Since the Mazda CX-5 launched in March 2012, its reviews have been largely the same: Exceptional styling. Quality interior. Car-like handling with a supple ride. Class-leading fuel economy. But ...

There's always been a "but." And up until now, the "but" has always been related to the same gripe: engine power. Despite the CX-5's many virtues, it just can't hang with the rest of the small crossover pack at only 155 horsepower. And so the 2014 Mazda CX-5 2.5-liter is doing its part to remove the "but" with a larger engine under the hood.

Does it work?

Just a few minutes in the latest CX-5 answers that question. Yes, it works -- and it works well. The new engine is Mazda's Skyactiv 2.5-liter 4-cylinder (also used in the latest Mazda6 sedan). At 184 hp, it's still no muscle car big block. It's no Toyota RAV4 V6 that trounces competitors -- and many sports cars -- off the line. Driving the 2.5-liter CX-5, it was still clear the crossover could've benefited from a little more passing power, even in spite of a smooth transmission that wasted little time hunting for gears. But the new engine solves the CX-5's biggest problem without compromising its greatest attribute.

That attribute, of course, is fuel economy. With last year's 2.0-liter motor hooked to the standard 6-speed manual, the CX-5 returned a best-in-class 35 miles per gallon highway. But since no one really gets the stick, it's better to focus on the 6-speed automatic and its 26 mpg city and 32 mpg highway numbers. Still, impressive stuff.

The new engine, however, doesn't come with a stick. Automatic versus automatic, its fuel rating is nearly identical to the 2.0-liter: 25 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. In other words, the new motor adds 30 horsepower and shaves off only 1 mile per gallon in the city. All-wheel drive brings a slightly higher disadvantage (24/30 for the 2.5, compared to 25/31 for the 2.0), but the main point is the same: The bigger motor brings a much-needed power boost without hurting gas mileage.

But the old engine isn't gone forever. On the contrary, it lives on in the CX-5 Sport, the crossover's base trim level, which now starts at $21,195 before destination. Stepping up to an automatic requires $22,595, while automatic-only all-wheel drive starts at $23,845.

Drivers who want the latest engine will have to pony up for a midlevel CX-5 Touring, which adds a reversing camera, Bluetooth and other goodies to the CX-5 Sport. That trim starts at $24,614, while a top-level CX-5 Grand Touring (think leather, a sunroof, BOSE sound and automatic headlights) goes for $27,620. All-wheel drive is about $1,200 extra on both models.

Is the new engine worth it?

We're into cars. We like speed. We like handling. And we like driving. We also like gadgets, many of which are only optional on Touring and Grand Touring models. If you're nodding your head in unison with any of the above, chances are high that it's worth it. After all, the more powerful engine adds less than $500 to the base price of last year's Touring and Grand Touring models without sacrificing fuel economy. For the gadget-conscious and speed-obsessed, it's an easy decision.

But that isn't to say the new 2.5-liter motor is for everyone. Budget-conscious shoppers more concerned with the bottom line than pulling away from the line will likely be satisfied with the 2.0-liter. After all, more than 43,000 buyers chose the CX-5 last year with that same powerplant.

Regardless of engine choice, shoppers will find that all the good things about the 2014 CX-5 have been carried over into the 2014 model. The same sharp handling awaits drivers at each corner, while a pliant ride keeps composure over bumps. The crossover's styling is still mostly endearing, and its interior remains highly competitive in a segment known for rivalry. We're still fond of the switchgear, and the CX-5 provides excellent value for the money.

That said, we do have some gripes. The optional navigation system, for example, is clunky and difficult to use. Why does the Mazda6 sedan get all the fun of having paddle shifters on its steering wheel? And a turn signal lane changer that gives three flashes with the push of the stalk would be nice.

In other words, the 2014 Mazda CX-5 2.5-liter has gone from a major "but" to a few nitpicky minor ones -- proof that it can take on segment leaders such as the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson and Toyota RAV4. No "buts" about it.

author photo

Doug DeMuro has a wide range of automotive industry experience, from work at a Ferrari dealership to a manager for Porsche North America. A lifelong car enthusiast, Doug's eclectic vehicle purchases include a Porsche 911 Turbo, an E63 AMG wagon, an old Range Rover and a Mercedes Benz G-wagen.

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