had when she was driving for herself and no one or nothing else.

    Damn, now I need to test drive one of these.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Reminds me of the early days of Acura with their “precision crafted” tag line.

  • avatar
    twotone

    Nice article — thanks!

    I wish Mazda would create a small sedan (e.g. BMW 2002, Datsun 510) using the Miata platform (perhaps stretched a bit). Four-banger, manual transmission, RWD, four doors and a trunk. Nothing else like it in the market today.

    • 0 avatar

      nice article indeed!

      I wish Mazda would put a piston engine in the RX-8.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      Rumors have it that Toyota is considering some permutation of the FT-86 platform for the next Lexus IS. Judging by the writeups on that puppy, plus measurements like COG, that ought to be quite something for lowriding enthusiasts.

    • 0 avatar
      Lynchenstein

      I had an older 323 5-door hatchback while in college. It burned oil like crazy and I drove the piss out of that thing (not related, I assure you). I loved “stinky car”, even though she was FWD.

      I keep saying this, but I really can’t wait to see what Mazda will cook up for the new Miata next year. It’s supposed to be way lighter, and similarly spartan like the original. Bring it!

      If they want to make a 4-door sedan out of it, that would be fine with me – just bring the Miata first and make it affordable.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ll believe in a smaller IS when I see it. In my experience, cars never shrink. I can see Lexus introducing another letter, however, like they did with the CT. But MX-5 sedan sounds as strange as Mustang sedan.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Didn’t give much thought to this car when it debuted, but the more I hear about it, the more I am paying attention. Hopefully it sells better than the CX-7. The fuel economy improvement alone over that swilling turbo four should give it a head start before people even reach the dealership.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      The CX-7 was one of Mazda’s biggest misses in terms of goodness and reliability in quite a while.

      • 0 avatar
        Snavehtrebor

        My wife’s 2007 CX-7 just passed 60,000 miles with no reliability issues at all. Zero. I suppose “goodness” is more subjective, but it still looks better than any other CUV on the road, and drives better than the other competitors we sampled.

        Sure, it’s thirsty, and the plastics are hard. Compared to the Dark Helmet CRV, Schick Quattro-faced Fords, and downright goofy RAV-4, it’s damn hard to beat.

        And it appears that Mazda just brought its replacement to the US market…

  • avatar
    sjhwilkes

    The spec sheet has Bluetooth as a package option, but the configurator says ‘no packages available’. Which is wrong?

    • 0 avatar
      threeer

      Bluetooth is an option for the Sport (stand alone). When I went to configure, the CX-5 wasn’t even on Mazda’s website in configuration…had to go to Edmunds to “build” it.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        threer, what about cruise control on the base sport manual?

        I’ve looked and can’t seem to find a credible answer.

        If you know.

        Thanks.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        Well, it does have cruise control in even the most base trim.

        Bluetooth is also standard.

        Mazda’s website showing trim levels and equipment is up and accurate now.

  • avatar
    brettc

    Looked at one of these (the only one on the lot) at a Mazda dealer a couple weeks ago on a Sunday. Nice looking vehicle. Of course they had a top of the line model, but I think the base model would probably do fine. We’re thinking of replacing my wife’s Jetta TDI with one. I’m hoping we can hold off until the Skyactiv-D option arrives. But even if it doesn’t come, the gas engine economy numbers are impressive if it can actually achieve them. We’ve looked at the Tiguan, but weren’t super excited about its looks or fuel economy.

    Looking forward to the forthcoming full review.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      I test drove one a couple weeks ago. The only things more I would want on the base model are the 40-20-40 rear seats & an HD radio. But don’t want a touch screen, so I could live without the stereo upgrade.

      It is definitely no power demon, especially when passing on the highway, but there was 600 lb of people in the car, and even then, it was adequate for me. The efficiency is probably for real – according to the car’s computer, it gets about the same mpg as my Protege5.

      The only things I didn’t like about it were the high CG and the nav (none of us could figure out how to turn it off).

      I would love to see it get the Sky-D engine. But then again, I’d love to see a Mazda3 with that engine.

      • 0 avatar

        You and I might be the only two people in the entire world who want HD radio.

        I’d definitely like to see the diesel variant but the way everyone dangles the diesel option over us and then never delivers, I’m sceptical that Mazda could do any better.

  • avatar
    Philosophil

    That was an exciting read there, Jack. Thanks for that.

    I’ve been keeping a close eye on the CX-5 since its beginnings. It’s one of the few vehicles I’ve been genuinely looking forward to seeing, and I’m very pleased to hear that you enjoyed it so much.

    Mazda deserves a lot of credit for going the direction they did. It took a lot of guts, and I really hope it pays off for them. From the sounds of it this could very well be the vehicle to do it. Great stuff!

    p.s. It’s kind of nice to hear that your priorities and sensibilities are evolving with age, experience, and changing contexts. It’s not everyone who can embrace the varying places that life opens up for us over time, and it’s nice to see you doing so as openly and willingly as you seem to be.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I have my doubts that I’d personally prefer the CX-5 to the Juke or Countryman.

    Although the Mazda is better looking than the Nissan and costs less than the MINI.

    • 0 avatar
      niky

      The Countryman is nice, but MINI tuned it a bit on the loose side. While part of me revels in the fact that it doesn’t have the rear end as firmly tacked to the ground as the regular MINI, the extra height and soft tuning are not as engaging as on the original item. And with the extra power on the “S” variant, it can get quite torque-steery at times.

    • 0 avatar
      Marko

      I actually don’t mind the looks of the Juke, but its interior space is limited, and its fuel economy is so-so (and premium gas is required).

  • avatar
    4LiterLexus

    I’m glad that Mazda was able to give this vehicle such sporty handling, but I’m even more eager to see how the Skyactiv-d engine’s real-world MPG numbers stack up. As noted in the LeftLane article, the Rav4 and CR-V are the leaders of this market segment because they deliver on “low purchase cost, low operating costs, plenty of interior space, [and] long-term durability.” Unless the CX-5 delivers on most of those four qualities, sporty handling probably won’t be enough to save it.

    Case in point? The Mazda5 (not a CUV, I know) didn’t deliver on the last point (apparently early models had alignment/tire wear issues), and the CX-7 didn’t really address requirements #1 and #2. Neither of those sold very well in the US at all.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      I think the Rav4 and CR-V are too well entrenched for Mazda to compete directly on the merits you listed. Sporty handling will never earn the market share that the Rav4 and CR-V enjoy, but Mazda needs to carve out a niche for itself to have a chance.

      Hopefully that niche is large enough for Mazda to stay afloat. Their cars have always been more appealing to me when they focus on being the fun drive in their segment, rather than going toe-to-toe with much larger companies making cars that try to be all things to all people.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    Think how much nicer it would be if it was 500lbs lighter and 6″ lower. As usual, I don’t get the point of wagons on stilts, but at least this one is fun to drive and quite cheap. Would be a great car for my Mom, who also appreciates the finer handling things in life.

    • 0 avatar
      SV

      Basically you’re talking about the next Mazda3. Which should be even nicer than this, I agree.

      In fact, I’m very very much looking forward to the next 3. As an ’05 3 driver, I’d go for the Focus over the current 3 if I were to get a new car right now – I prefer its styling both inside and out by a long shot (and I love the way it drives; I don’t imagine the current 3 is much different than mine so it’s about as fun but not as quiet). But if the next 3, with a full SkyActiv treatment, gets a bit lighter and handles that bit better, and, crucially, looks as good for its class as the CX-5, then I’ll be tilting back toward the Mazda camp again.

  • avatar
    ringomon

    This is why I drive Mazdas. (Even if you want to argue that the 3 isn’t quite this good).

    I’m really intigued by this car- as my wife (surprise) likes the CUV thing.

    Might have to replace the ’06 hatch with one of these in a couple years.

  • avatar
    piggybox

    I really wish the new Acura RDX could look like this rather than mimic Lexus RX

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Very interesting and entertaining read.

    I’m not fully optimistic about Mazda’s staying power, however. While their sales revenue was up in 2011, 2011 was about 35% lower than 2008. They were the #14 brand in the US last year, within spitting distance of #11 VW and #18 Buick.

    Other than their rotaries, they’ve never seemed to acquire any cult following or to generate much passion among consumers… until I read this article.

    • 0 avatar
      SV

      I’m worried about Mazda financially – they lost a ton of money last year – but I think SkyActiv will give them more mainstream appeal. Replacing the clown-face grille with the CX-5′s “Kodo” face will certainly help further.

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      All you need to do is visit a road course, autocross, miata.net, or read/watch any journalist review of the Miata since 1989 to find that Mazda’s had a 23 year success run in terms of creating a “cult status” car. As Jack touched on in his review, that car is the yardstick against which other cars are measured in terms of balance, feel, and driving fun.

      Mazda has its issues, but between the rotaries, the evolution of the Miata, and the sportiness injected into their mainstream offerings, I contend that “lack of soul” isn’t one of them.

  • avatar
    racer-esq.

    30 = Ferrari 575
    40 = Mazda CX-5
    70 = Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet

    Getting old sucks.

    • 0 avatar

      I knew a 70-year-old guy with a Corvette. Eat right and excercise.

      • 0 avatar
        doctor olds

        Power to weight similar to a 944!
        Mazda builds some very nice products, but their financial straits may worsen as competition heats up in the small end as gas marches to $5/gallon and beyond.

        They do not have the scale to afford leading technologies without collaboration with bigger players.

    • 0 avatar
      lastwgn

      I really enjoy seeing the exceptions to the rule. In the past year, on three occassions in the parking lot of a local mall here in suburban Minneapolis I have seen a very properly dressed woman who is at least in her ’70′s, but most likely in her ’80′s, behind the wheel of an Diamond Gray ’09 or ’10 Mazda RX-8. Her elderly companion, presumably her husband, was in the passenger seat each time. The first time I saw her tooling around in that car I was stunned, and you just have to give her a high five and an A++ for effort. My daily driver is an ’05 RX-8, but I really want grandma’s grage queen when she is done with it!

      • 0 avatar
        Monty

        While not germane to the topic of this blogpost, I have a similar story. I was taking the dogs for a walk last week, and was near a 55+ seniors condo complex. As we passed the underground parking ramp, a black Ford Fusion exited driven by a gentleman that looked to be 75+. As he pulled onto the street, I got a profile view of the car – it was black on black with extremely dark tinted windows, and he peeled out and shifted gears! I want to be that guy when I’m old.

    • 0 avatar
      azmtbkr81

      Old guys have all the cool cars, ever watch the Barrett-Jackson auction? It seems to me that mid 50′s – mid 60′s is the ideal age for a car guy: money to burn, time to tinker, and most of your reflexes are still intact.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Well it was bound to happen guys… since CUVs have replaced the traditional station wagon someone finally built a well handling car out of one.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      If by “traditional station wagon” you mean the likes of the Celebrity or Caprice wagon, then they were surpassed at least a decade ago by the Ford Focus and Honda Oddyssey. That’s how low the bar was set by traditional wagons.

  • avatar
    zznalg

    I wonder if a MazdaSpeed CX-5 will ever happen.

  • avatar
    pacificpom2

    CUV=Cute Utility Vehicle
    FMU=Freaking Mean Ute=
    http://www.holden.com.au/vehicles/ute/redline#/redline_intro

    Obviously Ute has a different meaning on the other side of the Pacific :)

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    A really great article there Jack.

    Now that I’m an owner of a Mazda, the 2003 Protege5 and now I understand what people are talking about when they say, if you want a consummate daily driver, the P5 is definitely one of them and in some cases, it may be even better than the 3 in that regard, while I can’t vouch for that since I’ve not driven the 3 but I can see it being a spiritual successor to the P5.

    That said, the CX-5 looks like a promising vehicle for those who want a taller vehicle but still want a good handling vehicle for carving the back roads on the weekends.

    I would agree, judging by your comment on it flattening out after hitting 100mph that the motor may be barely adequate for its size and weight. Now that I’m back to driving a smaller car with good handling, it’s fun to make a slower car go fast (true, my P5 only has 130hp) but it’s fun to let it rev to about 4Krpm before blipping out of 2nd gear right before slowing down. it’s that kind of driving is why my city mileage sucks. :-)

    But the jury is still out if I’d want to remain in the Mazda camp when I eventually replace the P5 in a few years and if I do, will it be the 3?

  • avatar
    mike978

    Jack, as I enter middle age I want something fun (and sensible) to drive with the kids. This may be a strange question but how does the Jetta GLi compare driving wise to the CX5? I ask since both are reasonably priced, similar length and you have highly rated each of them for their driving dynamics. I know they don`t directly compete but I am curious. As an aside does the CX5 drive as well as the Mazda 3?

  • avatar
    WheelMcCoy

    Sixty laps! That’s all I need to know!

    So what was your average mpg? :)

  • avatar
    shifter25

    Would you get the AWD version for $1700 more than the FWD? What’s the handling difference between the 2?

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      I would not, because AWD entails a mandatory automatic.

      • 0 avatar
        shifter25

        In the Mazda3 Skyactiv review, the author wrote that it was a mistake for him to switch the automatic for the manual: “The next day, I dropped off the white automatic for a bright blue manual version. What a mistake.

        It’s not that the manual transmission is bad. Far from it. The shift action is crisp, direct and satisfying, with an easy to operate clutch. If I were to buy this car, I would opt for it because I love driving manual. But let’s be clear; claims from other outlets that this gearbox apes the MX-5 are wishful thinking at best, hyperbole at worst. I know this because I own a Miata. It also does not measure up to the wonderful 6-speed automatic offered in this car”

      • 0 avatar
        22_RE_Speedwagon

        Sadly, the Mazda configuratrix doesn’t allow for blue manual equipped CX-5s.

      • 0 avatar
        Advance_92

        Red’s not an option for the manual, either. What’s going on here?

      • 0 avatar
        rocketrodeo

        Speaking as a former OEM test driver, I would suggest that it is not at all unusual for preproduction vehicles to carry color and option combinations not available after Job 1.

      • 0 avatar
        jruhi4

        For those of you wondering about the limited exterior color choices on the (base) CX-5 Sport, I’d say they’re just following the Mazda5 minivan pattern where the base/Sport model is the only way you can get a manual and you’re also limited to 3 or 4 exterior color choices.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        Why would a manufacturer limit color options on the manual transmission? I can imagine a weak argument in favor of limiting available trim levels based on production reasons, but isn’t the car an empty chassis when it goes through the paint booth? What reason can they possible have to not install a manual transmission in a red one or blue one?

      • 0 avatar

        The only thing I can figure is it’s the logic of applying manuals to the base models taken to the next level.

        Some bean counter has calculated that the manual only sells in small numbers, so it’s relegated to the cheapest model since it adds nothing to the cost of the car.

        Level two is restricting the manual to only the most common or popular colours, I guess.

        I fear level three would be phasing out manuals altogether.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        “Why would a manufacturer limit color options”?

        They also limit the colors on the SkyActiv 3 – you either get a shade of gray or blue – no red unless you opt for the larger engine, and dammit, I want YELLOW!

        My theory is that it’s purely a way to raise the transaction price. The red paint doesn’t cost any more than the gray, but if you want it enough, you’re going to pay more for it. Similarly, if you want red or white, you get to pay for an AT.

        I wonder how many of the manuals they expect to sell. It could be like the lowest trims on other cars – it’s there for its price point and to give people an option if they really want it, but you’ll be hard pressed to find one on a lot.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        I’m a little surprised they offer a manual at all, given the limited availability. Is it that critical to their zoom-zoom marketing and advertising a low price that it’s worth the trouble to certify the powertrain combo with the EPA, only to nerf it with limited options and colors?

    • 0 avatar
      niky

      AWD sucks the life out of any car that light and gutless. The Outlander Sport handles better without it. The Countryman has better performance without it (though more torque-steer).

      AWD is only a valid answer to the question: “How do I deal with trying to put over 300 horsepower to the ground through the front wheels?”

    • 0 avatar
      ciddyguy

      Per the Mazda configurator, I wonder if it’s like some manufacturers whereby they only show what’s available on lots near us, based on our zip codes and nothing more.

      Not sure if you can custom order one from the dealer, but one may through them, and then you may have the full color choices available to them.

      But having driven the sport stick auto in my ’03 Protege5, it’s not a bad option at all, even though mine only has four forward speeds.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        I had a Protege5, bought it new and tried the auto as well as the manual. I know you like it, but it really sucked the life out of that engine. I loved the stick in that car, and the engine was fun to rev, I couldnt imagine having one without a manual. That being said, if you are happy with it, at least you still get the fun handling.

        But Mazda’s site doesnt tailor the choices to the local dealer, they only offer the stick in the base model, and only offer 3 colors… black, silver, or grey (isnt that really just 3 shades of one color??), and no options available. If you want any options, you need to move up to the next level, and then you can no longer get a stick. They pull the same crap with the 3 if you want the highest trim level, its auto-only with the SkyActiv at least.

      • 0 avatar
        ciddyguy

        While I enjoy the autobox, it does let me hold the shifts and that’s good, it would not have been my choice either if I were to have bought it new, but I didn’t so it came with the sport stick autobox. Despite that, it feels MUCH more solidly connected to the motor than most slush boxes I’m familiar with so while it may suck the life out of the motor, I don’t think it’s as bad as it could be though.

        I know you can only get the manual in the base CX-5, but figured colors may reflect what’s available on the lot. Pity that they chose to go this route.

        I really DO think automakers do this to kind of “force” our hand in limiting some choices so they can create a higher profit margin by making the autobox easier to get than the manual.

  • avatar
    jonnyguitar

    The true role of a beta-male biologically speaking is 2d in the pecking order. That means he submits only to the alpha male. All the other must submit to him. As such, the beta experiences lower stress levels, and is in a more advantageous position because he is still gets plenty of access to mates.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    “Fatherhood and occasional forays into performing music have given me new respect for something which can be parked on the street without concern”

    And I’d add easy access to the rear seat, comfortable suspension, tough and easy to clean interior.

    The little Mazda is being currently advertised down here and it looks very nice. I actually like it too.

  • avatar
    outback_ute

    This sounds pretty good, it is good to see it does this while having a decent amount of ground clearance too. A couple of thousand dearer than a Nissan Dualis with more room, more power and significantly better economy plus it should drive better.

  • avatar
    jimbobjoe

    Memorandum title, eh? Showing your Ohioan-ess there. Speaking of which, do you ever meet your readers in Columbus for a drink and conversation?

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      I don’t see why not!

      • 0 avatar
        TrailerTrash

        Ya!?
        Well to hell with just meeting and enjoying admirers in Ohio!
        What about the rest of us…like down here in southern Florida?????

        I mean…there are very few people I would pay to sit and listen to.
        My departed friend Christopher Hitchens.Sam Harris. Dr David Agus…and even Jack Baruth!

        Give it a thought and let others know when you might be in areas and ask if anybody can get around to a good talk with drinks.

  • avatar

    Good write up; it keep my interest in this thing alive.

    My parents are retired and are looking for a travel car. I have a vested interest in this as well because we always travel together. (Loser status: confirmed.)

    My father wants practicality, great mileage and decent rear seat room. He’s zeroed in on the Jetta Sportwagen TDI. My mother only wants something that “looks good” and for some ungodly reason the Juke is tops in her list. The CX-5 seems to be the car that meets them both halfway.

    I’m all in on anything that’s just powerful enough to have fun, so the CX-5 piques my interest. Mom’s got an RX-8, dad a Focus and I’ve got a Golf TDI, so we know all about having fun without having maximum horsepower. That gene is alive and well in this family.

    They just wish the higher trim levels came with a manual. I got a chance to sit in a top o’ the line one recently and it was very nice but very big, and the rear seat access was difficult for my lardy arse.

    I guess it’s asking too much for any automaker to sell high trim lines with manuals these days.

    • 0 avatar
      22_RE_Speedwagon

      We’d have one of these tomorrow if the higher trims came with a manual (and real colors). I’m not going to be able to get my wife to trade down from her 2008 mazda3 Grand Touring to a CX-5 sport. She digs that manual and those rain sensing wipers. It’s a shame since she drives 100 miles a day and we could use the bump in mileage.

  • avatar
    rocketrodeo

    Wonder what the chances are for a Mazdaspeed version.

  • avatar
    smithr

    Several posters fail to see the appeal of these smaller CUV’s vs. a wagon or hatchback with a normal ride height. I gave up my beloved Volvo turbo wagon about 3 years ago because a back injury made entering and exiting the car a new adventure in pain. The higher hip point of the seats in my Honda CR-V (a rare used EX model with the 5-speed manual)is a lot easier on my back, and the AWD is definitely appreciated in snow and rain.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      My sister has a bad back, and that’s a big reason she drives an Escape. She has a problem getting into/out of my car, so I agree completely that there is a benefit to a taller vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      WheelMcCoy

      No argument here. Anyone who shuttles around elderly people know higher up vehicles, whether a CUV or *gasp* a mini-van, are appreciated.

      SUVs and Hummers… well… they’re a little too high.

      To paraphrase Goldilocks, this CX-5 sounds juuuuust right.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        “Anyone who shuttles around elderly people know higher up vehicles, whether a CUV or *gasp* a mini-van, are appreciated.”

        So that’s why Ford discontinued the Town Car, and are directing prospective buyers towards the MKT…

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        stuki,

        I do think it’s why the traditional cab is being replaced with more minivan-esque vehicles.

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    Nice review, Jack…

    Just a few questions.
    First, in your opinion, how would this low power reveal itself under the pressure of a full cab of passengers? It seems that it would expose itself as under powered quickly.

    Finally, would YOU buy it?
    I am going to upgrade soon, and since I have finally accepted the fact my wife and kids will never, ever allow a wagon…it will be a CUV.
    But is this the one?
    Will it be a better choice than the Escape and its new ecoboost engines?

    Is your passion strong enough that you would put the money down?

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      I’m not Jack, but in a manual car with engines as smooth as contemporary ones are, just downshift. If you’re in a rev range where the engine puts out an honest 120+ hp at the crank, you’re scooting along just fine. With a slush box insisting on keeping you pinned in the 40-50hp rev range, things will obviously be less satisfactory.

  • avatar
    Sgt Beavis

    I’ve really liked everything I’ve been reading about this car. It has about 90 less HP than my 328i sport wagon but MSRP is about $12K less. It might be worth a look after my lease expires.

  • avatar
    vkaras

    I agree–CUVs do not make much sense. A nice wagon is ideal for the suburban commuter and “weekend warrior”; however, as a resident of Chicago and New Orleans, I think the awful roads in both cities justify my interest in the cx-5 (I’m waiting for the diesel).

    I have watched countless conventional sedans/wagons succumb to unexpected potholes and breaks in pavement while CUVs and traditional SUVs plug along just fine for years (despite the carelessness of their owners). Dont get me started on sport packages on a daily driver in Chi/NOLA. Mistake. My grand cherokee is going on 10 years and is just now beginning to show its age. Im not saying a CUV/SUV for an urbanite is smarter…but maybe more convenient?

    Though off-roading in my jeep is really fun, the only time I need the awd is getting out of snowed-in parking spaces in Chicago or through an alley. When you are running late, this definitely comes in handy; otherwise, just get snow tires.

    I am cross-shopping the cx-5 against a depreciated c-class (3.0, rwd, non-sport model), rav4, or 3-series wagon.

  • avatar
    ivan_99

    I would have loved to read the article…but I didn’t.

    As I quickly scanned the article I saw it littered with “Porsche”, “Turbo GT2″, “911″, “Ferrari”…and it lost credibility.

    I’m sure the 5 is “good”…

  • avatar
    Luke42

    The rumors about the diesel variant of this thing are intriguing. With a 2000lb towing capacity, this thing might be as close as I’m going to get to the Elusive Diesel Wagon that I really want for the second slot in my driveway. Intriguing.

    The “efficient daily driver” slot in my driveway is happily occupied by a Prius. That’s a tough car to beat, but a plugin hybrid could probably do it.

    If the manufacturers keep this up, I might have to buy *TWO* new cars in the next 5 years or so…!

  • avatar
    V572625694

    The big news in this story is that Baruth has a job.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    This sounded great until I checked the site and found that Mazda is also limiting the color selection on the stick shift version to the 3 blandest colors. You can’t even get the extra cost pearl white. I would really want the blue they use in all the ads.

    Mazda with thier Zoom Zoom ads should be the one manufacturer that offers the stick in all models. I am dissapointed.

    • 0 avatar
      threeer

      Nor can you get Bluetooth on the Sport. You’d think Mazda would encourage keeping your hands off the phone to you know…shift the gears! But to get the really cool color choices, you have to up the price. It isn’t like the paint costs more. Tail wagging the dog here…due to the limited variations you can outfit the CX-5 Sport in, it’ll sell fewer manual tranny versions…and then Mazda can say “well, see…folks don’t want to buy manual transmissions…look at how many automatics we sell.” A shame, as I was looking forward to considering either the red or cool blue version with manual. Ain’t. Gonna. Happen.

    • 0 avatar
      WheelMcCoy

      Mazda should have limited the manual to one or two unique colors *not* available in the higher trims. That would lend an aura of exclusivity and make being shut out of higher trim features sting a little less.

      We can only hope that Mazda is targeting the fat part of the market first and will get to us manual drivers eventually.

  • avatar
    pb35

    In the thumbnail on the main page it looks like a little, tiny XC60. I was hoping that’s what CUV it was. Nice review, Jack. The 5 is ok but this one’s not for me. I previously owned a 6 Sport Wagon with a 5 speed though so I understand the importance of the manual. The trans in the 6 wasn’t that great (well, I had clutch issues).

  • avatar
    stuki

    Anyone know what mileage could one expect from this one, if instead of loafing along EPA cycle style, one drove it almost everywhere as if one just stole it? Manual tranny, a tight chassis, 150 peak hp moving 3500lbs with driver, screams daily hooner like nothing since the vaunted hot hatches of 20 years ago. Stick a coffee can on it, and roll down the freeway in 3rd, looking for trouble…..

  • avatar
    DeeTee

    Inspired by recent repairs to my German marque and this review, I test drove a CX-5 Auto. The CX-5 is a very good package and I liked (and wanted to like) most of the car very much. I would have bought the thing on the spot if it only had an adequate engine.

    Unfortunately, it doesn’t.

    Note that my requirement is merely “adequate” acceleration. Not spectacular or mind-altering or or pavement shredding. I just wanted the thing to get out of it’s own way.

    Unfortunately, it can’t.

    Around town the car could keep up with traffic OK, but press the pedal anything more than a quarter of the way down and the transmission will kick down (which is fine) but the engine will rev so loudly that everyone inside the car is in no doubt that the driver wants to “go faster”. The engine is loud enough to interrupt a conversation. It is also loud enough to start one. (She said: “Why are you speeding?” He said: “I’m not speeding, dammit!!”)

    Get the thing on the freeway and the driving experience is horrible. Flatten the accelerator at 50 and the engine fairly screams while the view out the window appears to freeze like a old Windows 98 PC. The CX-5 is so slow it made a Chevy Cruze rental car that I drove to the lot feel quick. My guess is that the 0-60 time is around 10 seconds and the 50-70 time could be measured in aeons. (Speaking of which – why not publish a few of the more germane performance specs with this TTAC review? Is it because they are the kind of numbers that don’t support the general tone of the article? Can a great car also be a slow car?)

    If it’s the truth we’re seeking then I have to challenge the statement that this car is “fast enough”. How fast is it? Fast enough for what?

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      And thus why I prefer a stick. I want to give the go-pedal a gentle push without the kickdown of the transmission. Sometimes a car needs a little more gas to climb a hill without the drama of a shiftdown or needs a shift down without first pushing the go-pedal to the floor.

      And yes, a slow car can be a good car as long as you aren’t placing high priority on 0-60 times. That slowness probably needs to be offset with other positive qualities important to the owner – durability, cabin silence, or -insert favorite qualities here-.

  • avatar
    M.S. Smith

    There are quite a few cars out that are slower than the Mazda CX-5. Maybe you don’t find it fast enough for your tastes, but it certainly hangs with 4-cylinder cars without specific performance intent. I suspect your feeling that it is slow compared to the Cruze is simply that – a feeling.

    I don’t know about the automatic, but the manual is a hoot. Finally, a cheap car with a manual that isn’t terribly geared! You’re not going to be winning drag races but otherwise, if you need more power, downshift.


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