BREVARD, N.C. -- Twisty kinks of serpentine asphalt on route 276, the Pisgah Highway which cuts across the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, shows off the taut suspension tuning and sporty handling characteristics built into Mazda's CX-5 crossover utility vehicle.
Product designers at Mazda cast the CX-5 on a rigid unibody platform with front-wheel-drive orientation, then stock it with lively independent suspension elements and crisp steering to fashion a ride quality that's smooth and comfortable for passengers yet also highly responsive.
The 2015 iteration of CX-5 does not protest our aggressive treatment in the driver's seat. Actually, it seems to invite even more action.
Nice wheels, floating independently at each corner, jiggle through the asphalt road ripples like a taut basketball dribbling in double time as suspension components of springs and shocks match the bouncy wheel rhythm yet never upset the perfect balance of this precision machine.
Tight curves can't shake it either.
Disc brakes, linked to computer-controlled anti-lock and traction-checking devices, rein it rapidly in linear progression without notable front dive as sharp rack and pinion steering gears with electric power assistance kick in to point the nose around the next hard bend.
Trim grades for the 2015 CX-5 shake out as Sport, Touring and Grand Touring, with each available in front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive traction mode.
Muscle for CX-5 flows from one of Mazda's SKYACTIV-G 4-in-line engines rigged with fuel-saving and performance-geared technologies. There are two choices for 2015 issues -- a 2.0-liter base unit for CX-5 Sport or a 2.5-liter version for CX-5 Touring and Grand Touring models. Both engines feature dual overhead cams (DOHC) and variable valve timing (VVT) with multi-hole injectors to enhance fuel spray characteristics.
The 2.0-liter plant musters 155 hp at 6000 rpm with 150 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm and links to a SKYACTIV-MT manual 6-speed transmission or a smooth SKYACTIV-Drive 6-speed electronic automatic with manual shift mode.
EPA fuel economy figures for the 2.0-liter engine with a 6-manual shifter climb to 26 miles per gallon for city driving and up to 35 mpg on the highway. Add the 6-auto and the EPA numbers come to 26/32 mpg (city/highway).
The 2.5-liter plant surges with 184 hp at 5700 rpm and 185 lb-ft of torque at 3250 rpm and it connects strictly to the SKYACTIV-Drive 6-speed automatic. EPA figures with front-wheel-drive net at 25/32 mpg (city/highway).
Mazda's optional all-wheel-drive traction system suits weather-challenged venues. The electronic AWD hardware -- paired with the 6-speed automatic -- disburses engine torque between front and rear wheels as warranted by pavement traction situations. All power flows to the front wheels when driving on dry pavement, but when traction degrades on wet or icy surfaces the intelligent system can divert up to 50 percent of the power to turn rear wheels and stabilize the vehicle.
EPA figures for the 2.5-liter engine with the auto tranny and AWD traction tally to 24/30 mpg (city/highway).
The sleek aero shape of CX-5 varies from the boxy upright style of many CUVs. A sculptured body features flowing lines with bulging fenders and undulating side panels, a raked windshield and aggressive prow containing a new trapezoidal front grille and narrow eagle-eyed headlight clusters with optional pivoting adaptive front-lighting system and auto-leveling bi-xenon lamps.
The passenger compartment, with piano-black accents and satin-chrome finishes, contains sculpted front seats and a 3-seat rear bench split in independent fold-flat sections.
The aft cargo bay, accessible via tail-side liftgate, contains 34 cubic feet of stow space with rear seatbacks up but expands to 65 cubic feet with rear seatbacks down.
The price-leading base model CX-5 Sport stocks the manual 6-speed transmission plus a load of amenities like power controls for windows and door locks, power side-view mirrors with integrated turn lamps, manual air conditioning, remote keyless entry device, push-button starter, cruise control, a tilting/telescoping steering wheel with remote tabs, automatic headlight shutoff, body-colored tail spoiler and a 4-speaker sound kit.
Mazda's CX-5 MSRP points run from $21,545 to $29,220.