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2014 Mazda CX-5 2.5-liter SkyActiv: Gas Mileage Drive Report

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While hybrids are one way to get good gas mileage in a variety of cars, another way is to wring every last drop of efficiency out of new and highly-efficient gasoline engines and transmissions.

That's the path Mazda's taken, and it seems to be working.

Two overachievers

Almost two years ago, we tested a 2013 Mazda CX-5 compact crossover, a brand-new vehicle and Mazda's first designed around a 2.0-liter SkyActive engine and six-speed automatic transmission.

It was rated at 28 mpg for that engine/transmission combination and all-wheel drive, but we averaged an astounding 33.1 miles per gallon--while noting that the 2.0-liter engine had very little margin of power in reserve.

2014 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring 2.5 - First Drive, February 2013

2014 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring 2.5 - First Drive, February 2013

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So we were eager to drive the slightly more powerful 2.5-liter SkyActiv version of the same vehicle, which we did last August.

That larger engine is rated at 184 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque, against the 2.0-liter's 155 hp and 150 lb-ft.

It may not sound like much of a boost, but it's enough to provide the margin of power that the 2.0-liter was missing, reducing the anxiety of hard acceleration into fast-moving traffic.

MORE: 2014 Mazda CX-5: Review

It, too, impressed us, achieving a real-world 29.7 mpg over pretty much the exact same test cycle as the earlier CX-5--282 miles comprising two-thirds highway, one-third city and suburban stop-and-go.

Again, the Mazda CX-5 notably exceeded its EPA combined gas-mileage rating of 26 mpg (24 mpg city, 30 mpg highway).

Mazda vs Ford

The Mazda's efficiency contrasts to the approach taken by Ford, which uses direct-injected and turocharged EcoBoost engines of 1.6 and 2.0 liters in its comparable Ford Escape compact crossover.

2014 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD, Catskill Mountains, NY, Aug 2013

2014 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD, Catskill Mountains, NY, Aug 2013

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We've now tested both those vehicles as well, and they didn't do quite so well.

The more powerful 2013 Ford Escape with the 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine and all-wheel drive that we tested in Spring 2012 barely equaled its combined 24-mpg EPA rating, getting a real-world indicated gas mileage of 23.9 mpg.

But a 2014 Ford Escape SE with the 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine and only front-wheel drive managed only 24.8 mpg on an EPA-rated 26 mpg combined.

$32K out the door

Aside from the gas mileage, this year's CX-5 remains largely unchanged from the first-year 2013 model.

It is still one of the best-handling compact crossovers, with engaging driving and good cornering, a seating height midway between a passenger car and the tallest of the crossovers, and oodles of usable space for people and cargo.

Our 2014 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD model came with a base price of $28,870.

It also added four options, the steepest of which was the $1,625 Grand Touring Tech Package, including an in-dash navigation system, High-Intensity Discharge (HID) headlamps with automatic load leveling, adaptive front lighting, and smart city brake support.

On top of that were $300 for the very nice Soul Red paint, $200 for a retractable cargo cover--something we think every crossover should include as standard--and $100 for a rear bumper guard.

Adding in the mandatory $795 delivery fee, the window sticker bottom line came to $31,890.

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