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New Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V, Ford Escape ready for battle

Posted by Bill Griffith  December 6, 2011 04:45 PM

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(Mazda) Click photo for larger version.

Big things and big sales battles come in small packages.

There’s a heavyweight competition — or should we call it a lightweight title fight? — looming between Honda and Ford in the compact SUV segment. And a third wannabe contender, the Mazda CX-5, is tossing its nameplate into that ring.

All three unveiled their latest, and probably greatest, redesigns at last month’s Los Angeles Auto Show. The CR-V hits showrooms in mid-December with Escape coming at the start of 2012 and CX-5 in February.

Mazda joins this competitive segment with the all-new CX-5 even though it already has the CX-7 compact SUV.

The vehicle is Mazda’s first to fully embrace its Skyactiv technology, a combination of powertrain upgrades and weight reduction that are also making way into the 2012 Mazda 3.

Mazda claims its 2.0-liter Skyactiv gas engine will return best-in-class fuel economy of 26/35 with a manual transmission, a number that drops to 25/30 with AWD and six-speed automatic. The engine produces only 150 horsepower despite design features that include a 13:1 compression ratio (with the ability to run on regular gasoline).

A new alliance with TomTom should make for a user-friendly navigation system and there’s a full array of safety and electronic gadgets. The body increases use of high-tensile steel (61 percent) to cut weight and improve handling.

And it enters this fray behind its signature “smiley face” grille.

Disrupted, Honda's formula continues


(Honda) Click photo for larger version.

Honda should get full props for popularizing the compact segment. The original CR-V was one of those vehicles that set the bar high. Others have made it a race, especially with the horrendous year for Honda, first with an earthquake/tsunami and more recently with the devastating Thailand floods which have further disrupted parts production.

Honda America vice president John Mendel said October gave the company a glimpse of momentum (sales were up 18 percent) before the Thailand floods washed that away.

“Our 2011 vehicles were No. 1 in seven of 11 categories in the J.D. Power initial quality survey,” says Mendel, “and CR-V was the No. 1 seller for four straight years until the supply disruptions. Now it’s poised to recapture that position.”

The CR-V never has been about off-roading, but all-wheel-drive is available in every trim level, and the Honda formula remains the same: car-like ride, compact exterior, roomy interior, outstanding four-cylinder engines.

For 2012, the CR-V will have the latest 2.4-liter four cylinder making 185 horsepower and mated to a proven five-speed automatic transmission. With AWD, it’s rated at 22 miles per gallon city, 30 highway, and 25 combined.

New features include an “Eco” mode with a green indicator light and green instrument panel effects, updated AWD system, a 60/40 folding rear seat, standard Bluetooth, a full-color display screen, rear view camera with guidelines for backing up, and a function that reads SMS text messages from compatible phones. There’s also a lower cargo floor and roomier center console.

Ford’s Escape plan


(George Kennedy for The Boston Globe) Click photo for larger version.

Ford is calling its all-new Escape SUV a “Smarter Utility Vehicle” because of its improved fuel economy and new technology. The company has high hopes for the Escape, which will make its international debut at the Geneva Auto Show in March and is already sold as the Ford Kuga in Europe and China.

The Escape comes with a video-game gimmick: a hands-free power liftgate that opens if you swing your foot under a bumper-mounted sensor with the key fob on your person.

It also is projected to increase fuel economy by 5 mpg. The standard engine is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder but also available are 2.0-liter and 1.6-liter EcoBoost engines, featuring direct fuel injection and turbocharging. The V-6 is gone, and a six-speed automatic transmission is standard.

New technologies include an upgraded MyFord Touch information system, active park assist that handles steering during parallel parking (driver controls gas and brake), blind spot warning system with cross-traffic alert, and its class-exclusive Curve Control and torque vectoring control for cornering safety.

In back, the rear seats can fold flat and there is a two-position load floor that offers the option for a flat cargo space or more depth to maximize luggage volume.

Bill Griffith can be reached at

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee
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