While many of my peers were at the Los Angeles Auto Show last Friday, I made my way to the much humbler hall known as the Connecticut Convention Center. Though there were no world premieres, there was a Mazda test drive event, where I finally got some seat time in the CX-5 crossover…and I kinda really liked it.
Having watched the crossover craze take over the auto industry faster than the rush to install cup holders any and everywhere, I never really got the appeal. After all, a crossover is essentially a compromise; you get some of the space and utility of a SUV and supposedly better fuel economy, but it often comes at the expense of driving dynamics and the extra space often isn’t nearly as usable, especially if you’re trying to bring more than two people anywhere.
Then there’s the Mazda CX-5. Though I only got a few minutes of seat time, the Japanese automaker clearly took time to inject some of its Zoom-zoom DNA into the CX-5, especially when equipped with the 2.5 liter SkyActiv engine. At least driving around Connecticut’s capital of Hartford, the CX-5 never lacked for giddy-up as I smoothly accelerated from one stoplight to the next.
To be sure, the Mazda crossover isn’t going to win any impromptu drag races, but in an era where turbocharged engines are increasingly offered in vehicles of every shape and size, the naturally-aspirated grunt of the chunky 2.5 liter SkyActiv four-banger harkens back to an era when large-displacement four-bangers were far more commonplace. Smaller engines may be better for fuel economy, but they can be buzzy and boring until those turbochargers kick in. But with the CX-5, the power was pretty much always there.
Fuel economy is pretty much impossible to judge during a five-minute drive, but the official EPA ratings put the CX-5 at 26 city and 35 highway, which put it amongst the most efficient crossovers you can buy right now. What’s more amazing is that Mazda managed this feat without using turbochargers, a hybrid drivetrain, or sacrificing the enthusiastic way the CX-5 responds to some spirited driving input.
My favorite feature though is something I wish I saw on a lot more crossovers; the 40/20/40 seat split. Instead of having the middle seat fold down with one of the primary seats, Mazda made center seat mechanically independent of the other two. This means transporting snowboards, skiis, or lumber is still possible while hauling four full-size adults.
After my all-too-brief time with the CX-5, I left the test drive area to wander the show hall. Having experienced the grandeur of three of the four major U.S. Auto Shows (those being L.A., Detroit, Chicago, and New York), the CT Auto Show left me feeling just a bit underwhelmed. Major halo cars like the Dodge Challenger Hellcat and Corvette Z06 weren’t in attendance, and neither was the 2016 Miata, a car I had really been hoping to see in person.
There’s also a lack of high-end exotics and not a single concept car, not even an older one. Because of this, the Connecticut Auto Show feels more like a dealership showroom than a must-see-event, though that could easily be remedied by simply ensuring the latest products are available to see. Surely GM could spare a pre-production Corvette Z06 on display? That alone would bring people through the door, as would a chance to peep the brand-spanking-new Miata.
I will say this; not even to battle throngs of people to see the gathered cars was a wonderful change of pace from the crowded and manic rush from one press conference to another that I’m used to. The displays are also a lot more open, and customers are encouraged to hop in to most of the new cars, leaving the “off-limits” signs to be reserved for the handful of high-priced classics also being showcased.
That said, it took me all of about 25 minutes to see the entire show. Unless you’re one of those types to spend 30 minutes discussing compression ratios or feels the need to see each and every vehicle on display, don’t plan a full-day outing around the show. But for those looking to do some new car cross-shopping or just a chance to check out the latest and greatest cars and features, this and other local auto shows are definitely worth checking out.