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There are several heavyweights that have dominated the compact sport utility vehicle category for years and a few other models that come highly rated as well.

Despite the competition, Mazda is unveiling the 2013 CX-5 in hopes that it will fare better than its predecessors – the Tribute and the CX-7. The Tribute, a knockoff of the Ford Escape, never gained widespread acceptance as a compact SUV.

2013 Mazda CX-5

  • Performance: 2.0-liter, four-cylinder, 155 horsepower
  • Mileage estimate: 26-32 mpg
  • Price: $20,695 to $27,045
  • Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles; drivetrain 5 years/60,000 miles; roadside assistance 3 years/36,000; corrosion 5 years/unlimited

While the CX-7 has also experienced lackluster sales, it is a respected model. Mazda will keep the CX-9, which is larger than the CX-7 but features a substandard third-row seating, and hasn’t been a sales producer, either.

So what makes Mazda believe that the CX-5, which is 5 inches shorter in length than the CX-7, will succeed where its other SUVs have failed? For starters, the CX-5 is sporty and also possesses a thrifty quality, evidenced by its rather low sticker price ($20,695 to $27,045) and high gas mileage – 26-32 mpg.

The CX-5 features a roomy second row that seats three and also has a spacious trunk area for this class. Throw in good driving dynamics, an appealing exterior look, plus a sizable list of standard features, and Mazda just may have a hit on its hands.

However, that doesn’t mean car shoppers will be disregarding the industry giants – Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4. These two are still residing at the head of the class while some other solid entries like the Chevrolet Equinox, Hyundai Tucson and Volkswagen Tiguan, are nipping at their heels.

Mazda’s new SUV has the SkyActiv engine that is a direct-injection, four-cylinder that is responsible for the great gas mileage achieved by both the CX-5 and the Mazda5 minivan.

The three CX-5 trim levels (Sport, Touring and top-tier Grand Touring) all have the same 2.0-liter, four-cylinder with 155 horsepower. The CX-5 comes standard with front-wheel drive, yet all-wheel drive is an option. Either way, the CX-5 labors a bit when climbing hills and goes a mediocre 0-60 mph in 9.3 seconds.

There may be performance complaints, but the CX-5’s interior gets mostly applause. It’s a modernized cockpit that is both appealing and functional. It has the desired soft-touch surfaces and provides comfort and room for all five occupants.

The CX-5 receives high marks for its driving impressions as well. It drives like a well-behaved sedan, absorbs bumps, and the braking is very reliable. Although the engine can get noisy when it’s being called upon for instant acceleration, in normal situations one hardly hears a peep.

Unveiled early in this calendar year, the 2013 CX-5 may eventually bring Mazda the compact SUV sales that it has craved for years.

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