Mazda's small crossover targets CR-V buyers
New competitor wants a piece of a growing -- but cutthroat -- segment
MONTEREY, Calif. -- The Mazda CX-5 compact crossover will try to fill the void when the larger CX-7 crossover disappears from Mazda's U.S. lineup this year.
Mazda developed the CX-5 to launch the company's next-generation engine, transmission, chassis and frame technologies, which Mazda refers to collectively as Skyactiv.
The basics: The CX-5's powertrain combines a direct injection, 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine with a six-speed automatic or manual transmission.
On the manual transmission, Mazda engineers say they wanted to emulate the short throws and crisp, tight feel of the MX-5 Miata's shifter.
Also debuting on the CX-5 is a new look that Mazda calls kodo, Japanese for "soul of motion."
Inside, Mazda dropped hard plastics cabins in favor of soft-touch dashboard materials. The center stack is accented by black and brushed aluminum trim pieces. Overall, the interior looks more refined than previous Mazda cabins.
The CX-5 is built in Hiroshima, Japan. Sales began in February.
Notable features: The 35-mpg highway rating for the CX-5 with manual transmission and front-wheel drive is the best of any crossover in the industry, including hybrids, Mazda says. Front-wheel-drive models with automatic transmissions get 32 mpg. All-wheel drive is optional.
Redesigning nearly every component involved in the combustion process allowed engineers to design an engine with a high 13:1 compression ratio while using regular 87-octane gasoline.
Clever interior packaging gives the CX-5 more passenger volume, cargo space and rear legroom than the CX-7, despite a shorter wheelbase, length and width.
What Mazda says: Market reception to the CX-7 was hampered by its large size, premium pricing and turbo-only engine at launch.
"That put us at too many disadvantages to be successful. We'll launch the CX-5 in the heart of the market of the [Toyota] RAV4 and [Honda] CR-V, at a price where we think we can deliver volume," said Robert Davis, senior vice president of Mazda's U.S. operations group.
Shortcomings and compromises: The CX-5 could have had even better power and fuel economy had Mazda tuned the engine to the 14:1 compression ratio of the Euro-spec CX-5. But U.S. consumers prefer 87-octane regular gasoline, not the 91-octane fuel that's standard in Europe.
The market: The CX-5 will face off against the CR-V, Ford Escape and RAV4 in the compact crossover segment, which Mazda says will grow to 1.6 million units by 2016, from 1.3 million today in the United States. Davis said Mazda hopes to sell 50,000 CX-5s this year. For comparison, Honda sold 218,373 CR-Vs in the United States last year.
The skinny: Good driving dynamics, high mpg, new looks and a starting price below $22,000 should give the CX-5 a fighting chance in a tough segment.
You can reach Ryan Beene at firstname.lastname@example.org. -- Follow Ryan on