2012 Mazda CX-5 Review

April 10, 2012
2012 Mazda CX-5
2012 Mazda CX-5 MazdaCX5_front Mazda_CX5_rear Mazda_CX5_sideview
Cargo Capacity
Passenger Count
Off-Road Capability
Power & Handling

The Good

  • Fun 5-speed manual transmission.
  • EPA-rated 35 mpg hwy.
  • Killer value.

The Bad

  • Small 2-liter engine.
  • Budget interior.
  • No AWD option at the price.

Forget hybrids or diesels; Mazda’s new hyper-efficient SkyActiv 4-cyl engine catapults the CX-5 to the top of the value heap.


In the full week that I drove the CX-5, I don’t think I stopped smiling. My grin started when I saw that the Mazda was spec’d with a 6-speed manual transmission—a rarity in cardom these days. Even better, the SUV’s gearshift felt lifted from a sports car, not a sedan or truck.  

Fuel Economy
Then I got on the highway for an 80-mile round-trip errand to Boulder. That’s when I watched my mpg’s climb north of 34; an amazing number usually reserved for hybrids, small economy sedans, or diesel cars. That I was driving a compact SUV with 8.5-inches of ground clearance and vast amounts of cargo room blew me away.

Overall, I clocked 194 miles in the CX-5 for the week and averaged 30.3 mpg. For some perspective, consider this: The sweet, but much smaller, Honda Fit 5-door hatchback has an EPA average mpg of 29.

Granted, the 155-hp engine wasn’t winning any drag races, and I had to really work the transmission and rev the rpm’s to near redline to get the car moving fast enough to pass anyone while driving up I-70’s Floyd Hill west of Denver. But for trolling around city streets, the 150-lb feet of torque, combined with the manual transmission, was a ton of fun. The CX-5 can scoot. It’s just that at interstate speeds and on hill climbs the engine shows its weakness. It doesn’t have the extra 100-odd hp to propel you past anything you want, whenever you want.

Another downer is the lack of AWD, but consider the trade-off: The vehicle costs nearly $3k more with AWD, and the extra weight lops 3 mpg off the vehicle’s fuel efficiency (and worse—at least in my book—the AWD option does away with the manual trannie). However, I would wager that a good set of snow tires would enable the FWD CX-5 to do a fine job getting me to the ski hill on a powder day; one benefit of its low power number is that it’s less likely to spin its wheels. And like nearly every car these days, the CX-5 comes with stability control and traction control, which can help keep it from sliding off an icy road.

Budget Interior
While the engine and transmission was top shelf, Mazda spec’d out the inside with base-model cloth seats and a bare-bones stereo. There wasn’t a navigation system (or even space for one) in the dash. No heated seats either. No Bluetooth connectivity for a smartphone. Still, for nearly $21k, I found that the vehicle has everything I needed to get from point A to B.

But that doesn’t mean that the interior wasn’t incredibly functional and vast. The rear seats will accommodate 3 adults. When I folded the seats down, the rear cargo area grew large enough for me to easily slide a 22-inch 29er mountain bike and a 20-inch commuter rig into the back.

For the money, this was the best SUV that I’ve ever tested, and thanks to the stick shift, one of the most fun to drive. If you’re in the market for a new compact to mid-sized SUV, you owe it to yourself to test out this budget-minded ride and use it as a benchmark to see if the features and specs on SUVs costing thousands more are worth the money to you. If they’re not, go back to the Mazda.


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