Like other players in the small utility game, Mazda has moved away from the boxy, small scale SUV look of the original crossovers to flowing lines similar to contemporary sedan styling. The shape and detailing is the first iteration of what Mazda calls its new kodo design language, reflecting the grace and power of animals such as the cheetah and hence a faster, forceful, and more soulful means of transportation, according to the publicity materials.
We confess we have trouble seeing a cheetah in the CX-5's shape, but the sculptured lines and pronounced wheel arches do lend a sense of motion and muscularity, even if the latter quality isn't entirely borne out by the new Mazda's acceleration. The body sculpting is especially noticeable in morning and evening light. The body tapers outward toward the bottom, lending a look of stability.
In addition to sleek good looks, the designers achieved excellent aerodynamic properties, with a drag coefficient of just 0.33, a figure that's better than a number of sedans, as well as top of the charts among vehicles in this class.
Good aero pays off in the fuel economy department, but also contributes to quiet operation. The CX-5 isn't entirely silent at freeway speeds, a little noise finds its way into the cabin via the suspension, but wind noise is essentially absent.
While the CX-5 will overlap with, and ultimately replace, the CX-7, and also offers a choice between front- or all-wheel drive, there is no commonality between the two vehicles.
Mazda points out that part of the Skactiv development focused on crashworthiness, and the company expects the CX-5 to perform well in crash testing.
The Mazda CX-5 has plenty of room for five adults, though the center rear seating position isn't someplace we'd care to occupy for more than an hour or so. Getting in and out is easy.
The front bucket seats are sportier and more supportive than most in this class. The chunky steering wheel feels good. The steering wheel is perfectly centered and tilts and telescopes. CX-5's forward sightlines are better than most. Big mirrors offer a good view rearward.
The center of the dashboard is dominated by a 5.8-inch touch screen, which displays the TomTom-based navigation system. The optional TomTom navigation seemed easier to use than many. The system includes voice recognition and real-time traffic info. The screen sits high on the dash, making it easy to read a glance.
CX-5 offers a substantial menu of telematics and infotainment, including Bluetooth and iPod connectivity, as well as a nine-speaker Bose audio system. HD radio is available. A USB/AUX connector is sequestered in the big center console storage bin, and there are typical small object nooks and cupholders fore and aft. Tap signals are provided for lane changes.
Interior materials are of high quality, with extensive use of soft-touch vinyl and very little hard plastic. Instruments and controls are nicely laid out, well marked, and easily employed, eliminating any real need for orientation at the dealer, computer crashes, or irritating owner's manual searches. It's a simple, straightforward cabin. Cubby storage is decent, with a large glovebox, big cupholders front and rear, rubber-lined door pockets, and arm rest bins.
The back seats are comfortable for two, with enough legroom to cross legs. Getting in and out is easy, with enough room to easily get feet past the B-pillar.
Cargo capacity is 34 cubic feet behind the rear seats, which expands to 65 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks all folded forward, a little less than the CR-V. The rear seats fold nearly flat but not perfectly flat. The rear seatbacks are split 40/20/40 on upper models, 70/30 on Sport, and can be folded forward separately, allowing a lot of flexibility between passengers and long cargoes. A remote release allows the center section to be easily flipped down for skis and such. The tonneau cover stays with the hatch when the hatch is raised.