The CR-V has a slightly larger four-cylinder engine than the CX-5 — 2.4 liters for the Honda (185 horsepower, 163 foot-pounds of torque), compared with 2 liters for the Mazda (155 horsepower, 150 foot-pounds of torque). But it’s the overall quality of Mazda’s engineering and vehicle design that’s impressive.
A larger engine, for example, does not guarantee better driving. What matters is how engine power is produced and transmitted. In the CX-5, those operations constitute a collective work of genius.
Mazda’s engineers have developed a suite of new vehicle technologies trademarked “Skyactiv.” The term refers to engineering vision — a blue-sky approach to the possibilities of technology in which, in this case, fossil-fuel engines can be made more efficient while simultaneously designed to offer a “fun-to-drive” experience. Manual and automatic transmissions can be made lighter and designed to seamlessly transfer power from engine to drive wheels. A vehicle’s body can be engineered and designed to enhance the fuel savings and driving pleasure provided by engine and transmission.
With Skyactiv G technology, that mission is accomplished by increasing the compression of small gasoline engines without producing irregular combustion, or “knock.” The idea is to burn fuel as quickly and completely as possible, deriving maximum power with minimum fuel consumption and tailpipe pollution. Skyactiv D, not yet available in the U.S. market, achieves the same objective in diesel engines — but it does it by lowering engine compression instead of increasing it. The difference relates to how gasoline and diesel fuels ignite — gasoline more quickly, diesel more slowly.
It sounds like technological philosophy. It is. It works.
Consider the CX-5’s 2-liter engine. It’s smaller and, by the numbers, less powerful than the Honda CR-V’s 2.4-liter model. But the CX-5 offers more consistent zoom-zoom, faltering neither on high-speed highways nor on roads at least 2,000 feet above sea level, where the bigger engine in the Honda CR-V often begins wheezing.
The optional six-speed Skyactiv Sport automatic transmission in the CX-5 works well on city and suburban streets and on highways. There is no erratic automatic downshifting in pursuit of higher speeds. On mountain and other super-curvy roads, Skyactiv Sport can be switched to “manual” for better vehicle control. But the CX-5’s standard straight six-speed manual gearbox works so smoothly, even in congested urban traffic, that I’d go with that one instead . . . and forgo the exotica and extra expense of one gearbox designed to accommodate two different driving styles.
I like the clean design of the stately-bordering-on-prim Honda CR-V. It appeals to my inner Rick Santorum. But I absolutely love the swank swagger of the Mazda CX-5’s body. It addresses the dominant, motivating Barack and Michelle in me. There is an audacious flow about it front to rear. The three-point grille (left corner, right corner, bottom-connecting corner) opens gently, almost with a smile. The side panels are rhythmically muscular, as if they are involved in dance. The rear end with its upward-tilted bottom, slanted back window and sloping, roof-mounted air spoiler, is downright sassy.
The CX-5, however, is about more than fun and beauty. It’s easily convertible to a work truck, delivery van. Drop those standard 40/60 split bench seats in the rear and you get a generous 65.4 feet of loading space. Cargo space is 34.1 cubic feet with those seats up. Again, here, Honda beats Mazda on the numbers with a maximum 70.9 cubic feet of cargo space with rear seats lowered and 37.2 cubic feet with those seats raised.
But it’s overall attitude and execution that matters. The Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring trounces the comparable Honda CR-V EX-L on both.