Test Drives: 2014 Mazda CX-5 and Mazda6

Published April 12, 2013

| FoxNews.com

Mazda is midway through its rebirth as an independent automaker and has a pair of all-new versions of its high volume midsize players in showrooms that are as similar as they are different.

2014 Mazda CX-5

When it comes to cars, more power fixes everything. At least that’s what I’ve been told.

But exactly how much power are we talking about here?

In the case of the Mazda CX-5: exactly 29 horsepower.

That’s how many more ponies the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine now available in the 2014 model offers than the 155 hp 2.0-liter mill that the midsize crossover launched with last year.

Launched, I’ll add, to largely glowing reviews thanks to its mix of excellent driving dynamics, eye catching style, well-appointed interior and value, but universally with the caveat that it can feel a little pokey at times.

The tradeoff was best in class fuel economy; up to 35 mpg on the highway. But critics have to find something to complain about, and this was an easy target.

They’ll have to find a new one.

With pretty much exactly the same output the engines in all of its competitors have, the new motor is more than potent enough to toss the relatively lithe CX-5 through its daily chores while delivering an impressive 32 mpg in front-wheel drive versions. The engine is standard on the midlevel $25,410 CX-5 Touring and top of the line Grand Touring models and only comes with an automatic transmission. The 2.0-liter is still offered in the entry-level CX-5 Sport, with manual transmission models starting at $21,990.

I took my family of four on a 500-mile round trip to Vermont in a loaded (both with options and luggage) all-wheel-drive model, rated at 30 mpg highway, and it never felt wanting. Even the proverbial uphill pass of the tractor trailer was executed without fuss on several occasions.

No, I still wouldn’t have wanted to try that with a snowmobile-laden trailer hitched up to the back, but the CX-5 does have a tow rating of 2,000 pounds, so feel free to give it a shot.

Unfortunately, with the potency issue out of the way, being the critic that I am I did manage to find something else to complain about. The CX-5 is a little noisy. Not the engine, which plays a smooth and pleasing mechanical note worthy of Mazda’s sporting heritage, but the wind and road roar.

It doesn’t really kick in until you hit about 60 mph, but when it does you’ll find yourself speaking as loudly as someone with a busted Miracle Ear and turning up the volume on the thankfully excellent Bose audio system to compensate.

All is quickly forgotten, however, when the road narrows to two lanes and starts twisting into the mountains. The CX-5 does as good an approximation of a sports car as anything that qualifies as a “cute ute” has a right too. At 50 mph serpentining uphill toward the base lodge it is absolute bliss.

As for the noise, perhaps they can hold the power next year and add a little stuffing instead.

For now, I’ll just crank the tunes and head for the hills.

 

2014 Mazda6

If you stepped on a clay model of the CX-5 it might end up looking like the all-new 2014 Mazda6.

The sedan features the same sort of styling as its crossover cousin, but with steelier eyes, more sinewy lines, a much lower roof line, and, of course, a trunk. It’s one of the most aerodynamic cars in the world, and all of its curves and creases really do look like they were shaped by the wind. In the midsize class, only the Ford Fusion comes close to it in the category of head-turning ability, but the sleeker Mazda is definitely the sexier of the two.

The family resemblance continues inside the cabin where the Mazda6 exhibits the same BMW-esque design as the CX-5, with just a few tweaks. The small lip added to the top of the dashboard face is a particularly simple, but effective touch. Overall, it’s a surprisingly elegant effort that perfectly fits Mazda’s sporty stereotype, especially in top-level trims with red contrast stitching on the upholstery.

Between the pronounced fenders of the $21,975 Mazda6, you’ll find that 2.5-liter four-cylinder from the CX-5 and either a six-speed manual transmission, or an innovative six-speed automatic that features a small torque converter that operates only up to 5 mph before switching to a locking clutch for efficiency. It’s is a best of both worlds solution meant to provide smooth launches and quick, clean shifts on the move. The result is a highway rating of 38 mpg, which ties the Nissan Altima and its occasionally annoying CVT for best in class fuel economy.

Although no more powerful than any of its competitors, the Mazda6 feels decidedly light on its feet, has a perfectly tuned ride and handles like a dream. There’s absolutely no slop in the steering, or the transmission, and both provide satisfyingly direct responses.

Nevertheless, for a driver-oriented car, the Mazda6 has an abundance of high-tech assists on the options list. In addition to blind spot monitoring, radar cruise control, and forward obstruction and rear cross traffic alerts, there is a so-called Smart City Braking System that uses a windshield-mounted laser to monitor traffic ahead, and can autonomously hit the brakes at speeds between 3 mph and 18 mph if you’re about to rear end someone and aren’t doing anything about it. I experienced it working a few times in midtown Manhattan and, based on the absence of any damage to the car’s kissy-face grille, it seems to work pretty well.

Unfortunately, it seems this rush to out-gizmo the competition distracted Mazda to the point that it overlooked the same noise issue that plagues the CX-5. It’s not terrible, but compared to the bank vault-like quietude provided by the Ford Fusion and some others in the segment today, the Mazda6 is an outdoor ATM.

Maybe that “more power” thing can come to the rescue?

Well, it turns out there is some extra oomph on the way. Two different kinds, in fact.

First up in a couple of months is Mazda’s unique i-ELOOP brake energy recovery system, which uses an alternator that generates electricity primarily when the car is slowing down and stores it in compact, quick-charging ultracapacitors. There’s no hybrid-style electric motor to drive the car, but i-ELOOP can power all of the vehicle’s electronic systems, and Mazda estimates that it may be good for a 10 percent improvement in fuel economy when combined with the stop-start system for the gas motor that comes with it.

Later, a new 2.2-liter diesel engine will be added to the mix that Mazda says will deliver the performance of a 4.0-liter V8 gasoline engine -- I’m guessing they mean gobs of tire-burning torque -- and exceptional fuel economy for a midsize car. Figure well over 40 mpg. Mazda being Mazda, it’s already using a version of it in a Mazda6 Grand Am racing car to prove its Zoom-Zoom chops.

As for the current gasoline-powered street-legal model, it’s all the proof you need.

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2014 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD

Base Price: $29,665

Type: 5-door, 5-passenger crossover

Engine: 2.5-liter 4-cylinder

Power: 184 hp, 185 lb-ft torque

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

MPG: 24 city/30 hwy

 

2014 Mazda6

Base Price: $21,975

As Tested: $31,190

Type: 4-door, 5-passenger sedan

Engine: 2.5-liter 4-cylinder

Power: 184 hp, 185 lb-ft torque

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

MPG: 26 city/38 hwy

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