The all-new sporty 2013 Mazda CX-5 crossover has carlike handling, roominess but average performance

Mazda long has been known for sporty vehicles, and its all-new 2013 CX-5 compact crossover is no exception, with swoopy styling and carlike handling.

However, the CX-5 has just average acceleration because it only has a 2-liter four-cylinder engine with 155-horsepower and weighs approximately 3,500 pounds. It’s no slug, but is designed more for comfort and convenience than 0-60 mph times.

For instance, the automatic transmission shifts smoothly, but with no great urgency. It’s tuned more for the best fuel economy—rather than outright performance.

The CX-5 is in a tough compact crossover league, with rivals such as the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and Ford Escape. But, although its vehicles are less promoted than those of competitors, Mazda has been around a long time, and sales have increased in 2012. The CX-5 promises to further boost sales.

The solidly built CX-5 comes with front- or all-wheel drive. It’s priced from $20,695 to $28,295 and is sold in base Sport, mid-range Touring and top-line Grand Touring versions.

All are fairly well-equipped. Even the base model has items such as air conditioning, AM/FM/CD sound system, keyless entry, adjustable steering wheel with audio controls, power windows and mirrors and automatic headlights. It’s sleek body also has a rear spoiler and chromed dual exhaust pipe tips that add to its sporty flair.

The Touring adds a power driver’s seat and back-up camera, while the Grand Touring adds a premium sound system, leather seats, multizone automatic air conditioning, 19-inch wheels and a sunroof. I tested the all-wheel-drive Grand Touring with an automatic transmission.

Option packages contain desirable items, including a premium sound system and navigation system.

Mazda’s rather awkwardly spelled Skyactiv technologies reduce fuel consumption using such things as a higher compression ratio, direct injection and an efficient six-speed automatic transmission. Mazda says Skyactiv pairs above-average fuel economy with driving fun.

The CX-5 with a six-speed manual transmission is only offered for the base front-drive model. That one provides an impressive, estimated 26 mpg in the city and 35 on highways.

Figures with front-drive and the automatic are 26 and 32. With AWD and the automatic, they’re 25 and 31. Only regular-grade fuel is needed.

Fuel economy consequently is a strong point. The CX-5’s estimated combined city and highway economy of 29 mpg with front-drive models and 28 mpg with all-wheel-drive versions are best-in-class, when compared to non-hybrid rivals.

The interior is roomy, although the stiff center of the rear seat is best left to the large fold-down armrest with dual cupholders. Also, rear-door openings are rather narrow. It takes a little extra effort to get in or out of the front or rear, and my average-weight, lively mid-size dog had to be lifted to be put in the rear seat. But occupants sit high with a good view of surroundings.

The CX-5’s direct-injection engine kicks out 150 pound-feet of torque and becomes noisy when the accelerator is floored. It responds quickly, but needs lots of revs for the best performance. The automatic has an easily used manual-shift feature, but no CX-5 with the manual gearbox was available for testing.

The interior was quiet, except for engine noise during hard acceleration and wind noise at highway speeds. Doors have oversized outside handles for quick entry, and outside rearview mirrors are large. Those on the Grand Touring are heated.

Gauges can be quickly read, and controls are conveniently located and easy to use. Front seats are supportive for spirited driving, and cupholders are nicely placed on the console to avoid spills. There are a good number of storage areas.

The wide hatch has a rather high opening and calls for extra muscle to close it. However, cargo room is good—and is impressive when the split rear seatbacks are flipped forward.

Driving dynamics make the CS-5 generally fun to drive. The electric power steering is quick, and handling is taut with the all-independent suspension and front/rear stabilizer bars. The suspension provides a supple ride, but bad bumps can be heard and felt through the seats. The all-disc anti-lock brakes with a brake-assist feature stop the CX-5 with authority.

The heavy hood is held open with a prop rod, instead of hydraulic struts. It opens to reveal a neatly designed engine compartment.

Those not looking for sizzling acceleration should consider the CX-5. It provides a good blend of sporty styling, comfort, carlike handling and solid fuel economy.

Prices: $20,695-$28,295

On the recommendation scale of:

Buy it

– Lease it

– Rent it or

-Forget it

I recommend that you Buy It!

Dan Dan Jedlicka joined the Chicago Sun-Times in February 1968 as a business news reporter and was named auto editor later that year. He has reviewed more than 4,000 new vehicles for the Sun-Times–far more than any newspaper auto writer in the country. Jedlicka also reviewed vehicles for Microsoft Corp.’s MSN Autos Internet site from January, 1996, to June, 2008. For more of Dan’s thoughtful and insightful reviews please visit his web site HERE.