2014 Mazda CX-5

Compact SUVs currently make up the fastest-growing segment in the auto industry, which can create a difficult decision for buyers trying to sort through the clutter. Fortunately, Kelley Blue Book’s KBB.com has compiled this year’s list of its 10 best SUVs under $25,000, showcasing some of the best compact models out there. Securing the No. 2 spot was the 2014 Mazda CX-5, which was praised for its fun-to-drive factor, its fuel-efficient SKYACTIV technology and its smart-yet-stylish design.

KBB.com editors were also impressed by the CX-5′s five-seat practicality, which does nothing to diminish the crossover’s responsive handling. Despite being a relatively recent addition to the Mazda lineup, the CX-5 has already collected a number of automotive awards, including being named a 2013 Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the best small SUV of 2013 by Car and Driver magazine. The CX-5 is hard to miss, with a fluid exterior that follows Mazda’s KODO, or Soul of Motion, design philosophy, but what drivers can’t see is equally important in setting the compact SUV apart from the competition.

“The Mazda CX-5 is perfect for families who want more than just a vehicle that can go from point A to point B, because it has very engaging handling despite its great fuel efficiency and spacious interior,” said Jeanette Downing, general manager of Goodwin Mazda, a Brunswick, Maine Mazda dealer. “With the CX-5, it is easy to forget you’re driving an SUV that has more than 34 cubic feet of space in the back, or about 65 cubic feet just by pressing a button and folding the back seat.”

Mazda’s SKYACTIV engineering is instrumental to the CX-5′s ability to provide impressive performance and efficiency regardless of all that cargo space. SKYACTIV technology focuses on improved engine compression ratios, transmission optimization and lightweight-yet-rigid frames, which combine to boost responsiveness while keeping fuel consumption to a minimum. The CX-5 was the first vehicle in Mazda’s lineup to incorporate the complete suite of SKYACTIV elements, and it serves as a solid example of how integrative vehicle design can produce excellent results after being implemented from the ground up.

When equipped with the standard 155-horsepower 2.0-liter SKYACTIV-G engine, the Mazda CX-5 returns up to 35 mpg on the highway, making it the most fuel-efficient SUV on the market during freeway driving. SKYACTIV technology allows the powerplant to consume 15 percent less fuel than Mazda’s previous MZR 2.0-liter engine. For the 2014 model year, buyers can also now upgrade to a new 2.5-liter SKYACTIV-G unit that produces 184 horsepower while still netting up to 32 mpg on the highway.

“The Mazda CX-5 offers hybrid-like efficiency without the inflated price tag associated with a gas-electric powertrain, and yet, there is no mistaking it for a hybrid once you step down on the pedal,” Downing added. “If you also consider the standard Dynamic Stability Control and traction control, as well as the optional all-wheel-drive system, then you’re getting all-weather capability without having to pay the extra fuel costs that come with other capable SUVs.”