Mazda CX-5 — Making a good crossover better

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Mazda checked all the boxes with its first compact CX-5 crossover introduced in 2012, and it has followed up with a second-generation that takes everything up a notch from build quality to styling to driving dynamics to cargo and livable passenger space.

Becoming Mazda’s second-fastest vehicle to reach one million units sold, the CX-5 has been an unequivocal success for the brand. And now the all-new-for-2017 arrives with a stylishly refined shape, a high-quality interior and hundreds of improvements.

Once on the highway, the car further amazes its occupants with a quiet cabin that mimics a much more expensive vehicle. Hit the 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.

Mazda elected to stay with its 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine — the only available engine after the smaller 2.0-liter was dropped — mated to a six-speed automatic. But it's not exactly the same — 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. The CX-5 with all-wheel drive is rated at 23 mpg city, 29 highway and 26 combined. With our usual lead-foot driving technique we seldom hit the advertised mileage, but in the CX-5 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.

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.

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. This was vividly pointed out on a stormy afternoon when we drove through winds gusting 30-35 mph. We didn't realize just how quiet the interior was until we rolled the window down.

Materials have a quality look and feel with use of contrasting colors, aluminum or wood trim, and solid feeling controls. 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 comes in four trim levels — Sport, Touring, Grand Select and Grand Touring starting at $24,985 including destination charge. The base car has the requisite items including a backup camera and Bluetooth, but we think most people will feel compelled to move up to the Touring trim, which adds many of the modern driving comforts for a starting price of $26,866 including destination. Note that all-wheel drive can be added to all trims for $1,300.

Standard on the Touring edition are such things as full keyless ignition and entry, heated front seats with lumbar adjustment, dual-zone climate control, six-way power driver seat, and six USB ports.

Standard safety includes the backup camera, stability and traction control, smart city brake support, electronic brake force distribution, and tire pressure monitoring. The Touring trim also comes with standard blindspot monitoring with cross-traffic alert. To get Mazda's advanced safety features as standard equipment you must move up to the Grand Touring. Those features include adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning and mitigation, lane keep assist, and automatic high beams.

Our well-equipped Grand Touring AWD model came fully equipped with no options necessary for $34,660.

Base price: $24,985; as driven, $34,060
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: 23 city, 29 highway, 26 combined
0-60: 8.5 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Honda CR-V, Chevrolet Equinox, Hyundai Santa Fe Sport

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

The Bad
• Only average performance

The Ugly
• Apple Car Play, Android Auto unavailable