The Mazda CX-5 is a brand new CUV set to go on sale in February 2012, replacing the Mazda Tribute and competing in a very hot segment.
To differentiate the CX-5 from the competition, Mazda gave it distinctive styling – the first production car to employ the company's new Kodo design language – and focused immensely on driving experience at every step of the engineering process. Mazda has long prided itself on making fun cars and has maintained that its current production cars are derived from the Miata – one of the most loved cars in the industry.
The CX-5 wasn't designed to be a sports car, however. It was designed to be a daily driver for working professionals, stay-at-home moms and dads and everything in between. This means that it had to come with a certain amount of versatility, interior space and competitive fuel economy.
Mazda gave me the opportunity to drive the CX-5 through the undulating and windy roads of Angeles National Forest. Does the CX-5 do enough to stand out from the rest of the segment and could Mazda keep its promise of a Miata-like vehicle in a much more versatile form? Let's find out.
Pricing has yet to be announced. The CX-5 will most likely start at under $20,000 and top out at $28,000-$30,000.
-2.0-liter I4 engine
-155-hp, 150 lb-ft of torque
-Six-speed automatic transmission
-26 mpg City/32 mpg Hwy
-65.4 cubic ft of cargo room
What's The Competition?
Jeep Patriot, Nissan Rogue, Ford Escape, Kia Sportage, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Chevrolet Equinox, Dodge Journey
What We Like
Michael: This car is all Mazda. The engineers made it perfectly clear that they wanted the CX-5 to offer a Mazda Miata-like driving experience (AKA fun and exhilarating), and they certainly succeeded. While the car doesn't have very much power, it's handling and overall driving dynamics make it an absolute blast on the road. Some consumers may find the tight suspension and ultra-crisp steering a little bit much for the daily commute, but for those of you looking for an inspired driving experience in a crossover, look no further than this little beauty.
Autoblog: Fuel economy is a huge win for the Skyactiv powertrain, with manual-equipped CX-5 models expected to deliver a best-in-class 33 miles per gallon on the highway and 26 mpg in the city. Adding the automatic transmission drops the highway number to 32 mpg, and equipping the CX-5 with all-wheel drive reduces overall economy to 25/30 mpg.
What We Don't Like
Michael: Infotainment feels clunky and unrefined. While I didn't really spend enough time in the CX-5 to properly assess its infotainment functionality, there's no question that its appearance is a blemish on what is one of the best looking cars in its class. Seriously, the graphics are pretty terrible. Mazda nailed almost everything from a design standpoint except for this and it really sticks out. The good news is that Mazda is aware of the problem and has a new infotainment system in the works.
Autoblog: The CX-5's interior is much nicer than what's currently offered in the rest of Mazda's lineup, though that isn't exactly a huge compliment. A wealth of soft-touch materials has been added to the dash and door panels, and the interior build quality feels solid, but there just isn't anything particularly special about the cockpit of the CX-5. It doesn't wow us in the way that the Kia Sportage does, and as soon as the Escape launches with its revised MyFord Touch, the infotainment in the CX-5 – or lack thereof – will be downright embarrassing.
So is the CX-5 the combination of versatility and inspired driving that we've been looking for? It's pretty close.
The CX-5 is, unquestionably, a driver's car. The steering and suspension are fantastic and, while the engine may be a little starved for power, the other dynamics more than make up for it.
Consumers looking for something a little plusher, however, will want to look elsewhere. The interior doesn't really live up to that of some of its competitors and the infotainment is lagging way behind behind. Those of you that prefer comfort over ride are going to want to shop the competition a little bit.
But, if you're like many of us and the thought of having to forgo a Miata (or other sports car) for something bigger and considerably less fun, due to a growing family, weather restrictions or any other number of factors makes your stomach turn, the CX-5 may just be your saving grace.
AOL Autos Score: