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2013 Mazda CX-5 Sport Manual Strippo

By Ted Orme

Shortly after I got out of the recently reviewed Ford Escape SE EcoBoost, a compact crossover challenger, the all-new Mazda CX-5 Sport Manual , showed up. It was a shocker. Not the style, technology or performance: the price.

The Ford, with $3,400 in options, was pushing $30K. The bare bones, stick shift CX-5 Sport was just a nudge over $20K ($20,695 plus $795 delivery fee, to be exact). To recession era car buyers that spread will definitely get your attention.

What’s more, the Mazda’s 2.0-liter Skyactiv (which, best as I can figure, is Mazda’s catchy term for its whole approach to vehicle design and engineering) four-cylinder with a 6-speed manual transmission earns a best-in-class EPA mpg rating of 26 city/35 highway/29 combined on regular gas – also very appealing numbers to us cheapskates. I actually got 32.6 mpg over about 300 miles of varied roads. By way of comparison, the Escape numbers were 23/33/26, which is about what I got for the week.

Okay, with purchase and operating economy established, is it a vehicle you can love? I really wanted to put that to the test since getting a strippo test vehicle is rare, indeed. Most are optioned to the hilt with all manner of things to pamper and please. Make no mistake; you can jack the sticker to nearly $30 K in all of the dozen highly competitive vehicles, including the CX-5,  in this small crossover/van class.

There is none of that in the front-drive, stick shift Sport. But there is everything you need. You have your AC, cruise control, tilt-and-telescoping steering column, AM/FM/CD/MP3 4-speaker audio system with an auxiliary input jack and a USB port, steering-wheel controls for cruise and audio, split-folding rear seatbacks, and power locks and windows with keyless entry. If you can’t abide stick shift, a 6-speed automatic is a $1,400 CX-5 option and all-wheel drive will set you back an extra $1,250.

For me, it was a welcomed relief not to have to deal with complex telematics and touch-screen secondary controls. And it was no hardship to manually adjust the 6-way driver’s seat.

Looks are important, and Mazda’s KODO, or "Soul of Motion," design is a handsome package that starts with the new "signature wing front grille  and wing-shaped, wraparound headlamps that flows in a swoosh line across shapely fenders and sculpted body with a class leading coefficient of drag of 0.33.” Translation: it’s pretty.

The surprisingly roomy interior offers ample leg, head and shoulder room. A nifty three-piece independent 40/20/40-split fold-flat second row makes for terrific flexibility to fit many different people/cargo needs. A single-action topside button releases the left- and right-side seats to fold down while a looped handle frees the middle seat, which also folds flat – a segment first, according to Mazda.

Seats were comfy and supportive and cabin materials okay for this vehicle class. Controls are intuitive – what Mazda calls “sensible purpose” – with many frequently-used controls within easy reach, including streamlined steering wheel controls. Going upscale an all-new 5.8-inch touch screen is the command center for all the available options, like phone, killer audio and navigation.  But I liked our bare bones baby as is.

The  CX5’s new 2.0-liter DOHC 16-valve aluminum four-cylinder will not take 0-60 mph top honors in the compact crossover class. It makes a modest 155 horsepower (at 6000 rpm) and 150 lb-ft of torque (at 4000 rpm). It’s game and efficient, but not a lot of Zoom Zoom here.

However, the Sport Manual makes up for that by being fun to drive. Thanks to excellent electronic power steering, a ridged chassis swiped from the Mazda 3 and sporty suspension tuning, this family wagon is agile and responsive while still delivering a relatively quiet and comfortable ride. And you can easily row the crisp shifting six-speed manual – and even heel-and-toe the pedals – to your heart’s content, which you will do with only 155 horsepower.

I still put the more athletic Ford Escape at the top of this highly competitive class for performance and handling. But I would probably be more inclined to buy this CX-5 strippo for its value, fuel economy and overall packaging and refinement. In fact, after a quick look and test run, my son, a hardcore Honda owner, has put Mazda on his shopping list.

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