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Mazda's all-new CX-5 comes with big promise and even bigger expectations. The small crossover carries some of the automaker's new design cues as well as its latest engineering: the fuel-efficient SkyActiv Technology. Call the CX-5 the poster car for the next generation Mazda. Does it deserve such status?

Appearance: The first thing you notice is the grille no longer looks like a smile. In its place is one that's more subtle and appealing. Thank goodness. The rest of the CX-5 carries Mazda's new "soul of motion" design philosophy (Mazda is big on those). What that translates to in the CX-5 is a more chiseled look up front and body side panels that seem to flow back from the fender bulges like a wave. There's plastic black cladding around the wheel wells and elsewhere, but it doesn't detract from the design. In all, it's a sophisticated look that bodes well for the rest of the Mazda line. During our time with the CX-5, several people asked us about it. (Peter even met a woman who had just bought one, and she sang its praises.) Our tester came in Sky Blue Mica, which Lyra liked for its vivid hue. Peter wasn't as sold on it.

Performance: As in most of the Mazdas we've driven, the car engages the driver. We found the steering response quick with a light touch. Mazda says the body is stiffer but lighter, which translates into nimble handling. That's the good. The not-so-good: We found that the 2.0-liter, 155-horsepower SkyActiv engine, which we really liked in the Mazda3, lacked the normal zoom-zoom. If you have a full complement of passengers or need to merge onto the interstate, you're going to have to floor it, and even then there's a slight lag. Maybe the 6-speed automatic is to blame. After all, in order to get the CX-5's estimated mileage of 26 city and 32 highway, something has to be sacrificed.

Interior: Our tester was the top-of-the-line Grand Touring trim, which adds features including alloy wheels, an eight-way power driver seat, leather seats (comfortable) and a Bose sound system. The built-in navigation system with voice command is from TomTom, and it works well, even showing Lyra the accurate lane changes at the TIA junction off I-275. One downside to our tester's black seats and interior: It got really hot inside, then took a while to cool down. But where the CX-5 may have an advantage over the competition is in roominess. The back seats, especially, have enough head and legroom for adults. The rear seats fold easily with the tug of levers, and they are split into 60/40 standard and a 40/20/40 configuration in the upper trim levels. (One bit of advice: When putting the seat backs upright, make sure the belts are properly placed; otherwise passengers won't be able to buckle up.) Cargo space is generous - 65.4 cubic feet - and made the grocery run a breeze.

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Our 3 favorites

Peter Couture: 52, city driver, 6 feet tall, married with two teenagers.

Blind-spot warning: Mazda has one of our favorite systems and makes it available on a variety of trims.

Roominess: I can sit up straight in the rear seat.

Style: The grin is gone on the grille!

Lyra Solochek: 46, highway commuter, 5 feet 1, married with an 8-year-old and a college student.

Details: Delicate chrome grille trim that extends into the headlights.

Efficient: Great mpg for a compact hauler.

Easy release: One-touch levers to pop the seat backs down from the cargo area.

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2013 Mazda CX-5

Price: $20,695 start, $29,165 as tested (Grand Touring)

Powertrain: 2.0-liter SkyActiv-G 4-cylinder, 6-speed automatic, FWD

Horsepower: 155 at 6,000 rpm

Torque: 150 pound-feet at 4,000 rpm

Curb weight: 3,272 pounds

Dimensionsin inches: Wheelbase, 106.3 Length, 179.3 Width, 72.4 Height, 65.7

Cargo space: up to 65.4 cubic feet

Seats: 5

Fuel economy: 26 miles per gallon city, 32 mpg highway

Fuel type: regular unleaded

Safety features: ABS with electronic brake distribution and brake assist, four-wheel disc brakes, blind-spot monitor, dynamic stability control, traction control, hill launch assist, airbags and curtains


The bottom line: Mazda has scored in the competitive small crossover category with an entry that's stylish, roomy and has good road manners and mpg. If you're not hung on zoom, then this five-seater should be a leading candidate.