Entry Price: $21,545

Price as tested: $31,760

This week, we're driving the new 2014 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring, a compact crossover delivered in all-wheel-drive (AWD) dress with roomy five-passenger seating. Mazda clearly states in its marketing that its Skyactiv technology is "our holistic, ground-up approach to re-engineering each component for the ultimate in efficiency, performance and lower emissions. Because when you change everything, you change everything."

To prove to my readers that Mazda's commitment to its Skyactiv Technology creed isn't just another slick NYC ad agency promo, I traveled to Watkins Glen recently where I met with Mazda officials. There, during the TUDOR United Sports Car Championship, I saw further proof of Mazda's "how and why" of Skyactiv Technology as it uses the exact same philosophical approach when it comes to building its current D-Prototype race car.

Specifically, Dean Case, Mazda's Communication Officer, allowed a behind the scenes look at the current Mazda D-Prototype racecar that competes in the national/international race series (see photo). The race car principle includes horsepower from smaller cubic inches, mechanical "agreement," durability for up to 24-hour endurance races and enhanced fuel mileage. Case explains it's the same theory Mazda delivers to its millions of satisfied "road vehicle" consumers, and notes there is much "big news" coming from Mazda the next six to 24 months. Case also notes that Mazda Motorsports Director John Doonan feels this effort is the most significant step Mazda has taken towards returning to the global racing stage since its 1991 Le Mans overall victory.

Back to the street.

Introduced in 2013, CX-5 is now a "tops in class" crossover concerning highway MPG. The entry level front-drive Sport, which comes with a smaller 2.0-liter four-cylinder coupled to a six speed manual, delivers 26 city and 35 highway for just $21,545. For $22,945, you'll receive the Skyactiv six-speed automatic where EPA mileage stays the same in the city at 26 but drops a bit on the highway to 32.

If you want an AWD Sport, it goes for just $23,345 where, most important, the engine bay now features a 2.5-liter four cylinder instead of the 2.0. Test Drive applauds Mazda for a quick "additional engine" fix, as the lack of a bigger engine was a concern Test Drive expressed during our 2013 CX-5 column. EPA numbers for AWD CX-5 models are 24 city and 30 highway.

Engine specs are 155 horses at 150 lb. ft. of torque for the 2.0, while the larger 2.5 delivers 184 horses and 185 lb. ft. of torque. Rumors have Mazda already gearing for a turbo option for the CX-5 for 2015 and perhaps even a turbo diesel one day in the future.

Underneath, CX-5 features unibody construction and independent suspension that results in a nimble, fun to drive vehicle. It's easy to park and a pleasure on the open highway.

Standard features on all CX-5s'are many, but when you step up to top line Touring models, like our tester, amenities improve dramatically. Included are power sunroof, blind spot monitoring, Bluetooth, Sirius/Bose stereo AM/FM/CD, Halogen headlights, 5.8-inch display with rear back-up safety camera, 19-inch tires on alloy wheels, dual zone air, 20/40/20 rear split seat, leather trim, power driver seat with lumbar, heated seats and more. Additionally, kudos for the control knobs instead of touch for the stereo as I dislike touch screens to control stations or volume.

On the safety side, a government "5-Star" rating results in an IIHS Top Safety Pick when equipped with the "Smart City Brake Support," which helps prevent fender benders and comes with a $1,425 Grand Touring Tech option. Standard safety items includes all the air bags, blind spot monitoring, hill start assist, dynamic stability, traction controls, four-wheel disc anti-lock brakes and more.

The cabin deserves praise as taller adults will find lots of rear seat room and the gauges are visually pleasing. Overall, the cabin is top class.

Important numbers include a wheelbase of 106.2 inches, 3,426 curb weight, 15.3 gallon fuel tank, and 34.1 to 65.4 cu. ft. of cargo space depending of seat arrangement, 2,000 lb. tow capacity.

Mazda engineers are ahead of the curve, and very "proactive" with its "Skyactiv" dogma. This all results in a solid Test Drive CX-5 best buy recommendation.

Likes: Design, 2.5 engine, roomy, amenities, safety, handling.

Dislikes: Expensive option packages, not much else.

----

(Greg Zyla is a syndicated columnist)