Mazda CX-5 — A standout crossover

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

One of the most popular automotive segments in the U.S. is the compact crossover, and prospective buyers have a vast array of very good products from which to pick. But like every other segment, there are standouts — vehicles that rise like cream to the top. The second-generation Mazda CX-5 is one of those handful of vehicles that stand taller than the rest. The CX-5 was redesigned for 2017 with a comfortable ride quality, a full slate of the latest safety and technology features, a surprisingly sprightly driving demeanor, and a refined interior that could live quite well in a luxury SUV.

Mazda has made a few improvements in the carryover 2018 model not the least of which is the inclusion of blindspot monitoring with cross traffic alert as standard equipment across the lineup. The other notable improvement for 2018 is a slight uptick in gas mileage — any improvement as gas prices rise can be applauded. All-wheel drive models are now rated at 24 mpg city, 30 highway and 26 overall, a one mpg improvement on the city and highway numbers.

With the new generation in 2017, Mazda elected to stay with its 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed automatic. But it's not exactly the same for 2018 — Mazda revised the pistons and rings reducing knock and friction, and added three horsepower now making 187. Mazda says engine response is quicker and the transmission shift strategy has been revised for quicker first-to-second upshifts. Despite our usual lead-foot driving technique we actually beat the combined number recording 28.5 mpg for 420 miles of mixed driving.

We found the CX-5 adequate for all driving circumstances including passing and merging, although its performance is only average at best in the compact segment ranks. For comparison purposes, 0-to-60 can be accomplished in around 8.5 seconds with a quarter mile speed of 85 mph. We wish Mazda had a bigger engine option like several of its competitors.

About the time we were analyzing the just-OK power delivery we hit a winding stretch of road and discovered all is right when behind the wheel of the CX-5. It's a handling champ compared to most of the competition. Mazda says this is due in part to a feature it calls G-Vectoring Control, which "adjusts engine torque in response to steering wheel action, delivering unified control over lateral and longitudinal acceleration (G) forces and optimizing the vertical load on each wheel." This is one crossover that's fun to drive.

On mountain road twists and turns and you will discover the handling prowess that feels more like a well-sorted sports coupe than a taller-riding people mover. The vehicle corners like it was wearing a MX-5 rather than the CX-5 emblem. And all the while the car amazes its occupants with a quiet cabin that mimics a much more expensive vehicle.

Materials have a quality look and feel with use of contrasting colors, aluminum or wood trim, and solid feeling controls. Mazda eliminated interior noise at highway speed by adding extra carpeting in such places as under the center console; and Mazda switched to a headliner material less reflective of sounds.

Standard equipment for every CX-5 includes a 7-inch touchscreen with Mazda's Connect infotainment system, a backup camera and a 40/20/40-split folding backseat that reclines. In addition, Mazda redesigned the back doors to open wider for easier entrance and exit. The biggest downside is the CX-5 hardware does not yet support the popular Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

While rear-passenger seat space is adequate, Mazda did not scrimp on luggage space behind the seats with 30.9 cubic feet. Cargo space measures 59.6 cubic feet with all seats folded.

The CX-5 is available is three trim levels — Sport, Touring and Grand Touring starting at $25,125 including destination charge. All models are front-wheel drive with all-wheel drive available as a $1,300 option. The most popular trim is the Touring starting at $27,190 including destination charge. Touring comes with most of the driving comforts people desire in their vehicles without adding options.

Our test car was a Grand Touring model with all-wheel drive carrying a base price of $31,920. For that price it came with everything we would want including adaptive cruise control and an upgraded audio system, but it still had $2,765 in options including heated rear seats and a special paint color. Normally we believe manufacturers shouldn’t charge extra for paint but the stunning Soul Red Crystal Metallic Parchment on our CX-5 is certainly worth the extra cost.

Base price: $25,125; as driven, $34,685
Engine: 2.5-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 187 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 185 foot-pounds @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 106.2 inches
Length: 179.1 inches
Curb weight: 3,655 pounds
Turning circle: 36 feet
Luggage capacity: 30.9 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 59.6 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 2,000 pounds
Fuel capacity: 15.3 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 24 city, 30 highway, 26 combined
0-60: 8.5 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Honda CR-V, Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape

The Good
• Quiet spacious cabin
• Beautiful exterior styling
• Excellent handling traits

The Bad
• Only average performance

The Ugly
• Apple Car Play, Android Auto unavailable