RICK KRANZ

CX-5 will give Mazda a strong player in crossover race

Rick Kranz is product editor for Automotive News.

LOS ANGELES -- While Ford and Honda duke it out for crossover supremacy, Mazda just wants a bigger piece of the action.

And it will likely get it when the 2013 CX-5 goes on sale in February.

Over the years, Honda’s CR-V has been the top-selling compact crossover in the United States. This year, because of production constraints after the March earthquake in Japan, the Escape is on top. Both Ford and Honda chose the Los Angeles Auto Show to showcase redesigns today.

The CX-5, meanwhile, is making its North American debut here.

Mazda is sending several messages with the CX-5, which will replace the Tribute and CX-7 in the United States.

First, this isn’t a rebadged Ford -- unlike the Tribute, which has been an Escape clone since 1999. The CX-5 vehicle platform, engine and transmission are all Mazda. And it has a genuine sporty ride, if my 100 miles on winding California highways this week are any indication.

Second, there’s a big jump in fuel economy. Though final numbers aren’t out, Mazda expects the CX-5 with an automatic transmission to get 26 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway. That compares with to 18/24 mpg for the outgoing CX-7.

Third, this is the first application of Mazda’s Kodo design language, which Mazda describes as “soul of motion.” All future Mazda vehicles will share the styling cues. Mazda’s polarizing front end, derided as a “clown’s face” design, is gone.

Mazda sells about one CX-7/Tribute for every six Escapes peddled by Ford.

No one is expecting the CX-5 to knock the Escape and CR-V from their perches. While Mazda isn’t sharing sales projections, it can credibly say it has a worthy competitor in the mix.

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