* Model: Mazda CX-5
* Exterior color: Stormy Blue Mica
* Interior color: Sand
* Engine: 4 cylinder, 2.5 liter
* Horsepower: 184
* Transmission: six-speed automatic
* Fuel economy: 32 highway, 25 city
* Dealer: Edd Kirby's Adventure Mazda
* Price (as tested): $28,615
Whether you're talking birthday parties or SUVs, extra punch is good.
In this case, Mazda's excellent new CX-5 compact crossover gets a new, more-potent engine option in its second year of production. In our view, this power boost alone vaults the CX-5 from good to great.
There's a rule of thumb that smart buyers wait until the second year of a new vehicle's production to pull the trigger. Advanced design and automated assembly have lessened the second-year effect, but it still has merit.
In this case, Mazda listened to the automotive press who said in unison: A little more oomph, please.
Unlike some car companies, which are adding turbochargers willy-nilly, Mazda simply upped the size of the 2014 CX-5's engine in its mid- and upper-trims to 2.5-liters. (The base model still has a 2.0-liter engine, as did all the 2013s.) The new motor boosts horsepower to 184 (up from 155 in the 2.0-liter) and torque to 185 pound-feet.
Considering Chattanooga's hills, dales and mountain roads, the more robust engine is a real game changer for the CX-5 here. With optional all-wheel-drive the CX-5 becomes a cross between a BMW X1 and a Subaru Forester -- not a bad combination.
The base Sport model starts at $21,395, the mid-trim CX-5 Touring lists for $24,815 and the upscale Grand Touring has a MSRP of $27,820.
STYLING AND FEATURES
When we first drove the brand-new CX-5 about 20 months ago, the vehicle's avant-garde styling made a strong first impression. Now that new Mazda 6 and 3 sedans have emerged with a strong resemblance to the CX-5, you seem to notice Mazdas everywhere -- like an attractive new family that just moved into the neighborhood.
Followers of the Test Drive column may remember that we placed both Mazda sedans in our Top 10 best new vehicles list for 2013, and the CX-5 has the inside track on a similar perch in 2014.
Justin Wolfe, sales manager at Edd Kikby's Adventure Mazda near downtown Chattanooga, provided our test vehicle this week.
The yawning grille and cat-like headlamp treatment mark the CX-5 as more than just another bland, breadbox SUV. And inside, the perforated leather seats, soft-touch dash and simple gauge cluster give it an upscale appearance that would be right at home inside an Audi or VW.
Our test car came in Stormy Blue Mica, a new-for-2014 color. Interior seating surfaces are a light Sand color, which is a welcomed break from today's ubiquitous black interiors.
Standard equipment in our CX-5 Grand Touring test car include 19-inch alloy wheels, power sliding-glass moonroof, heated side mirrors, rain-sensing windshield wipers, 8-way power driver's seat, Bose 9-speaker surround system and automatic on/off headlights. All-wheel-drive is a $1250 option.
The CX-5 offers a nice, commanding seating position. A rear-view camera is a useful safety feature, especially if you're around small children. A blind-spot monitoring system is also standard on the Grand Touring trim.
From the instant I pulled onto M.L. King Boulevard from the dealership it was apparent that the 2014 CX-5 Grand Touring is a completely different animal. The 2.0-liter CX-5 wasn't a slow poke, but it didn't show the same eagerness under full throttle. Merging onto Highway 127, I locked my elbows and felt the lateral g-forces as the CX-5 powered into a 270-degree circle ramp. Once in the flow of traffic, it was easy to point and shoot the little SUV into tight lane-change windows.
I purposely tried the CX-5 on the W-Road up Walden's Ridge to get a sense of its mountain-climbing ability. It negotiated the winding stretches and switchbacks with ample power and handling was secure. There's lots of feedback from the electronic power steering, for those of you who enjoy an active driving experience. Most small SUVs don't have much to offer in the fun-to-drive department, but the CX-5 is an exception.
At the core of Mazda's new Skyactiv technology are light-weight, high-efficiency engines that deliver lots of power but still get sterling fuel economy. Front-wheel-drive CX-5 models get 32 miles per gallon highway and 25 mpg in city driving.
Last year, the 2013 CX-5 won J.D. Power's top ranking for compact crossover SUVs, and that was before the generous engine upgrade. For value shoppers, Kelley Blue Book has awarded Mazda it's top rating for five-year cost of ownership.
That combination of satisfaction and value should turn your head if you're in the market for a small SUV. And, last but not least, it's a IIHS top safety pick.
Contact Mark Kennedy at email@example.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.