Special Coverage

Greater L.A. Auto Show

LOS ANGELES – Mazda unveils its new small cross/utility vehicle, the ’13 CX-5 at the auto show here today.

It’s the first of Mazda’s sixth generation of vehicles and goes on sale in the U.S. next year.

Skyactiv, the auto maker’s new moniker to denote fuel efficiency, safety and power, encompasses the CX-5’s engine, transmission, body and chassis.

“Skyactiv is not just about one silver bullet,” Jim O’Sullivan, CEO-Mazda North American Operations, tells media at a CX-5 drive. “It’s a whole suite of technologies. And for a company this size to basically do all of this at one time is pretty significant and pretty challenging.”

The CX-5 has Mazda’s new Skyactiv 2.0L gasoline direct-injected 4-cyl. engine that also powers the Mazda3.

However, the CX-5 mill has a higher compression ratio of 13:1 compared with the Mazda3’s 12:1. The higher ratio is made possible in part by a new combustion-temperature-reducing 4-2-1 exhaust manifold, which could not be used in the Mazda3 because of packaging issues.

Also helping Mazda achieve the 13:1 compression ratio is a special piston featuring a small pocket carved out to accommodate the spark plug’s initial flame kernel, says Dave Coleman, product evaluation engineer.

“There are some things like that pocket that were new innovations, but a lot of it’s just making things work together in a better way,” Coleman says of the “27 other” measures Mazda took to get the high ratio.

The CX-5’s 2.0L makes 155 hp at 6,000 rpm and 150 lb.-ft. (203 Nm) of torque at 4,000 rpm. Fuel economy is pegged best-in-class against specs for the current Honda CR-V and Ford Escape. Next generations of those CUVs will be unveiled here later today, possibly upending Mazda’s claim.

The front-wheel-drive CX-5 with 6-speed manual or automatic transmission is estimated to achieve 26 mpg city (9.0 L/100 km). The highway fuel-economy rating for the manual is 33 mpg (7.1 L/100 km), while the automatic should hit 32 mpg (7.4 L/100 km) on the highway, Mazda says.

The all-wheel-drive CX-5 is estimated to achieve a fuel efficiency of 25/30 mpg (9.4-7.8 L/100 km) city/ highway.

The CX-5 also introduces Mazda’s new Kodo design language, standing for power and beauty seen in living creatures. Tense lines and twisted surfaces are meant to suggest speed and allure, says CX-5 program manager Hideaki Tanaka.

The CX-5 wears Mazda’s new signature 5-point grille with wings, seen on the Minagi concept car from this year’s Geneva auto show.

Tanaka says wants to create a “new benchmark” for small CUVs with the CX-5 Mazda, and toward that end has eliminated or reduced what he calls “dead space.”

For example, the B-pillars have been whittled down near the bottom, making second-row ingress and egress easier. To boost interior functionality, the second row is split 40/20/40, allowing two children in car seats to be secured while the middle seat is folded down. A long item can extend into the cargo space.

The CX-5’s rear seats fold flat by the bottom cushion sinking down before the seat back collapses forward.

As with many other auto makers today, Mazda is using high-strength steel in greater amounts and touts an industry-first use of 1,800 MPa-grade steel in the CX-5’s bumpers. Overall, high- strength steel makes up 61% of the CX-5’s bodyweight.

The new automatic and manual transmissions are meant to be user-friendly, with the automatic lacking downshift shock and the manual having a crisp feel with short strokes, Mazda says.

Engineers aimed for linearity in acceleration and responsiveness in the steering. A 15.5:1 steering ratio is almost as quick as the MX-5 sports car’s 15.0:1, Mazda maintains.

The CX-5 becomes the third U.S. Mazda to receive electric power steering, after the RX-8 and Mazda2. The CX-5’s steering mechanism is column-mounted, but it has the caster angle of the RX-8’s rack-mounted EPS.

Mazda sees its CX-5 target customer as female between the ages of 25-35, just beginning her career or on an ascendant path. Baby Boomers are a secondary target.

Pricing on the CX-5 hasn’t been released but will play in the “heart” of the compact CUV segment: $22,000-$28,000, says Director of Product Planning Tim Barnes.

The CX-5 will be available in three grades: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. Sport is seen making up 30% of sales, Touring 45% and Grand Touring the remainder.

AWD is available on all grades, but manual-transmission models are relegated to low trims, Barnes says. Four option packages are available, including a technology suite with a Tom-Tom-branded navigation system.

Sales in WardsAuto’s Small CUV segment were up 46.4% in the year’s first three quarters, the second-highest increase of any vehicle group after Middle SUVs.

Mazda deliveries through October rose 8.7% to 209,641. Its volume and market share of 2.0% places it on a par with Daimler and just below Subaru brands.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com