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Car Report: 2015 Mazda CX-5 puts the sport in 'sport utility vehicle'

Monday - 6/9/2014, 4:54am  ET

The look is the first thing that strikes you about the Mazda CX-5. (WTOP/Mike Parris)
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WASHINGTON -- Automotive writers have been crazy for the latest Mazda CX-5, and I recently drove the $32,000 2015 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring to see whether it lives up to the hype.

The CX-5 was redesigned in 2013, and a more powerful optional engine added for 2014 spiced up the driving experience while keeping good gas mileage. Mazda is finally embracing the sporty brand and living up to its "zoom zoom" tag line. On top of that, the option of a manual transmission in some CX-5 models is pretty rare for an SUV.

The first thing you notice is the styling. It looks much more sporty than most small crossovers, and the large, stylish 19-inch wheels really help the Mazda stand out.

Mazda needed to have a great-looking crossover because this is a packed marketplace. On the outside, the 2015 CX-5 succeeds. Some of the credit goes to its very rich-looking, deep crystal blue paint. It helps make the crossover look more expensive than its sticker price.

Mazda did its homework on the interior as well, with nice heated leather seats up front that are good for all-day traveling. The leather-wrapped steering wheel feels good in your hands, as well. There is plenty of room for two adults in the back seat, and you could squeeze in a third on shorter trips.

I found the NAV easy to use, but it seemed to take a long time to input addresses and the screen could have been a little bigger. But all in all, the CX-5's interior is good-looking, with nice materials and softer-touch plastics throughout.

But Mazda has really paid the most attention to the way the new CX-5 drives. It's the sportiest small crossover I have driven in this price range. It enjoys corners and seems like it has more than 184 hp when you hit the gas.

I really enjoyed my daily commute. It was like I was in a sporty sedan or coupe, not a five-passenger, AWD family trickster. I do wish the optional 2.5-liter engine was available with the manual transmission (call it the automotive journalist special; sure, I would be in the minority). But the six-speed automatic is very smooth and helps to return good fuel economy.

My loaded AWD model has an EPA rating of 24 mpg city and 30 highway. I managed 24.4 mpg in 337 miles, all with regular gas.

So I will admit those automotive journalists are right on with their praise of the Mazda CX-5. Mazda has created a sporty and fun-to-drive crossover that's fuel- efficient, and with a price starting around $21,500, it won't break the bank. Mazda is finally embracing its sporty niche. I'm glad to see Mazda coming back and making fun cars and SUVs for people on a budget.

Editor's Note: Mike Parris is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association. The vehicles are provided by STI ,FMI or Event Solutions for the purpose of this review.

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