Sleek, six-figure exotics should shimmer and glisten with the menacing beauty of a pearl-handled pistol.
At least, they darn sure better.
If my wallet were as big as my dreams, I would expect my quarter-million-dollar Ferrari 458 to set my six-car garage ablaze with its scary, smoldering looks.
Who in the real world cares about mainstream meat-and-potato sedans and crossovers – nicely appointed appliances built to sit in line at a Starbucks?
Most scratch out a lowly, dented existence on clogged freeways and city streets, resting occasionally in sunbaked suburban driveways or jam-packed parking lots.
So why worry about their beltlines or the shape of their headlamps?
Odd little Mazda obviously does, though. Just check out the candy-apple red 2017 CX-5 Grand Touring I had recently, a $35,000 compact crossover that outshines some near-luxury vehicles.
For decades, the Japanese automaker put a priority on building lively, good-driving compacts, culminating with the first, fabulous Miata sports car in 1989.
Then somehow, three or four years ago, Mazda found its styling groove – a rarity among Japanese automakers.
Put simply, no one will think “stubby crossover” when they see the CX-5.
In keeping with the new Mazda design – freshened some on the CX-5 this year -- it wore a large, blacked-out pentagon-shaped grille flanked by angry, squinting headlamps.
A great slender piece of chrome trim at the base of the grille extended beneath the headlamps, giving the CX-5 some great detail.
Photo Credit: Mazda
Meanwhile, an unusually long, graceful hood further obscured the crossover’s plebian roots, as did a couple of well-sculpted lines on its mostly flat sides.
Even though the CX-5 is fairly tall – 66.1 inches, to be exact – its short overhangs front and rear and squared-off shoulders over the back wheels gave it a fairly athletic stance.
Dual exhausts and Miata-style taillamps added to the vehicle’s mystery, while 225/55 tires on 19-inch, 10-spoke wheels kept it more or less stuck to the ground.
In all honesty, though, some of it is bluster – something I guess we in the good old USA are learning to live with now.
Mazda, a relatively small, independent automaker, says it strives to build harmonious cars and crossovers -- stylish vehicles that hum with lively engines and ride on solid, dynamic platforms.
I would say they are about 75 percent of the way there.
The CX-5, for example, feels refined and well-developed, quietly soaking up bumps and bad pavement while providing a wide-awake, athletic ride.
Although it leaned a bit in moderate-speed corners, the smallish crossover maintained its composure well, carving pretty decent lines through curves.
In addition, quick steering with the right amount of assist conveyed good road feel, providing lots of input about how the front wheels were faring.
As always, though, the CX-5’s skinny “SkyActiv” engine – which only gained a couple of horsepower for 2017 – dulled its considerable shine.
It just needs more muscle.
At a time when other automakers rely on turbocharging for extra oomph, Mazda’s normally aspirated 2.5-liter four-banger generates a modest 187-horsepower in a 3,600-pound, all-wheel-drive vehicle.
While reasonably smooth with good initial jump, the 2.5 goes flat pretty quickly, unable to generate any real surge past 3,000 rpm.
Thankfully, the Mazda has a true transmission and not some lackluster pulley-and-belt CVT like Nissan, Subaru, Toyota and even Honda now use.
The CX-5’s well-sorted six-speed automatic clicked off quick, tight shifts, disguising some of the engine’s weaknesses.
A zero to 60 run will still take you a sluggish 7.8 seconds, according to Car and Driver, and hard acceleration is about as exciting as flossing.
At least the CX-5 can squeeze out 23 miles per gallon in town and 29 on the highway.
For 2017, Mazda also upgraded what was already a pretty nice interior.
A deep black dashboard cast in pliable, flat-tone plastic curved gracefully over the instrument panel before dropping down to a mid-dash trimmed in gray.
Rather than clutter things with a clunky center-stack, the CX-5 offered only a 7-inch display screen protruding from the mid-dash like an iPad.
Unfortunately, Mazda chose to include cursed touchpads for tuning and turning up the radio, while providing buttons and knobs for the climate system.
But, hey, they mostly made up for it by stitching the seats in off-white leather and trimming the console and armrests in off-white.
Also on board were high-tech nannies such as blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning and lane-keep “assist.”
Moreover, leg and headroom in back was good and 18 cubic feet of storage space was available in back.
In fact, the nifty interior was a good place to contemplate this: all Mazda really needs for its high-minded CX-5 is about 75 more horsepower.
C’mon, Mazda. Give us some of that automotive bliss you talk so much about.
2017 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring
- What I liked most: The CX-5’s fine style inside and out.
- What I would change: Its weak 2.5-liter engine.
- MSRP: Base price, $30,695; as equipped, $34,380.
- Fuel economy: Rated at 23 mpg in town, 29 on the highway and 26 combined.
- Official color: Soul Red Crystal Metallic.
- Odometer reading when tested: 424 miles.
- Weight: About 3,600 pounds.
- Length-width-height: 179.1 inches tall/72.5 inches wide/ 66.1 inches tall.
- Fuel-tank capacity: 14.8 gallons.
- Towing capacity: 2,000 pounds.
- 2017 CX-5 in a few words: A highly distinctive crossover close to being best in class.
- Warranty: Three-year, 36,000-mile basic; five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain.
- Final assembly location: Hiroshima, Japan.
- Manufacturer’s website: Mazda