Mazda is among the smaller Japanese brands, yet it has deftly configured its product lineup to take advantage of America's affinity for SUVs. As compact SUVs have become the sales leaders in the US, the CX-5 is positioned to take advantage of this segment's growing popularity.
The CX-5 is offered in three trim levels: Sport ($24,140), Touring ($26,216), & Grand Touring ($29,645). All models are available with optional all-wheel drive. Our test vehicle was a Grand Touring AWD model equipped with illuminated door trim plates ($400), soul red crystal paint ($595), rear bumper guard ($125), retractable cargo cover ($250), and premium package ($1,395). The premium package includes heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, windshield wiper deicer, and a head-up display. Other standard equipment includes LED headlights, Bose(R) audio system, leather seats, power driver's and front passenger seats. The total MSRP added up to $34,685 including the $975 delivery fee.
Mazda powers the CX-5 with its 2.5L Skyactiv inline-4 mated to a 6-speed automatic. The dual-overhead cam and direct-injected four is rated at 187-hp @ 6,000 RPM and 186 lb.-ft. @ 4,000 RPM. Redline is a conservative 6,500 RPM. The 6-speed automatic has overdrive fifth (0.708:1) and sixth (0.599:1) gears. All-wheel drive models have a higher final drive ratio (4.624 vs. 4.325). The EPA fuel consumption rating is 24/30 MPG (city/hwy.) for AWD. Opting for front-drive improves the EPA rating to 25/31 MPG (city/hwy.).
As with most other compact SUVs, the front suspension consists of MacPherson struts, coil springs, and a stabilizer bar. A rear multi-link layout has coil springs, dampers and a stabilizer bar. The electrically-assisted steering is geared for 2.7 revolutions lock-to-lock. Brakes are discs all around with ABS, Dynamic Stability Control, and Hill Launch Assist. Touring and Grand Touring models are equipped with 19-inch diameter alloy wheels shod with P225/55R19 Toyo A36 all-season tires. Curb weight is 3,693 lbs. for the CX-5 AWD, or 130 lbs. heavier than the front-drive model.
Many affordable SUVs suffer from indifferent materials and interior design, but the CX-5 is a notable exception. Premium matte aluminum trim and double-stitched dash and door panels set this Mazda apart from its competition. The front seats, covered in perforated ivory leather, offer decent thigh and torso support. Front headroom is ample for 6 ft. tall occupants, even with the standard sunroof. Rear seat also accommodate tall occupants with above average legroom. The center seat occupant will likely complain about the rigid rear seatback.
Instruments consist of an analog speedometer and tachometer, complemented with digital fuel and temperature gauges integrated within a multi-function display. A head-up display projects vehicle speed, speed limit, and lane departure warning status on the windshield just below eye level. The navigation and infotainment touchscreen display sits atop the dashboard like a mini-tablet. Frequently used functions are accessed via knobs and button on the center console between the seats, next to the electronic parking brake. Rotary knobs for the dual climate controls are conveniently located within easy reach, or the touchscreen can be used directly. USB ports, analog audio input, and 12V power outlet on the center console are intended for mobile devices. An additional 12V power outlet is within the center console storage compartment.
Mazda's Skyactiv inline-4 is tuned for midrange torque, ensuring reasonable acceleration from a stop. Above the 4,000 RPM torque peak, acceleration rapidly tapers off, so we rarely bothered to rev to the 6,000 RPM redline. Also, as with most other large displacement fours, the engine drones as revs approach the redline. At highway speeds, the inline-4 is pleasantly muted. The 6-speed automatic progresses through the gears seamlessly. Shifts in Manual or Sport mode occur with minimal delay. Given a choice, we usually select the transmission's Sport mode, but we found that the Mazda's normal shift calibration was responsive enough in urban driving.
Mazda prides itself on imbuing its vehicles with nimble handling, so the crisp road manners of the CX-5 are expected. The CX-5's precise steering accurately transmits road surface textures to the driver. Mild understeer, combined with sharp turn-in response confirmed that Mazda's engineers did not abandon car enthusiasts. Firm damping controls body motions, but the consequence is a jittery ride over the cratered roads in Michigan. Despite the firm damping, the suspension tuning never verges on harsh or jarring. Around curves, the CX-5 remains relatively flat and planted, working with the driver to carve through corners. The all-disc brakes provide impressive stopping power, aided by firm, progressive brake pedal actuation. Wind and tire noise are also hushed, making the CX-5 suited for long road trips. At night, the Mazda's bright headlights cast an even and extended beam pattern. The foglights complement the headlights with wide coverage at ground level.
Mazda's second-generation CX-5 is an impressive compact SUV. Priced competitively with other vehicles in its segment, the CX-5 stands out with its impressive build quality and premium interior materials. Mazda understands the "Sport" in SUV, so the CX-5 is more engaging to drive than most of its competition. If "driving matters" to you, as the Mazda tagline says, the CX-5 should be on your short list of compact SUVs.