The Mazda CX-5 has been a perennial hot cake in sales for Mazda since its 2013 inception. In fact, in 2018 the CX-5 was the brand’s best seller, outselling all of its stablemates combined. With a recent refresh in 2017, Mazda keeps refining its models every year and this new Signature trimmed model sports a more powerful engine, enhanced luxury features that build on top of Mazda’s push towards a more premium status and a refined look. I recently spent a few days with this particular CX-5 (also vetting it as a potential garage-mate for the Ford) to see how Mazda’s upmarket push is doing.
Landing at the airport, I was pleasantly surprised to see the decked out Mazda CX-5 (instead of, y’know, a Malibu) waiting for me in the parking lot. Crossovers these days are so numerous that they’ve become as anonymous as Toyota Camrys way back when sedans were a manufacturer’s top seller. You’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all. However, I’ve always been smitten by Mazda’s recent design language and it looks especially right-sized on the CX-5. Properly proportioned and with tight design elements, this mid-sized crossover manages look refined yet sporty, elegant yet not snobbish all at the same time. I’m no purveyor of car designs, but Mazda just seems to knock out home runs every time (except for the unfortunate goofy-faced era from 2009-2013…that was just wrong) when it comes designing its vehicles. Take the badges off and you’d seriously think this was BMW/Mercedes money, easily twice as much as it actually costs.
Inside, Mazda’s push upmarket is more evident. Material quality and touches are Audi-worthy. Most everywhere you touch feels soft and supple. Sure, if you look hard enough, hard plastics will eventually emerge but they’re in places your fingers aren’t likely to venture.The various knobs and buttons felt good to the touch and sufficiently weighted to lend a sense of luxury. The front seats are comfortable and featured both heating and ventilating. As a matter of fact, after a two hour road trip, I got out feeling refreshed and not in the least bit fatigued. While the Mazda CX-5 may be down on total interior space compared to its chief rivals (think CR-V and RAV4), there’s still a decent amount inside for a small family. I had a good amount in the driver’s seat and found it easy to get into a comfortable driving position. In back, the seats offer good leg and headroom, plus the option to recline (and they’re heated!).
On the road, its funny how Mazda is able to inject their vehicles with the same fun-to-drive verve as the MX-5 Miata roadster. Hustling the CX-5 on some back roads, shades of the little roadster I reviewed a few weeks earlier were evident. Despite being a heavier vehicle, turn-in was eager and the chassis never felt upset in any of the situations I threw at it. Where some crossovers lurch and protest at throwing them into corners, the CX-5 simply noses in where its pointed and hangs on with tenacity. Yes, you can’t mistake 3800lbs for a Miata, but Mazda does an impeccable job at hiding the CX-5’s weight unless you’re really pushing it, a point at which understeer becomes prevalent. For all the fun it is to drive, the Mazda also displays admirable highway road manners. The suspension soaks up all but the harshest road abnormalities and tracks arrow-straight with little intervention needed from the helm. A good blend of comfort and sportiness I thought. Powering this Signature trimmed model is the CX-9’s SkyActiv-G, turbocharged 2.5-liter four cylinder rated at 250-hp and a diesel-like 310 lb-ft of torque on premium fuel. Expect slightly lower figures on regular fuel. Routed to all four wheels via a 6-speed automatic, this engine provides most of its grunt in the low to mid-range of the tachometer and quickly loses steam once in tach’s upper levels. This is intentional and, per Mazda’s research into how most of us drive when designing this engine, is pretty much spot on. Passing power is almost effortless and the transmission smartly chooses the right gear for each occasion. Each dig in the throttle at 60 mph was met with a downshift and a surge that moved the CX-5 with authority. Sure you can use the paddle shifters and execute snappy rev-matched downshifts in Sport mode, but the transmission is so smart, I can’t remember touching them after my first outing.
Further refining the CX-5’s road manners, is a system Mazda calls G-Vectoring Control. This system limits engine’s torque to the front wheels once steering is applied into a corner, based on the vertical load of each wheel. The torque is then varied depending on how much load is place on each wheel, enhancing stability and maximizing grip and engine torque on each specific wheel. The system works entirely in the background and at a rate completely anonymous to the driver (I certainly couldn’t feel it working). There’s definitely a higher level of sophistication and, dare I say, classiness, in the way the Mazda CX-5 moves compared to its rivals.
Mazda hasn’t skipped on the technology front either with a host of safety features designed to keep you and your pack safe. Some of these include: Mazda City Brake Support which can apply the brakes automatically if an impending accident is sensed, lane departure warning and lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive headlights with automatic high beams, rain-sensing windshield wipers and a head-up display. A 7.0 inch touchscreen is standard and in the Signature trim, such niceties like navigation (Apple Carplay and Android Auto are standard), a 10 speaker Bose audio system, 19″ silver, dark finish wheels, a sunroof and power operated rear liftgate. About the only negative I could find with the CX-5 (and pretty most every Mazda thus equipped) is the infotainment system. The screen is a bit clunky, sometimes slow to respond and manipulating it through the rotary selector on the center console can be a challenge. Basically, the system isn’t very intuitive though I suppose, given enough time, it can be learned. However, one thing which was a constant irritant (it could’ve just been my particular phone so there’s that disclaimer) was Android Auto. I lost the ability to use the touchscreen every time my phone was paired, forcing me to use the rotary knob. Every time. That’s not good.
Sure, you could find more spacious compact crossovers. But Mazda’s CX-5 is the one for you if driving pleasure is high on your list as it is mine. It blends the practicality of a crossover with the kind of driving pleasure that doesn’t stray far from Mazda’s iconic sports car and at a sticker of just over $34k, is competitive with its rivals. After handing the car back at the airport, the Mazda CX-5 will definitely be at the top of our shopping list when the time comes.