Mazda CX-5 — Stylish and fun to drive

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

We discovered first-hand the outstanding attributes the refreshed 2016 Mazda CX-5 compact crossover brings to the market. Not only is the smallish Mazda a great road trip companion, it brings style both inside and out, the latest in safety technology (for a price), a near-sports-car-like handling persona, outstanding fuel economy, a smooth and quiet ride, and comfortable seating accommodations.

In other words there are a lot of Zoom/Zoom qualities for anyone from families to singles who desire storage space and an outstanding driving experience.

There are a few things we recommend for the highest level of satisfaction with the CX-5, led by the refined and energetic Skyactiv 2.5-liter 4-cylinder making 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. A smaller 2.0-liter engine is available — only on the base Sport — making 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque. It's adequate, but we think it takes the luster off an otherwise well-conceived and delightful vehicle. Using performance numbers as a comparison, the 2.5 is nearly two seconds faster at 7.2 clicks from 0-to-60 than the 2.0-liter in FWD (7.8 seconds with AWD).

Gas mileage suffers very little despite an increase of 29 horsepower and 35 pound-feet of torque over the 2-liter. The 2.5-liter is rated at 26 mpg city, 33 highway and 29 overall in two-wheel drive and 24/30/26 with all-wheel drive. The 2.0-liter numbers are 26/35/29 in two-wheel drive and 25/31/28 for AWD.

Mazda's goal was to develop a crossover with sharp driving dynamics in a lightweight package. For the most part it has succeeded. If we had to sum up this vehicles’ on-road attributes we could do it in three words: fun to drive. We were amazed at the crossover's agility and handling taking it at increasingly faster speeds over our favorite stretch of twisty, winding rural blacktop, and when a big dose of performance is called for in such instances as a tricky passing maneuver, the six-speed automatic transmission is quick and effective on the downshift.

The CX-5 comes in Sport, Touring and Grand Touring trim levels with the 2.0-liter engine standard in the Sport starting at $22,675 with a six-speed manual transmission. To get the bigger powerplant you will have to move up to Touring at $26,095, a $2,900 jump from the Sport automatic, which starts at $23,195. The Touring adds a fair amount of standard equipment while affording the opportunity to add the $1,625 Technology package, which we recommend.

The package includes navigation, dusk sensing LED headlamps, LED taillights, a pivoting adaptive front lighting system, rain-sensing wipers, and the Smart City Brake Support System that offers automatic braking using a laser sensor to detect stationary objects — such as stopped cars or pedestrians — in front of the vehicle at speeds up to 19 mph.

But what really elevates the 2016 CX-5 is the i-ACTIVSENSE Package on the Grant Touring model that includes radar cruise control with close proximity warning; Smart Brake Support with collision warning, which allows automatic braking from higher speeds than the City system; lane departure warning; and high beam control.

Mazda has done a terrific job engineering both passenger and cargo room into the CX-5, which has 34.1 cubic feet of space available behind the seats and a cargo capacity of 65.4 cubic feet. The front seats are comfortable and very well bolstered and the rear seats recline while offering generous leg room.

Interior materials in the refreshed CX-5 are top quality with mostly soft-touch surfaces. The cabin is trimmed out with good-looking metallic accidents and colors that blend well. The navigation/infotainment system now boasts a seven-inch screen (increased from 5.8-inches) and includes a multifunction control knob.

Storage space has been enhanced. For one thing, the new electronic parking brake frees up space on the console area where the conventional handbrake once resided. A storage bin under the center stack includes two USB ports and an auxiliary jack. Another console cubby is right-sized for a cellphone or other small items. One interesting design element that might take a few times around the block to get used to is the audio volume knob on the center console to the right of the controller knob.

A well-equipped CX-5 can be purchased for less than 30 grand, but it's also possible to exceed $35,000 if you buy the Grand Touring model and check off most of the boxes. For instance our well-equipped AWD Grand Touring edition came in at $34,140. Seems high, but we can't think of a feature that we would have left off the car.

Base price: $22,675; as driven, $34,140
Engine: 2.5-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 184 @ 5,700 rpm
Torque: 185 foot-pounds @ 3,250
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: all wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 106.3 inches
Length: 179.3 inches
Curb weight: 3,589 pounds
Turning circle: 36.7 feet
Towing capacity: 2,000 pounds
Luggage capacity: 34.1 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 65.4 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 15.3 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 30 highway, 24 city, 26 combined
0-60: 7.7 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Jeep Cherokee, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4

The Good
• Sporty driving demeanor
• Many safety features
• Energetic, fuel efficient engine

The Bad
• Optioned-out version can top 35 grand

The Ugly
• Low-priced model comes with smaller engine