Clever technology helps Mazda's baby crossover shine on the road and on the track
Monterey, Calif. — The now-dead Tribute sport ute — along with the B-Series pickup — stuck out like a sore thumb in Mazda's brochures. Both Ford-forced — ahem, sourced - vehicles were near clones of their Blue Oval brothers, and nowhere near as sleek as the 3, 6, RX-8 and CX-7 during the brand's mid-'00s heyday. Now that Mazda's divorce with Ford is final, customers won't be left singing Sesame Street's "One of those things is not like the other; one of these things just doesn't belong ..."

For the Tribute's replacement, Mazda has gone beyond just rebodying its revised 3 hatchback and calling it a day. No, the CX-5 is the first offering in Mazda's latest plans to take over the world.

Designed from the start to tackle corners

2013 Mazda CX-5(Photo: Mazda)

Although generally believed to apply to only the high-compression engine shared with the 3, SkyActiv relates to more than just the engine. Mazda completely redesigned its platforms to be stronger and safer and its bodies to be 100 kg lighter from one generation to the next, while changes to the suspension and drivetrain ensured that the compact crossover handles like a Mazda should, without compromising the cabin and cargo space people need.

One key aspect Mazda officials talked about was that the CX-5 has more than twice as much front caster as its other front-wheel-drive compacts and crossovers. This is one of the most important features in delivering more responsive steering and it even has a half-degree more than its retired rear-drive RX-8 sports car. So, we know it should steer and handle well.

Related links:
What is SkyActiv and how will it change Mazda's future?
First drive: 2012 Mazda3 w/SkyActiv

Gas for now, but diesel on the way

2013 Mazda CX-5(Photo: Mazda)

We've already seen the high-compression SkyActiv-G (for gasoline) engine in the 2012 Mazda3, but it isn't the full monty version debuting in the CX-5. Compression of 13:1 in the CX-5 is achieved thanks to a complicated and relatively bulky exhaust header that wouldn't fit under the Mazda3 without serious modifications to the firewall and structure, thus leaving the sedan with only 12:1. The extra compression brings a few more horses but much more mid-range torque.

The CX-5 produces 155 horsepower and 150 lb.-ft. of torque with the direct-injection 2.0-litre four-cylinder, about average but nothing thrilling here. That'll have to wait for the 2.2-litre turbodiesel that's officially in the pipe. Outright power won't be too much higher, but there will quite possibly be more than twice the torque.

So think of the CX-5 as the Miata of compact crossovers: i.e. a momentum machine.