Call a doctor. The "zoom-zoom" brand has suffered a zoom-ectomy. The 2013 Mazda CX-5 crossover SUV achieves outstanding fuel economy, but at the cost of the sporty performance that defined Mazda for years. It is, at best, a one-zoom vehicle.
The CX-5 showcases a suite of fuel-saving features Mazda calls Skyactiv. They work, but the stylish crossover needs an injection of the spirited character that is the main reason people buy Mazdas.
The 2013 CX-5 five-passenger crossover SUV replaces the larger and peppier CX-7 in Mazda's lineup. It competes with models like the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Nissan Rogue, Toyota RAV4 and Volkswagen Tiguan.
For years, the best Mazdas - the CX-7, MX-5 Miata convertible and 3 compact - had an adrenaline-rush, go-fast character that distinguished them from duller models sold by bigger brands.
If Chevys, Fords and Toyotas made you drowsy, Mazda had just what the doctor ordered. Despite terrific steering and handling, the CX-5's anemic acceleration betrays that heritage. Poor voice-recognition also reduced the appeal of the SUV I tested.
Prices for the CX-5 start at $20,995 for a front-wheel drive model with a six-speed manual transmission. The manual is only available on the base model. Other CX-5s get a six-speed automatic.
All CX-5s use a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque.
Moving up to a front-drive CX-5 with an automatic transmission raises the tab to $22,395. All-wheel drive CX-5s start at $23,645.
The top model is the Grand Touring, which comes with standard features that include blind-spot alert, Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio compatibility and leather upholstery.
Prices for the CX-5 Grand Touring start at $27,345 for front- and $28,595 for all-wheel drive.
I tested an all-wheel drive CX-5 Grand Touring with a navigation system and other options. It cost $29,620. All prices exclude destination charges.
CX-5 prices are in the midrange of similarly equipped small SUVs.
The CX-5 has a roomy interior, attractive new styling and the best fuel efficiency in its segment.
The interior has more passenger space than all the competitors but the RAV4. The luggage compartment has more space behind the rear seat than the Equinox, CR-V, Tucson, Rogue and Tiguan.
The front seat has useful bins and cubbies to store sunglasses, phones, etc. The controls are legible and easy to use.
The CX-5's voice-recognition system only works with phones, unlike competitive systems that control navigation systems and other features.
I found it frustratingly inconsistent. It responded to every fifth or sixth command - just often enough to fuel false hope and encourage me to try it again, rather than abandoning it to select numbers and contacts manually.
Mazda concentrated its technical resources on reducing the CX-5's weight and tuning its engine and transmission for maximum fuel economy. It succeeded, but at a cost.
The front-drive CX-5 manual scored an impressive 26 mpg in the city, 35 on the highway and 29 combined in EPA tests. A front-drive automatic scored 26 city, 32 highway and 29 combined.
All-wheel drive CX-5s - available only with the automatic transmission - rate 25 mpg in the city, 31 on the highway and 28 combined.
None of the competitors equal that. The EPA estimates an AWD CX-5's savings at the pump to be $250 to $600 a year, at current gasoline prices.
Mazda achieved this with a new four-cylinder engine, new transmissions and a lightweight structure.
The CX-5 I tested weighed less than any comparably equipped competitor. The CX-5's 2.0-liter engine runs at an unusually high compression ratio to reduce fuel consumption, and the automatic transmission has less slip than most competitors'.
Mazda developed the Skyactiv suite of features because it lacks the resources to create fuel-efficient hybrids, like larger automakers.
It's exceptionally good at chassis, engine and transmission development, so it concentrated on that. Mazda's previous hybrid, the Tribute SUV, was developed and built by Ford, which used to control Mazda.
Despite the CX-5's light weight and aggressive transmission lockup, its engine struggles. Acceleration is a chore, particularly at highway speed.
Their smaller size notwithstanding, I found myself wishing for a torquier little engine like Dodge and Chevrolet's turbocharged 1.4-liter or Ford's direct-injected turbo 1.6-liter every time I needed to pass or scoot into a gap in traffic.
The CX-5's dynamics are among the best in the segment. The steering is responsive and provides good feedback.
The brakes are firm and powerful, and the chassis holds drives and remains composed in enthusiastic driving.
The CX-5 is quiet at highway speed, with little road or wind noise.
The fine chassis and transmission give a strong foundation for Mazda's new technical prescription. A performance-enhancing zoom-transplant for the engine and improved voice recognition may cure the 2013 CX-5's remaining ills.