The sure-footed Mazda CX-5

Driving home from a Christmas party one snowy Saturday night, my girlfriend and I approached a traffic light at the bottom of a valley. The light turned green as we approached, but I still had to brake since the upward slope past the light made the vehicles in front of me spin their wheels.

I slowly slalomed through a few of them, then accelerated up the slope. My own car might not have handled the slope so easily, but winter tires and an optional all-wheel drive system on the 2014 Mazda CX-5 I was driving that week made short work of this hill. (I’m sure the traction control and dynamic stability control, both standard on the CX-5, had something to do with my confident ascent.)

The CX-5 before the snow hit town.

The CX-5 before snow hit Toronto.

A capable hauler, the sky blue mica CX-5 GS AWD model I borrowed from Mazda Canada sits in that ever-more-ambiguous category known as the compact SUV, or “sport-cute.” It shares the I-mean-business vertical front grill with its cousins, the Mazda3 and Mazda6, before ceding to a more conventional sport-cute cabin and rear end.

The four-cylinder 2.5L SKYACTIV-G motor transmits 184 horsepower at 5,700 RPM through the SKYACTIV-Drive 6-speed automatic transmission. An available 2-litre engine generates 155 horsepower at 6,000 rpm.

Given its size and weight, I didn’t expect the CX-5 to reward my frugal driving style with the same fuel economy as the Mazda6 did a few weeks earlier, although I did manage to get the computer readout to display a current consumption estimate of 0 litres per 100 kilometers a few times while the CX-5 was in motion and the tachometer showed at least 1,000 revs.

That sounded odd to me, too, when I first saw it happen on the 6. Mazda techies explained that, in certain circumstances, the SKYACTIV system cuts the flow of fuel to the engine while you’re moving. The rev count remains because, thanks to the vehicle’s forward momentum, the driveline drives the engine, instead of the other way around. It may sound backwards, but it works.

Mazda also beefed up its safety technology. Its Smart City Brake Support (SCBS) helps drivers avoid low-speed collisions thanks to a laser sensor mounted in front of the rear-view mirror. Once the system “sees” something sizeable ahead, it brakes and cuts engine output. Ideally, the SCBS keeps the CX-5’s front bumper from getting intimate with the obstacle ahead, but it at least strives to keep unintended contact to a minimum.

Should the driver mistakenly slam the accelerator when the SCBS senses trouble ahead, it mitigates any unintentional acceleration as well.

Mazda builds in other safety features. My favorite is still the beep it emits when I use the turn signal and there’s a vehicle or other sizable object in my blind spot on that side of the CX-5. This Blind Spot Monitoring System complements the warning lights embedded into the side-view mirrors. I didn’t trust the system exclusively (old habits die hard), but it worked well whenever I tested it.

Few surprises emerged in the driver’s seat. A comfortable, practical interior showed all the controls where they need to be. Oddly, the heating system didn’t perform as quickly as I expected, but given the deep freeze I drove through during my week with the CX-5 I can overlook that shortcoming. Thankfully, the heated seats did their jobs very quickly.

The driver's seat

The driver’s seat. Photo courtesy Mazda Canada

The automatic transmission’s sport mode confirmed that the six gears were set pretty close together. This gearing keeps the engine revving close to its optimal output for fuel efficiency while sending enough power to all four wheels to cruise at legal highway speeds.

Here’s what 966 liters of trunk capacity looks like. I lowered the slim centre part of the spacious rear seat to let my sticks lie flat under the hockey bag. Put all the segments down and cargo capacity rises to 1,852 litres. (The bottle of windshield washer fluid was Mazda’s thoughtful touch.)

The hockey bag test, never in doubt.

The hockey bag test, never in doubt.

My one minor complaint happened at the end of the aforementioned trip home from the Christmas party. Backing in to my girlfriend’s driveway, the rear-view camera showed very little through the snow caked onto its lens. But the CX-5 backed easily into a narrow, sloped, snow-covered parking space, going where I directed it with nary a spun wheel. Quiet, sensible performance was the theme of my week with Mazda’s CX-5, and I figure that’s what it will provide its buyers.

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