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CX-5 a roomy, revved-up ride

| Friday, Oct. 5, 2012, 9:19 p.m.

My neighbors, a nice young couple who once enjoyed their Mazda CX-7, were understandably curious when they spotted the all-new CX-5 at my place.

“We read about that, but it looked smaller,” she said, hoisting her one-year-old as she suggested her reasoning for buying another model.

So I had the difficult and unfortunate task of explaining that, yes, it is shorter by 5 inches and has a wheelbase two inches shorter, too — but passenger space is practically the same, backseat legroom is 3 inches better, and cargo capacity is actually greater at 64.8 cubic feet with the rear seats down.

“Gee, we liked our CX-7,” she said, with a hint of remorse in her voice that she didn't do her homework first.

Truth is, the CX-7 brought Mazda limited success so it decided to get serious in the hottest SUV segment out there. The CX-5 is Mazda's first real entry into the compact SUV arena — if you put aside the old Tribute, which was just a rebadged Ford Escape.

And roominess is just part of the attraction of the CX-5: It is at or near the top in fuel economy, and it has a good dose of that “zoom-zoom” magic. Yeah, it's fun to drive.

Its EPA mileage rating is up to 26 in city driving, 35 highway. CX-5 rides on a new unibody, and it looks smoother and sleeker than the 7. The front end has a new grille that is more refined looking than the 7.

Under the hood, for all CX-5s, is Mazda's new SkyActiv 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, which is surprisingly spunky.

All-wheel-drive is available on all trim levels, but you must get the 6-speed automatic transmission. The front-wheel-drive version offers the option of either the automatic or a 6-speed manual.

Riding on 19-inch wheels, CX-5 is nimble enough on corners and curves; it has a confident, solid feel around town and on the highway.

OK, it may not be the zoom-zoomiest coming from Mazda. But it is a nimble little SUV that will reward you at the gas pump.

Barry Spyker is an automotive writer for The Miami Herald.

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