Car Tips

Mazda enters compact crossover SUV segment with CX-5

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Mazda is jumping into the compact crossover SUV segment with its new CX-5.

This is their first real effort at doing one. Their previous entry, the Tribute, was just a clone of the Ford Escape.

The CX-5 is a clean-sheet design with sculpted sides, and the first fully-integrated use of Mazda's engine system called Skyactiv. It provides good fuel economy without the expense of a hybrid, up to 35 mpg on the highway depending on configuration.

This is a segment exploding in popularity, led by Honda's CR-V, routinely the sales leader and the benchmark many other brands tend to shoot for.

Many buyers today want some utility along with good fuel economy. Mazda's plan is to appeal to the enthusiast driver by making the CX-5 a sporty offering. The Skyactiv engine only offers up 155 horsepower, about 30 less than Honda for example.

But power isn't everything. Mazda dialed in some nice road manners too.

With a lot of people wanting small crossover SUVs in this segment, there's sales potential for Mazda. But the carmaker is also counting on consumers who didn't know they want a small crossover, had a sporty sedan or a sports car, but now they need something bigger.

Mazda has a lot of loyal customers who might have something like the Mazda 3 compact, or perhaps a Miata two-seater. When those owners' lifestyles change, they can keep their sportiness and stay in the Mazda fold. A six-speed manual gearbox as standard on the sport model should help keep many of them there. Not just a manual, but one with the action of a sports car gearshift.

There are other sporty small crossovers, but you have to go a little upscale for those. Audi's Q5 is a nicely-sized choice, and now its newly available with four cylinder power in the interest of fuel economy.

For those with more modest budgets, the Mazda is the sporty choice. Sure, it's a bit down on power for the sake of miles per gallon, but having fun behind the wheel doesn't necessarily mean going really fast. Sometimes it's about going really well.

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