A scheduling conflict led me to be booked into a 2013 Mazda CX-5 SkyACTIV. With Jack and Brendan having already driven the car, I’ll spare you all yet another review discussing Mazda’s latest crossover. But a week in the CX-5 raised an interesting question; when are automatics better than a stick shift, even if it’s a vehicle that (arguably) has some appeal as a driver’s car?
The Mazda3 SkyACTIV, as well as the CX-5, both use Mazda’s newest SkyACTIV powertrain. As my review of the Mazda3 revealed, the SkyACTIV powertrain is better suited to the 6-speed automatic, even though the manual is a great gearbox. Driving the CX-5 confirmed this. The CX-5 seems to want to upshift to the highest gear ASAP, but when commuting, I don’t find it so bothersome. The transmission kicks down when needed, shifts are beautifully smooth, and the manual model enables nearly unfettered use of all six forward gears.
The SkyACTIV isn’t the only instance of a two-pedal gearbox being the one to get. The E60 M5 was famously set up to work best with the SMG gearbox. U.S. gearheads complained until BMW relented and offered a six-speed manual. It turned out that the stick shift was a poor choice for the car, no matter how much enthusiast cred it added. Most of the time, I’ll take a stick shift, even though I engage in a lot of stop-and-go driving. But my memory doesn’t extend far enough to remember the muscle car era, when an automatic was often preferred. Best and brightest, fill in the gaps in my knowledge. When is an automatic the gearbox of choice? Or am I just plain wrong?