2013 Mazda CX-5: Up Close

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We've seen the CX-5 up close, and we're driving it Friday, so check back next week for our full review. Still, our early impressions are good. The CX-5 gets high marks for quality and utility, which are two things a lot of small crossovers skimp on.

More 2011 L.A. Auto Show Coverage

The CX-5 is the first Mazda in recent memory to ditch the automaker's grinning grille, and it adopts what Mazda calls its "Soul of Motion" design language from the automaker's Shinari concept. On the CX-5, this makes for an angrier expression, a sort of Mazda interpretation of the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport. The proportions establish a smaller, tighter Mazda crossover, but a few inches' extra overhang spoil what would otherwise be a home run.

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Cabin materials in the well-equipped Grand Touring prototype were all over the board, but if this stuff pans out, interior quality could be outstanding for this class: padded surfaces in all the important areas, with low-gloss silver and piano-black accents. Mazda hit a home run with quality in the CX-9, so we wouldn't be surprised to see its baby sibling reach the high bar, too.

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Small crossovers are known for second-row seats that often sit too low to the floor, but this one should perch high enough for most adults, with better knee room than the Mazda's small size would suggest. Up front, Mazda claims one of the widest fields of vision in the class. It's unclear which competitors they benchmarked, though — it's good, but not exceptional. The windshield and side windows are tall enough, and oversized side mirrors help with lane checks. But the A-pillars could be thinner, and the rear head restraints obstruct some of the view out the back.

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Speaking of the back, the 40/20/40-split folding seat in the car shows excellent versatility for this class. You can fold the center section to fit skis or other narrow items, or either outboard seat individually, with releases on the seatbacks and in the cargo area. Bravo — no more walking to one or the other to fold the seats.

The CX-5's styling and fuel efficiency (25 mpg city — with all-wheel drive!) should buy some converts. But we'll have to wait and see if it becomes a mainstream player.

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