Resident truck expert Stephen Elmer explores the rugged side of the 2014 Mazda CX-5.
Mud pits and rivers are obstacles best left to big-boy SUVs, but that doesn’t mean crossovers are useless without pavement.
We took the AutoGuide long-term tester over rural roads and even thick mud to learn exactly where the limits exist with this little ute’s all-wheel drive setup.
A quick refresher is in order. Our tester is powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 184 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque mated to a slip-and-grip all-wheel drive system. Fuel economy ratings come in at 24 mpg city and 30 mpg highway according to government tests, though we have been consistently hitting 25 mpg on average. A six-speed automatic is the only transmission available with our upgraded 2.5-liter model, which came fully-loaded and priced out at $31,590 after destination charges.
With specs out of the way, let’s talk performance. First, we tried driving on gravel roads. The CX-5 has a rather stiff suspension setup, making sure you feel every bump on rough surfaces. Cornering on the gravel can result in the rear end of the CX-5 stepping out a tiny bit, but the reactive AWD system shoots power to the rear wheels and helps to stem the slide. You might feel it hesitate for a split second, but then the power transfers and the transition is smooth.
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Next on the obstacle list: a steep, rocky driveway. Power is adequate from the 2.5-liter, and only occasionally would more be nice. This is one of those situations. At one point, the front wheels did begin to chatter momentarily as they began to slip, but all-wheel drive shipped the power backwards fast enough to prevent problems.
HOW ABOUT MUD?
So, the little Mazda will handle just about any rural road you can find, and our guess is that snow wouldn’t slow the crossover down either. Now, tackling water and mud is a different situation all together. The CX-5 has a moderate 8.5 inches of ground clearance that proved adequate in every situation we could find, including a small mud pit. The sloppy stuff did make us wish for a little more torque out of the 2.5-liter unit, but that is a minor complaint. Considering its height, snow would almost always be a non-factor as well, helping to keep the small crossover versatile in all situations.
SEE ALSO: Should you buy an AWD car?
Now, surely this family hauler won’t be traversing many mud pits, but there is one other scenario when the all-wheel drive comes in handy: rain. Just like on back roads, the all-wheel drive system responds quickly enough to maintain sure footing at takeoff, combating wheel spin on wet pavement.
If there is one fault to be found with the system, it is its slip-and-grip nature. Mazda’s setup is purely reactive, while some other crossovers, like the Toyota RAV4, have proactive systems that take many factors into account including g-forces, throttle input and steering angle to make important decision on where to send power. That slight wait time for the Mazda to react is really the only complaint we can raise, though in every situation we could find, it never proved to be more than small annoyance.
Springing for the all-wheel drive system costs $1,250, making it an option that is probably only worthwhile if you drive in snow or rain frequently. Front-wheel drive models will be more efficient and more than capable in most conditions.
However if unpaved roads, snow, and rain are common for you, opting for the all-wheel drive system on the CX-5 will not only keep you happy, it may be enough to keep you from pushing your way out of a jam.