Everyone wants great gas mileage. No one wants to give up the sport ute lifestyle. It s just human nature, we hate to compromise. Mazda thinks their new compact crossover, the 2013 CX-5, is a win-win solution. Make that a win-win-win, since in addition to being fuel efficient and practical, it handles like a Mazda. And for those who love to drive, that is a good thing.

You know the competition, right? Chevy Equinox, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, and Toyota RAV4. When it comes to getting the most out of a gallon of gas, Mazda crows that CX-5 is best in class. Go with a front-drive six-speed manual transmission combination and the EPA rates it at 26 mpg city, 35 highway. My Grand Touring tester has a six-speed automatic tranny and all-wheel drive. It scores 25/31 highway. This is, in technical terminology, not too shabby.

How Does It Do That?

One word- SKYACTIV. SKYACTIV is Mazda s marketing term that describes a whole bunch of techniques and technologies that make their cars cleaner and more fuel-efficient. Simply put, a SKYACTIV Mazda gets a sophisticated engine, transmission, plus optimized weight and aerodynamics.

The CX-5 Sport with manual transmission is 73 pounds lighter than a Mazdaspeed3 hatchback. Impressive. This is done in part with a new high-strength steel that s stronger and lighter than anything on the market. Only Sportage and Tucson are lighter, and only by a smidge.

The 2.0-liter SKYACTIV G engine helps too (G stands for gasoline, the SKYACTIV D diesel is not available in the USA). Topped by a pretty blue engine shroud, the four-cylinders make 155 horsepower @ 6,000 RPM and 150 ft-lb or torque @ 4000 RPM.

Most consumers could care less about the special direct fuel injection with multi-hole injectors, unique piston cavity shapes that allow a shorter combustion time, a 4-2-1 exhaust system, and a high compression ratio of 13:1 which is higher than Ferraris. They ll just be happy about better fuel economy and the fact it runs on standard grade gas. CX-5 is the first to get the whole SKYACTIV shebang. The special manifold couldn t be wedged into the bay of the Mazda3.

Mazda says the six-speed automatic combines the key advantages of a conventional auto box (smoothness), a CVT (efficiency), and a dual clutch transmission (crisp gear changes). I like it. Like most modern cars these days it upshifts aggressively to max out gas mileage to the point where it sometimes feels as if the engine is bogging down a touch. The same can be said about the 2012 BMW 328i I drove a few weeks back. Welcome to the new normal.

Does Fuel Efficiency Mean Pokey?

Not really, though this isn t an RX-8 (may it RIP). 0-60 in around 9 seconds is similar to Honda CR-V. As a brand, it can be argued that Mazda s reputation for driving dynamics is bested only by expensive marks such as BMW and Porsche. CX-5 keeps the flame alive. No, it s not a Miata but for a crossover it keeps the grins coming in the corners with little body roll. The suspension is on the firm side but won t rattle your fillings loose.

The structure is solid and moderately quiet. Brakes have excellent modulation. Do much towing? The 5 can tug up to 2,000 pounds. The 5 rides on an all-new platform, one that is not related to any Ford product. In case you haven t heard, the two companies have gone their separate ways.

CX-5 easily goes from city slicker to Woodsy Owl when all-wheel drive is ordered. My tester endured a full day of what can only be called abuse during the 2012 Mudfest SUV competition. 25 automotive writers pounding on it over rough terrain for a full day is like a lifetime of off-road use for most owners. No squeaks, no rattles, no parts falling off. In the end CX-5 won for Best Value.

Best Interior Award

My tester is a top-of-the-line Grand Touring model and the cabin looks great. Crisp gauges and high quality materials give it a rich appearance. The dashboard is soft to the touch, piano black inserts and metallic accents dress up the space. A USB port is standard, and here s a concept, the touch screen interface is easy to understand so an owner can tailor the features to their liking. The Tom Tom navigation system is easy to use. Comfortable heated leather seats have healthy side bolstering for support when driving hard on twisty roads.

The Bose surround sound system is quite good, though not as good as Acura ELS or Lincoln THX. Again, the Mazda is more affordable. Small touches like sun visor extensions and a glasses holder make it easy to live in. Climate control is automatic and dual-zone.

A blind-spot warning system is standard on Touring and Grand Touring models (something not even available on the new Acura RDX). The Tech Package option includes self-leveling adaptive bi-xenon headlamps. Ward's AutoWorld has named this cockpit to its 10 Best Interiors list for 2012 if that helps your brain get a read on it.

Room For Friends, Family and Gear

Moving to the back seat, two large adults or three 12 year olds will be quite comfortable and CX-5 is the only crossover in-class with available triple split seatbacks. There s a folding armrest too. Foot room is especially generous because of raised front seats, a slightly raised driveshaft tunnel isn t overly intrusive.

There s a good amount of storage with two seat pockets and door storage but no adjustable air vents. Folks in back can use the power port in the front center console to charge iPods and phones.

My gripes are few and minor. Base models don t get standard Bluetooth and I m a firm believer that every new car should have this. It looks like a secure space could have been designed for it, but there s not dedicated storage spot for the optional security cover when it s not I use. It either rattles around in back or stays in the garage. Stylistically, I prefer one color of lighting to tie the interior together (the center stack is orange, the gauges are white), and the wiper stalk is in the way of the start button.

The big kahuna in both sales and cargo space is the Honda CR-V. It holds 12 packs of my trunk measuring metric, Kirkland brand bath tissue. CX-5 holds 10 and it has to be cajoled in. Under the load floor is a space-saver spare, crossovers head off-road and it s nice to have more than a repair kit on board. There s a power port in the rear as well.

CX-5 Speaks KODO

This is the first production vehicle drawn up in Mazda s new KODO design language. It bodes well for upcoming models like the upcoming Mazda6. In the week I drove this rig, a lot of people came up to ask about it and compliment the lines. It manages to be both crossover chunky and stylistically svelt at the same time.

A base CX-5 Sport runs $21,490 with destination. The loaded Grand Touring I m driving stickers for $30,415. That means the Mazda CX-5 is not just fun, capable and fuel efficient, it s a pretty good deal. That s pretty much what we re all looking for these days. Shopping for a compact crossover? Definitely put CX-5 on the test drive list.

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