The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

CNHI News Service Originals

June 27, 2012

Mazda's CX-5 is the sportiest crossover yet

CLINTON — Mazda is one of my favorite car companies. I've owned several of their vehicles through the years and just recently bought a used Miata that makes my heart sing.

I just don't always understand Mazda's marketing decisions.

The people at Mazda build sporty, fun-to-drive cars, but they also pull silly stunts to make sure everyone knows it. They launched the MPV minivan a few years ago at the Laguna Seca racetrack in California, for example, as if minivan drivers will be buying racing slicks and clocking their lap times.

Mazda's latest stunt? Putting a six-speed manual transmission in a crossover vehicle.

The new CX-5 is a remarkable car. It drives with a sporty spirit, even more so than the CX-7 and CX-9 that I raved about after they were introduced. But a manual transmission? In a crossover? Somebody in Hiroshima must have gone crazy.

Mazda has a knack for making great manual transmissions, and this one is no exception. It has a slick, close, easy-to-shift feel that seems inherited from my beloved Miata sports car.

The problem is, if I want a sports car, I'm going to buy a sports car. I'm not going to buy a big, tall crossover vehicle that tries to mimic a sports car.

A lot of buyers apparently do want that, though, and the CX-5 delivers for them. It's the first vehicle that was entirely engineered under Mazda's SKYACTIV initiative, which is all about lowering weight and improving fuel efficiency without sacrificing the thrilling, connected driving feel that Mazdas are known for.

This crossover comes closer to feeling like a sports car than any of its competitors, especially with the slick manual transmission, as much as I hate to admit it as a sports-car purist. The engine, transmission, suspension and steering all gather together, hold hands and sing in harmony.

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