The Mazda CX-5 is a midsize crossover that delivers crisp driving response with practical cargo and people hauling capability. Rivals include the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape and Subaru Forester.
The CX-5 was redesigned for 2017, with a retuned engine, stiffer chassis with wider track, more stylish exterior, better-looking and much quieter cabin, and many detail improvements. So for 2018 there are no changes, except for the addition of some equipment, for a very small increase in price.
Standard is a 2.5-liter gas engine that makes 187 horsepower, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.
The powertrain of the CX-5 is crisp, and the steering precise, thanks to the rigidity of the chassis, as well as its standard brake-based torque vectoring system that shifts torque to outside wheels in corners. The CX-5’s excellent handling makes it more fun to drive than the other compact crossovers. Ford and Subaru off more powerful turbocharged engines.
The CX-5 is small for a compact crossover, with a wheelbase of 106.3 inches and overall length of 179.1. As a result, it has less room inside than the Honda CR-V and Nissan Rogue. But that same trait makes it easier to park and enhances its responsive handling.
Fuel mileage is 24 miles per gallon city, 31 highway, and 27 combined with front-wheel drive, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The 2016 CX-5 earned Top Safety Pick+ of the insurance industry’s IIHS, so the 2018 model should equal that, with the stiffer chassis including stiffer roof pillars.
The 2017 Mazda CX-5 comes in Sport ($24,150); Touring ($26,215); and Grand Touring ($29,645). All-wheel drive is optional ($1300); front-wheel drive is standard.
CX-5 Sport comes with LED headlamps, 7.0-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth connectivity, rearview camera; cloth upholstery, and two USB chargers that can charge bigger things.
CX-5 Touring adds leatherette upholstery, acoustic front windows, power driver’s seat, heated front seats, better six-speaker sound system, rear USB ports, and blind-spot monitors. An optional package ($780) adds automatic headlamps, navigation, power liftgate, and Bose 10-speaker sound. Another package includes forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane departure warning ($625).
Grand Touring models add leather and 19-inch wheels to the above. Options beyond that include heated rear seats and a new head-up display.
The CX-5 is an eye-catching compact crossover. It doesn’t look boxy. It states style. The styling changes made for 2017 were subtle, and should hold up for years.
It’s a cliche to say a car looks like it’s moving when it’s standing still, but it’s a near-impossibility to say that about a crossover. However we will say it about the CX-5.
The front pillars are pushed back, and the shoulders follow. There’s a slim chrome boomerang under the windows to accelerate the flow. The mesh grille is classier than chrome bars in other SUVs, a bold rounded trapezoid that reaches toward LED headlamps. The black cladding is thin and the taillamps are tidy.
The CX-5 cabin is much like that of the more deluxe CX-9. It’s enhanced by some of the details that were addressed for 2017, for example clean interior lighting, a tidy steering wheel, and a shift lever located in a natural position for the driver’s hand. Mazda pays close attention to ergonomics. The pushed-back A pillars allow good visibility from the driver’s seat, and better ergonomics because the armrests are raised to a more natural position.
Thanks to the addition of nearly 100 pounds of sound-deadening material, the cabin is as quiet as a Lexus. However, cabin engineers missed a couple things. The 7.0-inch touchscreen sits atop the dash, a bit too far away, and reflects smudges. The resolution is sharp, but the infotainment system is finicky; things like programming presets or entering destinations take more touches than should be necessary, and the controller on the center console is a bit hard to grip.
Mazda takes a Spartan approach to infotainment. This works when it makes things simple, but it’s difficult to find a happy functioning medium.
There’s decent shoulder room in the rear, with rear doors that open wide. Thanks to scalloping in the back of the front seats, there’s enough legroom for a six-footer in the rear, although three of them might push the comfort level a bit. The rear seat reclines, another feature new for 2017.
Behind the rear seat, there’s 31 cubic feet of storage, and 60 cubic with the rear folded flat. That’s quite decent, although a bit less than those competitors we’ve mentioned, the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, and Subaru Forester. However we can state that we stuffed a ton of stuff inside, including furniture, along with a kayak and four Jeep tires on the roof, to take a kid back to college.
The response in every direction feels finely tuned. Mazda nailed it. We’re not surprised.
The performance is sharp from the engine, transmission, and especially the steering. The throttle response is quite sharp, which encourages smooth driving; that also means it’s not very forgiving of a loose or unthinking foot, but we’ll take that over sloppy any day.
The transmission is programmed to stay in gear for a bit longer under acceleration, which you especially feel when the car is accelerating onto freeways. It knows where it is, at least most of the time, by reading your foot.
We got about 150 miles of seat time at the launch of the CX-5, and then another full week carrying around equipment like kayaks and bikes. That time was all on models with 19-inch wheels, rather than the standard 17s. The ride is usually firmer with bigger wheels because the tire sidewalls are thinner, but ours didn’t feel stiff. Most of the bumps were soaked up by the independent front suspension and multi-link rear. The steering rack is mounted directly to the front suspension for more sensitivity, and better feedback. But not too much, on bumpy roads.
The precise cornering comes with progressive steering that’s firm but not heavy. The torque vectoring helps cut down head toss. Torque vectoring works by making tiny adjustments to the power and traction in individual wheels, in the corners; this improves balance which makes steering and handling sharper and more accurate. That’s what the driver feels: precision and better balance.
Long list of exceptionals here, starting with the big four: powertrain, handling, looks and cabin. When you’re tops in those four, you’re virtually for sure the best in class. Infotainment might be the only area where it doesn’t beat its rivals. In short, the Mazda CX-5 is hands-down a winner.
Sam Moses contributed to this report.