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Mazda well-equipped to set style

If you’re looking to cheap out on fuel bills while still maintaining your quality of life, then the new Mazda CX-5 could be right up your alley.

These days, nearly every car shopper places good – no, better make that excellent - fuel economy atop his or her want-it/need-it lists, without sacrificing roominess and comfort in the process. Well, for the 2013 model year, which begins right about now for Mazda, the CX-5 could do the trick.

Replacing the long-standing Ford Escape-based Mazda Tribute wagon, this brand-new five-seater becomes the smallest of Mazda’s tall-wagon models, a group that includes the CX-7 (also a five-seater) and seven-passenger CX-9. But the CX-5 might just be the best looking of the bunch and expresses Mazda’s evolving look, which eventually will spread to the entire lineup.

The CX-5’s curvaceous shape is best viewed from the front where you’ll notice a neatly shaped sloping hood and expressive (as opposed to the more controversial smiley-face) grille. The rest of the CX isn’t so dramatic with the exception of a curvy accent crease along the lower door edges. In back, the slant of the liftgate glass suggests a bit of hatchback has crept into the design, which possibly explains why there’s slightly less cargo space than the Tribute, even though the CX has a bit more passenger stretch-out room.

The well-turned-out cabin is a pretty straightforward affair with a trio of gauge pods, central information screen and easy-to-locate ventilation-system knobs. As is currently the fashion, there’s plenty of switch gear mounted to the steering wheel. They might be closer to the driver’s hands, but they’re really not that much easier to operate and are still likely to divert attention away from the road.

Most of the CX-5’s mechanical bits are promoted under Mazda’s “Skyactiv” theme that made its initial appearance in conjunction with the 2012 Mazda3 and represents more than a marketing slogan. From a chassis and suspension perspective, the automaker says it has attempted to infuse the vehicle with as much MX-5-Miata-type sporty behavior as possible, combined with a thrifty engine and transmission.

The Skyactiv power plant is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine that features direct fuel injection. It runs on regular gas and is lighter by 10 percent than Mazda’s non-Skyactiv 2.0. Output is rated at 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque, down from the Tribute’s 171/171 levels. However, the CX is lighter, and the transmission has extra gears, which favorably impacts fuel economy. The CX-5 is rated at 26 mpg in the city and 35 highway for front-wheel-drive manual-transmission models, and 26/32 with the optional six-speed automatic.

Both sets of numbers are significantly improved over the Tribute’s while beating the league-leading Honda CR-V and Hyundai Tucson. It remains to be seen whether the completely new 2013 Ford Escape can challenge on that score.

Mazda hasn’t scrimped loading up the most basic CX-5 Sport. For $21,500, including destination charges, you get the usual air conditioning and power-operated items with cruise control, push-button start and automatic level control for the audio system that turns up the volume as speed increases.

Moving up to the Touring gets you Bluetooth short-range wireless networking, upgraded seats, color display monitor, steering-wheel-mounted controls and a blind-spot warning system.

The Grand Touring adds a moonroof, leather seats (heated in front), power-adjustable driver’s seat and dual-zone climate control. Navigation and self-leveling and swivelling headlights are options.

With the proliferation of brand-new, or nearly new models in the compact tall-wagon segment, Mazda’s timing with the CX-5 couldn’t be better. League-leading fuel economy and a great entry price don’t have to take the place of getting a stylish and well-equipped vehicle.

They can be part of it.

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