This undated image made available by Mazda shows the 2014 CX-5 compact sport utility vehicle. (AP Photo/Mazda)
This undated image made available by Mazda shows the 2014 CX-5 compact sport utility vehicle. (AP Photo/Mazda)

In its first year, the Mazda CX-5 crossover sport utility vehicle won over auto critics with its driver-pleasing handling, comfortable interior and sporty looks.

Now in its second model year, the five-passenger CX-5 promises to garner more compliments, thanks to a more powerful, but still fuel-efficient, engine that puts zoom-zoom into the compact SUV.

New for 2014, the 2.5-liter, double overhead cam, SkyActiv-G four cylinder has a larger displacement than the original 2-liter four cylinder and generates 184 horsepower, an increase of 29 over last year's sole engine. Its horsepower is higher than the four cylinder in the 2014 Toyota RAV4 and even one of the turbo engines offered in the 2014 Ford Escape SUV.

The new Mazda engine also delivers 185 foot-pounds of torque at 3,250 rpm, which compares with 150 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm in the CX-5's smaller engine and the RAV4's 172 foot-pounds at 4,100 rpm.

The intriguing part is that federal government fuel economy ratings for the front-wheel drive CX-5 with the more powerful engine still are near the top of the non-hybrid, gasoline-powered, compact crossover class: 25 miles per gallon in city driving and 32 mpg on the highway.

Add some new features for 2014 and the fact the CX-5 is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine, and it's no wonder the CX-5 is Mazda's second best-selling vehicle in America. In fact, the 54,388 U.S. sales so far this calendar year are more than double the CX-5 sales from last year at this time.

The CX-5 still offers a six-speed manual, though it is only with the smaller, 2-liter engine that remains in the lineup.

All told, the 2014 CX-5 remains an affordable and noteworthy choice for smaller SUV shoppers.

Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $22,190 for a base, 2014 CX-5 Sport with front-wheel drive and six-speed manual transmission.

The lowest starting retail price for a base, 2014 CX-5 Sport with six-speed automatic transmission is $23,590, or $1,400 more.

The lowest starting MSRP, including destination charge, for a 2014 CX-5 with all-wheel drive is $24,840. The only transmission available with all-wheel drive is the six-speed automatic.

All base models, which are Sport trim, have the base, 155-horsepower, 2-liter four cylinder.

Buyers wanting the new, 2.5-liter four cylinder must move up to a 2014 CX-5 Touring or Grand Touring model. Starting retail price for a 2014 CX-5 Touring FWD is $25,610, while a Touring model with all-wheel drive starts at $26,860.

The base CX-5 prices undercut, just a bit, some competitors, such as the 2014 Toyota RAV4, which has a starting retail price, including destination charge, of $24,160 for a front-wheel drive model with 176-horsepower four cylinder and automatic transmission. The starting retail price of the 2014 CX-5 is just a bit more than the $22,345 for a 2014 Ford Escape with 168-horsepower four cylinder, automatic transmission and front-wheel drive.

The test CX-5 was a top-of-the-line Grand Touring model with all-wheel drive, plus the optional technology package that added a TomTom navigation system, high-intensity-discharge headlamps and advanced keyless entry, among other things. As a result, the test vehicle's window sticker price was just over $32,000.

Drivers can notice quickly the difference between the smaller four cylinder and the new one in the CX-5. The higher-powered CX-5 accelerates more eagerly and moves in sprightly fashion, due in part to the vehicle's impressive low weight that Mazda engineers carefully honed.

The base CX-5 weighs less than 3,200 pounds, or about the same as a base, 2014 Honda Accord car. Even the CX-5 Grand Touring model with the slightly larger engine and front wheel drive weighs less than the top, 2014 Accord LX sedan.

Power in the CX-5 came on smoothly and steadily through the automatic transmission. While there were some straining sounds from the four cylinder when the SUV was pressed to pass other vehicles on long, uphill highway stretches in mountain country, the performance was far better than what comes from the smaller engine.

Fuel economy was a surprising 25.5 mpg, which is just below the combined city/highway mileage of 26 mpg estimated by the federal government. This translated into a travel range of 390 miles in the all-wheel drive model, which had a 15.3-gallon fuel tank. Regular unleaded gasoline is all that's needed.

Note that the impact of the larger four banger on fuel economy is meager, as it garners 25/32-mpg federal fuel economy ratings in the front-wheel drive CX-5 vs. the 26/32-mpg ratings for a front-wheel drive CX-5 with the smaller engine.

The test CX-5 was stable in curves and corners, with little body lean exhibited. The driver became increasingly confident in making sharp maneuvers, since the SUV rode like it was kept tightly connected to the road and responsive to steering inputs.

The engaging experience for the driver, who, like other SUV drivers, sits a good distance above the pavement, helps set the CX-5 apart. Simply, there are plenty of crossover SUVs with a more plush, more isolated-from-the-road ride, and they have quieter interiors, too, than the CX-5. But this Mazda is agile, fun and relatively spunky, particularly for drivers who prefer a sporty car ride.

The CX-5 interior isn't as stylized as those of some other vehicles, such as the Ford Escape. But it's handsome and functional.

The 5.8-inch display screen in the middle of the dashboard isn't as large as those in some Toyotas, for example, and the TomTom nav is OK but not exceptional in its graphics.

The CX-5 seats, leather-trimmed in the test vehicle, were supportive on lengthy drives, and back-seat legroom of 39.3 inches was unexpectedly generous.

Towing capacity is 2,000 pounds.