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Mazda CX-5
Mazda CX-9

Mazda's CX-5 gets "Zoom-Zoom," while the CX-9 gets rhinoplasty

By Jim Bray
April 4, 2013

Call one an important upgrade, the other a minor update. And between them both, you have a couple of very nice SUV's.

The CX-5, Mazda's entry-level SUV, came out last year as the first of the company's "Skyactiv" vehicles, which are designed to up the gas mileage substantially while supposedly not minimizing the "Zoom-Zoom" for which the company is rightly famous.

It was handsome, pretty good to drive, and it did get better mileage than may have been traditional for a Mazda. But despite its plentiful goodness, I thought it was underpowered and therefore a disappointment.  And that was a surprise; I was a big fan of the turbocharged CX-7, which the CX-5 replaced, and I'm a big fan of Mazdas in general, exactly because of "Zoom-Zoom" – they're generally a lot of fun to drive.

But last year's CX-5 only came with Mazda's two liter Skyactiv engine, which is rated at 155 hp @ 6,000 rpm and 150 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4,000 rpm, and while it's a reasonable power plant in the Mazda3 Skyactiv, it just doesn't cut it in the heavier CX-5.  

My best friend agreed. He and his wife own a last generation Mazda3 they lovingly call "Zoom-Zoom" and when I took him out in the CX-5 to get his opinion, he said they'd removed the "Zoom-Zoom" and replaced it with "Snooze-Snooze." That was quite an indictment, made more in sadness than in anger.

Ah, but that was last year. The good news is that, for 2013, Mazda also offers a 2.5 liter Skyactive engine and it puts out 184 hp and 185 pound-feet of torque. It's a big enough leap to take the CX-5 from my "close but no cigar" list to near the top of my favorite vehicles in this niche list, where the CX-7 had sat before it.

Not a bad trick! Now, if you're competing with, say, the Volkswagen Tiguan and its 200 horses, the CX-5 still doesn't quite have the oomph – but it's competitive with other models in this niche, including the Honda CR-V (185/163 hp/torque), the Toyota Rav4 (176/172), Nissan Rogue (170/175), Hyundai Tuscon (176/168), and Ford Escape (168/170 from Ford's 2.5 liter four banger).

Yeah, I'd still like to see more oomph, in every one of these SUV's, but thank goodness this new CX-5 has had some of its "zoom" put back in again; it makes it so much nicer to drive. And that, as a Mazda fan, makes me very happy. Naturally, you won't get quite the gas mileage of the smaller engine, but Mazda claims the 2.5 Skyactiv still sips only 8.5/6.6 liters per 100 kilometres city/highway.  

Of course, it's not just the power that makes a Mazda fun, it's also the chassis, the suspension, stuff like that. And in those departments, the CX-5 has been okay from day one. So it's still tight, it still handles like a "Sport" utility vehicle, and it has a nice six speed automatic transmission with a manual mode – although it really should come with paddle shifters as well.

Mazda CX-5
Mazda CX-5

Skyactiv means more than just engines, though. It also means Mazda has been searching for weight reduction (well, who hasn't?) and it appears to have paid off. The company says the CX-5 GT with Mazda's Active Torque-Split All-Wheel Drive system, (which is what Mazda Canada supplied as its test vehicle) CX-5 weighs in at only 1,604 kg (3,536 lbs), which is also competitive. Yet even so, Mazda claims that all CX-5 models offer a 907 kg (2,000 lbs) of towing capacity.

Basic CX-5's ride on 17 or 18 inch wheels, but GT models get handsome, 19 inch aluminum alloys wearing P225/55R19 all-season tires. The larger size definitely looks cool.

The interior, not surprisingly, is driver-oriented. Everything is where it should be, including the intuitive and easy-to-read LCD on the center stack. Seats are comfortable and supportive (which is nice in the twisty bits) and the Bluetooth for phone and audio pairs easily and works well.

My test GT had the Technology package, which also included leather, an intelligent key system with push button start/stop (though I prefer the way the CX-9 does it), a power moonroof, blind spot monitoring system (that you can shut off!), fog lights, rain sensing wipers, a nice Bose audio system and dual zone air conditioning. The tech package added that Smart City Brake support system (new for 2013), adaptive bi-Xenon headlights, a navigation system and satellite radio capability.

That's a pretty good amount of stuff and it took the CX-5's price from the base $22,995 up to $35,045 – which I think is reasonable considering what you get.  

The only thing I'd like to see done with the CX-5 now is for Mazda to offer a turbo four or a V6 option for those who aren't concerned with kissing up to the in-the-process-of-being-debunked "climate change" religion and who like their "Zoom-Zoom" unadulterated. As it sits, though, the CX-5 is still a darn fine vehicle.

Big Brother…

If you want V6 performance from a Mazda SUV, then you're stuck with the CX-9. Not that you're really being "stuck" with a CX-9! I love the CX-9; it's bigger than I like, but it's a fine vehicle and it has gobs of "Zoom-Zoom."  

Mazda CX-9
Mazda CX-9
Mazda CX-9

The CX-5's big brother soldiers on without major changes for 2013 other than the new Mazda proboscis. The three-row, seven-passenger vehicle is available in two trim levels, GS and GT; Mazda Canada sent a lovely Meteor Grey Mica GT AWD for testing, one that tipped the fiscal scale at $47,250 (including the $2500 Navigation package with power tailgate). It's a heckuva vehicle that, thanks to Mazda's commitment to an entertaining drive, feels much smaller than it is when you're zipping around in it.

Don't get me wrong; the CX-9 is still a pretty large vehicle and that's particularly noticeable when you're parking it, but it's still a pretty intriguing ride despite its girth.

Powering the CX-9 is a nice 3.7 liter V6 Mazda rates at 273 horses and 270 torquelike thingies. It pulls very smoothly and moves this 2062 kilogram vehicle with about all the abandon one could want. Slap this power plant into the CX-5 and you'd have a (probably nose-heavy) drag strip screamer. And wouldn't that be fun?

The transmission is a six speed auto, with manual, and it works well, though there are no paddles offered here, either, and that's a darn shame. Paddles add a measure of control while letting you keep your hands on the steering wheel, and how can that be a bad thing?

Inside, the cabin is comfortable and appointed well. The front seats are heated, power-operated and very comfortable (though I would have liked to get the thigh portion a tad lower so I didn't have to put wooden blocks on the pedals…), the instrumentation is clean and clear and efficient – it's pretty much like a bigger CX-5.

One thing I'd have liked to see is more customization available for the owner. The CX-5, for example, lets you change the door lock defaults and activate the three blink lane change feature on the signal lights – but I couldn't do that in the CX-9. The dealer probably can, however.

The middle row holds three in a pinch, splits and folds 60/40, reclines and slides a bit, and even offers decent passage into and out of steerage class (the third row). The third row is about what you'd expect – okay for kids or short journeys but there won't be a lot of love expressed by people on a longer jaunt back there.

The GT trim level includes 20 inch alloy wheels, dynamic stability control, traction and roll stability control, an annoying (but, fortunately, shut-offable) blind spot monitor, automatic Xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights, smart key and keyless start/stop, rear view camera, rain sensing wipers, and more.

Also new for 2013 is a 5.8 inch LCD screen with rearview camera and a USB input. New standard equipment on the GT trim includes rear backup sensors, LED Daytime Running Lights, and outside mirrors that can tilt when you shift into reverse (part of the driver's memory function).

2013 CX-9's are also equipped with a brake override system that gives the brake priority over the accelerator, so if both are stepped upon simultaneously, the brakes will win out. No "unintended acceleration" issues here (not that there really was an issue, despite hype to the contrary).

The keyless start here continues Mazda's tradition of just sticking a key-like thing to twist on the steering column – where the key would go normally and acting just like the key. This might seem low tech and silly compared to a panel-mounted push button, it actually works really well and means you can still use the auxiliary setting (to listen to the radio while parked, for example) without having to go through "engine stop" first.

I really like the CX-9; it's one of my top choices for three row SUV's. Sure, it isn't as luxurious as some, but it's plenty luxurious, works well and does a really nice job of getting around thanks to its healthy dose of that famous "Zoom-Zoom."

Copyright 2013 Jim Bray

Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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