If you're looking for a compact crossover SUV, there are lots of good choices. The freshly re-worked Toyota RAV4, recently updated Honda CR-V and the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport are just a few. So where does the 2013 Mazda CX-5 fit in? Since it's a Mazda, we expect a little more in terms of sharp handling and a general fun to drive attitude. To test that theory, we ditched the child safety seats and strollers and headed to Atlanta Motorsports Park in Georgia.

Mazda's Skyactiv 2.0 liter, four cylinder engine promises big fuel economy numbers - as much as 35 mpg on the highway when paired with a 6-speed manual transmission. That figure drops to 32 mpg with the automatic transmission ? and that's the way our tester is equipped. It's true, the 155 horsepower, 2.0 liter engine isn't super quick but it does have adequate power. If we use the shift-it-yourself feature on the automatic transmission, the CX-5 is clearly a lot more fun. For 2014, the Mazda CX-5 gets an optional 2.5 liter engine that increases power significantly.

But what really makes the CX-5 so much fun is that it delivers exceptional handling for a small SUV. Compared to the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, the Mazda is sharper and more precise. The RAV4 and it's new Sport mode comes close, but ultimately the Mazda has that extra edge some people really like. The Mazda CX-5 also has a lot more grip than the RAV4, even if you get the RAV4 Limited with the bigger wheels and wider tires. Thankfully, the Mazda's edge doesn't come at the expense of ride comfort. On the uneven and pothole ridden street of downtown Atlanta, the ride can be jarring but, for the most part, the CX-5 offers a smooth ride.

It might seem weird to take a small SUV to a race track, but we're really impressed with how well the CX-5 does. It's no race-car, but when comparing it to other small SUVs, the CX-5 is the most rewarding to drive hard.

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Brian Moody heads up the AutoTrader.com editorial team. He has been an automotive writer and presenter for 15 years. Prior to that, Moody spent several years working in local television news and worked at a few used car dealerships in Sacramento, California. His first car was a 1964 Buick Skylark, but today he has a strange fascination with 1990s era GM luxury cars - don’t ask. Brian lives near Atlanta with his wife and two kids.

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