At first glance, the 2013 Mazda CX-5's tall stance and high ground clearance makes the compact crossover seem suitable for light off-roading and inclement weather. While that may be true, Mazda claims the CX-5 will feel right at home as a canyon carver.

Mazda certainly believes in the CX-5's all-around capabilities. Our latest encounter with new compact crossover began at the famous Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, normally a playground for zoomier Mazdas like the MX-5 Miata, Mazdaspeed3, and the dearly departed RX-8. Launching a crossover at this technical track with its notorious Corkscrew? The idea is either insane, or insanely awesome.

It's not surprisingly that one of Mazda's top goals for the CX-5 was infusing it with an athletic character by employing a full suite of its new Skyactiv technologies, which Mazda bills as "optimized internal combustion and lightweight engineering." Thanks to generous use of high-strength steel and lighter components like Mazda's new Skyactiv transmissions, the CX-5 -- depending on drivetrain configuration -- is up to 575 pounds lighter than the outgoing CX-7, which is reportedly being discontinued in the U.S. but will live on in other markets.

Mazda's engineers also spent a lot of time on the CX-5's suspension and steering bits, an effort that largely paid off. Throughout our day at Mazda Raceway, the small crossover's helm felt nicely weighted at most speeds and the CX-5 maintained its composure in the turns, accepting mid-corner corrections with little drama. The all-wheel-drive model felt better than the front-driver. The six-speed automatic ain't bad, but the six-speed manual gearbox is near perfect, with a precise shifter and pedal placement tailor-made for heel-toe action. In case you forgot, we're talking about the CX-5 and not the MX-5. Zoom-zoom, indeed.

Once our time at the track was up, we grabbed a front-drive model with the six-speed automatic and headed home for some instrumented testing. The CX-5's Skyactiv-G (G is for gas) 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is rated at 150 hp and 155 lb-ft of torque and propelled our tester from 0-60 mph in 9.5 seconds. It reached a quarter mile in a leisurely 17.1 seconds at 81.8 mph -- not exactly zoomy. The CX-5 completed our figure-eight course in 28.5 seconds at 0.58 g -- also far from world-beating. But that number did best the new 2012 CR-V we recently tested, which had a 30 horsepower advantage and all-wheel-drive but was slower than the Mazda by 0.3 second.

Despite its pedestrian times, road test editor Carlos Lago was impressed with the CX-5's overall abilities. Although it has undefeatable stability control, Lago found the system allowed "quite a bit of horseplay before intruding. In fact, the CX-5 was pretty darn fun. I was able to carry quite a bit of speed during corner entry, and dropping the throttle produced impressive slip from the rear end." So while it's not the fastest compact crossover in the segment, Mazda is hoping buyers will appreciate the CX-5 for its overall driving experience, much like the MX-5's formula.

Owners can also take solace with its performance at the pump. The EPA estimates our tester should return 26 mpg city, 32 mpg highway, and 29 mpg combined. Our tester returned an average of 28 mpg during its short visit, which included a mix of everyday driving and at-the-limit testing. The Skyactiv engine features a number of fuel-sipping technologies, including direct injection and a sky-high compression ratio of 13:1 made possible by a new, less-restrictive exhaust manifold. Power is adequate for day-to-day driving, but you'll need to prepare for a downshift or two and some engine noise if you need to conquer any hills or overtake a big rig.

Despite the CX-5's sporty nature and our tester's standard 19-inch wheels, ride quality and road noise were surprisingly good. During casual city and highway jaunts, the cabin was quite quiet. Smaller 17-inchers are available on lower trims, though the bigger wheels do a better job of complementing the CX-5's sheetmetal, which showcases the brand's emerging Kodo (or Soul of Motion) design language. There are interesting lines from every angle and Mazda's controversial smiling grille has given way a snarkier face.

Inside, the simple and smartly laid-out interior has soft-touch surfaces where it counts and just enough metallic-looking accents to keep things interesting. Our range-topping CX-5 Grand Touring tester was stuffed with a long list of creature comforts, including black leather seats with contrasting red stitching, an element that probably should have been carried over onto the leather-wrapped steering wheel. The feature list includes an eight-way power driver seat, automatic dual zone climate control, Bose sound system, moonroof, and blind spot monitoring system. A $1325 tech package adds navigation, auto-leveling xenon lights, and an advanced keyless entry for a grand total of $29,165 including the $795 destination fee (AWD is $1250 more).

Bargain hunters and enthusiasts alike should be happy with the base front-drive, manual transmission-equipped Sport model, priced at $21,490. Standard features in all trim levels include a rear spoiler, ABS, and 60/40-split fold-down rear seats. Mazda made a big deal about standard push-button start, though drivers with short arms like yours truly will appreciate the tilting and telescopic steering column even more.

Engineers also worked some magic with interior space. With a wheelbase of 106.3 inches and overall length at 179.3 inches, the CX-5 exterior dimensions are 2 and 5 inches smaller than the CX-7's, respectively. Despite that, the CX-5's passenger room is almost identical to the CX-7, save for rear legroom, which is reduced by 3 inches. Even more impressive is the fact that the CX-5 gains cargo capacity over the CX-7, with 64.8 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down (0.4 less in sunroof models). And if Fido comes along for the ride, he'll have plenty of room, with 34.1 cubic feet of space available behind the rear seats. Sure, he'll have to jump higher to get into the CX-5, and he won't be able to stick his head out the window, but he's willing to make the sacrifice for the new family member. The family will miss its Mazda3, but the CX-5 should have just enough zoom-zoom to win them over.


2013 Mazda CX-5
BASE PRICE $21,490
PRICE AS TESTED $29,165
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 2.0L/155-hp/150-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3312 lb (58/42%)
WHEELBASE 106.3 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 178.7 x 72.4 x 65.7 in
0-60 MPH 9.5 sec
QUARTER MILE 17.1 sec @ 81.8 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 117 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.81 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 28.5 sec @ 0.58 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 26/32 mpg
ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY 130/105 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.68 lb/mile