Walter Mitty’s New Ride | 2014 Mazda CX-5

March 2014 View more

LR_2014-CX-5-(1)In “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (James Thurber’s 1939 original, not Ben Stiller’s recent big-screen re-imagination), Walter’s daydream has him commanding a hurtling eight-engined Navy hydroplane through a terrible storm. “Throw on the power lights! Rev her up to 8,500! We’re going through!” barks the commander.

Just before the crew gets the hydroplane really moving, Walter’s wife jolts him out of his reverie—and back into their hurtling one-engine sedan—with a stern reprimand: “Not so fast! You’re driving too fast!”

Mazda’s redesigned CX-5 crossover is no hydroplane, but slip behind the wheel and it takes only a bit of Walter’s imagination to believe that you are piloting a sporty two-seater rather than a five-seat compact SUV. Well, at least until someone in the back seat shouts, “Not so fast around the corners! You’re taking the curves too fast!”

2014 CX-5 (2)This is a family-sized vehicle that rewards the driver without inflicting a harsh ride on the passengers. Well balanced and with surprisingly responsive steering, the CX-5 has a taut suspension and agile reflexes.

Available with one of two non-turbocharged four-cylinder engines, the CX-5 does demand a trade-off between the visceral joy of straight-line acceleration and the more refined pleasure of precision. Both engines deliver plenty of thrust, and the larger engine feels quick off the line, but there are faster rides out there. To sweeten the deal, however, the CX-5 delivers outstanding fuel economy figures for its class—as much as 26 miles per gallon in stop-and-go city driving and an estimated 35 mpg on the highway.

If these numbers sound hard to believe—perhaps a bit of Walter Mitty-esque imagination—rest assured, Mazda’s marketers are fully in the here and now. As Mazda’s website trumpets, the CX-5 has the best highway MPG of any SUV in America including hybrids.

Credit for this feat goes to Mazda’s suite of fuel-saving technologies, which it collectively calls “Skyactiv.” From regenerative brakes, like the type you would find on a hybrid, to lightweight materials in the body, the Skyactiv bundle is an overall approach to fuel savings rather than a single feature. The company plans to take the same approach to all of its vehicles over the coming years.

Like most car companies, Mazda is also taking a unified approach to styling its vehicles and its design department has found its groove this year. Like Mazda’s new sedans, the CX-5 looks like a vehicle that costs much more than it does. Its swoopy lines offer a visual contrast to many of its competitors, including one of the perennial favorites in this category, Honda’s CR-V, which is virtually identical to the CX-5 in every dimension.2014 CX-5 (25)

Inside, the CX-5 is all Mazda. Controls are well placed, seats are comfortable, and sight lines are first rate. The split-folding rear seats mean that the CX-5 can accommodate extra-long packages along with or instead of extra passengers.

Starting price for the 2014 Mazda CX-5 is $21,395. That gets you the Sport model with a 155-horsepower engine, front-wheel drive and a six-speed manual transmission. If you are committed to shifting your own gears, go no further: The other CX-5 trim levels come only with a six-speed automatic paired to a larger, 184-horsepower engine. The automatic is an option on front-wheel-drive Sport model, and all-wheel drive is an option on all three models. Prices for front-wheel-drive versions rise to $24,815 for the CX-5 Touring and $27,820 for the CX-5 Grand Touring.

No matter which version you pick, drive with confidence: The CX-5 is a Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.