Had I carefully looked both ways twice before crossing a busy road, I would have most likely purchased my beloved 2011 Chevy Cruze LS at the end of the lease. However, my wife may have more vociferously expressed her hatred for the car, and we would have ended up in the market anyway. We have now had two cars, the Cruze and the Grand Caravan, which my wife hated that met premature ends. I would be suspicious if both casualties had not been 100% my fault. I must love my wife more than I thought. I decided to let her pick the next car.
Up until a couple of years ago, the annual Connecticut Auto Show was within walking distance of my office. If I had the opportunity, I would pop over on opening Friday during lunch hour. At the November 2012 show I was looking primarily at compact crossovers, figuring that would be the type of vehicle to replace Shadow, our 2003 Pontiac Vibe. Most of them left me cold, but I really liked sitting in the Mazda CX-5, Mazda’s first vehicle 100% designed and engineered in-house since its divorce from Ford several years before. The CX-5 was also the first Mazda to feature the whole Skyactiv Technology suite (the Mazda3 only offered the engine until its 2014 redesign). I spoke to the salesman on the show floor for a little bit, expressing my concern with the longevity of the direct-injection engine, but walked away with an overall positive impression of the car. When we went shopping for a car in a couple of years, the CX-5 would still be in its current form and near the top of our list.
Two weeks later, we found ourselves in the market for a new car. Thanks to my idiot insurance agent, I was paying for my rental out of pocket. So, we needed to buy something as soon as possible. After our tearful goodbye to Charlie in the towing yard, I took the family over to our local Mazda dealer, and they had a front-wheel drive Touring model in that cool Mica Blue Metallic which Mazda used in their advertising at the time. The kids had a great time playing in the car while we talked to the salesman. We told him that we liked the CX-5 but had a few other cars to check out.
I had a Windows computer connected to my living room TV (Media Center was my way of cutting the cord several years prior). I pulled up Edmunds.com, and we reviewed every compact crossover in that category. We narrowed our list to the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe, and Nissan Rogue. We took that Tuesday off so we could shop without the kids. The Escape was nice, but I just didn’t trust Ford’s quality control. The Hyundai and Honda weren’t attractive enough in person, and the Rogue had an unforgivably cheap interior.
Back at the Mazda dealer, the salesman handed us the keys, and we took the CX-5 on one of our extended test drives. I drove for the first half and was very impressed with the way it rode and handled. Acceleration from the small 2.0-liter four was not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Something wasn’t quite right, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. We pulled off the highway and did a full walk-around in the parking lot of a Ramada Inn, then my wife drove back to the dealer.
Something was still bothering me, and on the way back to the dealer we started talking about the accident. I was suddenly overcome with emotion. It landed on me like a ton of bricks why we were test driving a new car. The accident. The “accident” that could have killed my six-year-old son had I been driving either the Vibe or our old Grand Caravan. The “accident” that only happened because I was too damn impatient to look both ways twice before crossing a busy highway. I ultimately broke down, sobbing. My wife did her best to calm me down, since I would be the one handling the negotiations.
I had it mostly together by the time we sat down with the salesman. I glanced down at my spreadsheet, which I’d hurriedly worked up the night before. My out-the-door (OTD) price, at $27,463 seemed high, especially compared to the $24,049 invoice, even in high-tax, high-fee Connecticut. While the OTD price is usually a floor, I offered $26,500, and agreed on $26,772 including a retractable cargo cover. We told them we’d come back later that night to pick up the car so we could return the rental before we were charged for another day. We also asked them to put it in the showroom, like with Charlie, figuring the kids would get a big kick out of it. Not only did they do that, but, as you can see from the photos, they also put on a big, green ribbon (which we were not allowed to keep, much to my daughter’s chagrin).
While I was going over the paperwork later that night, I noticed that they were able to includ $189 for “VIN Etching” in the price. How the hell were they able to work that in? My OTD calculation usually leaves little room for dealer fees and add-ons unless the dealer cuts the selling price, and we were about $1,000 below that. Looking again at the spreadsheet, I saw that the OTD expression was “=Selling_Price+Sales_Tax+SUM(F40:F48)” Looks okay. Wait. Sales_Tax is cell F40. Crap. This just isn’t my week. Apparently, when I adapted the spreadsheet from Virginia to Connecticut, I screwed up altering the expression to account for the additional rows of fees. However, as the OTD on full MSRP would have been $27,209 with the cargo cover, and there were no incentives, it wasn’t an altogether terrible deal on the hottest new Mazda since the Miata. We’d also already had the money set aside to purchase Charlie. Between that and the insurance money, we were able to make a sizable down payment.
Since “Mica” already had 345 miles (something else I didn’t notice until later), there was no need to take a trip to break him in. My wife loved him right from the start. Prior to the purchase, I was getting flak from my mother-in-law because I was the primary driver of the last two new cars. It didn’t matter that my wife had no desire to drive them, but we seemed to be following the pattern of her older siblings where the under-achieving, under-earning spouse drove the newer car. We made it clear that Mica was her car, and I took over driving Shadow.
The first generation CX-5 is one of the best looking compact crossovers ever made. There’s just not a bad line anywhere. The current generation CX-5 is nice, but like the new Mazda3, Mazda kind of lost the plot toward the hind quarters. Other crossovers have clearly been inspired by the CX-5. The current Hyundai Tucson, especially in Aqua Blue, is almost a dead ringer. The previous generation RAV4 looked like a CX-5 with all of the life sucked out of it.
Mica is also a very pleasant vehicle to live with. The thick three-spoke steering wheel, 160 MPH speedometer, push-button start and gated gear shift provide a distinctly sporty feel. Both the front and rear are impressively roomy, and cargo space is generous. While power is somewhat wanting, these first generation SkyActiv vehicles are extremely efficient. The EPA estimate for this model is 26 city/32 highway, numbers we routinely beat. Mica actually gets better mileage than my subcompact hatchback, which you’ll read about next week.
We didn’t take Mica on a trip until the following August, when we drove to a resort in the Catskill Mountains. As we were navigating switchbacks while climbing, I moved the gear shift of the 6-speed automatic into manual mode, which worked beautifully to keep the engine in the appropriate power band. While the transmission doesn’t shift into high gear early like many other cars, manual mode is the secret to getting the most out of the little engine. Mazda’s transmission works a lot like the VW/Porsche Tiptronic, where the lever is moved into a separate gate and pulled back for upshifts and pushed forward for downshifts. A little counter-intuitive, but it works well. Overall, this is a good example of how a well programmed transmission can help compensate for a power deficit.
The only serious issue with the car was a dash rattle that we were fortunately able to reproduce for the service advisor. It took them a week to resolve (under warranty), but I got to drive a Mazda6 in the interim. Since the Mazda6 and the CX-5 share a lot, including the dashboard, it felt a lot like driving Mica, only lower.
Complaints are few. The audio system is probably the biggest Achilles heel. Even though it’s a modern touch screen (with separate physical buttons on the sides), it’s very old school. Instead of allowing station presets to be set regardless of band like in the Cruze, there are AM, FM1 and FM2 presets. A waste as most people don’t have one AM station to which they listen much less five. Although it doesn’t work with Sirius XM, it does have HD Radio, and there are some fun stations out there. The system takes a while to boot up after the car is turned on, and there’s no additional five minutes of power when the car is turned off. We’ve learned that if we want to continue listening to something without the engine idling, we need to put the gear shift into neutral, turn off the car, then put it in park. This leaves the car in accessory power, but you have to remember to push the ignition button twice to turn the car completely off before exiting. We also have about 1,500 songs on a flash drive plugged into the USB port, and it takes the system approximately two full minutes to index – every time – before playing.
Another issue is an intermittent lengthy pause when the car is shifted into drive. Most of the time the transmission engages instantaneously. Sometimes, usually when the engine is cold and after backing out of the driveway or a parking space, it can sometimes take a long as five seconds to engage after shifting into drive. If we forget and give it gas too soon, the car does one of those “neutral drop” jumps. We had it inspected by the dealer, and they said that it is a common problem with this drivetrain, but nothing that should affect its longevity. We’ve just learned to live with it. Additionally, that “sporty” 160 MPH speedometer, with its 20 MPH increments, makes determining actual speed rather difficult.
There have thankfully been no major accidents [knocking wood]. The only major scruff was from a thoughtless individual who clearly hit Mica either pulling in or backing out of the parking space to our left while we were at gymnastics class, but chose not to leave a note. I also did a little damage to the passenger mirror pulling out of the Bridgeport-Port Jefferson ferry, but fortunately didn’t break any internal components, and it still works fine.
More than seven years and 90,000 miles later, Mica is still my wife’s daily driver and our beloved family car. Since I get a discount at Enterprise through my work, we’ve chosen to rent minivans for longer driving trips in order to keep off the miles and eke out a few more years. Not because we can’t afford a new car, I just don’t know what we’d replace him with. My wife doesn’t like the new CX-5, nor anything else on the market. With my history, I’m actually a little afraid to drive him. Wish me luck.