Mazda CX-5 turbo — An engaging compact crossover SUV

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

(January 1, 2023) The 2023 Mazda CX-5 compact crossover SUV with seating for up to five passengers has lived at or near the top of virtually everyone's rankings for the past few years thanks to its premium interior and excellent driving dynamics. Current buyers apparently agree, the CX-5 is an excellent choice because it has become the best-selling vehicle in Mazda's U.S. lineup.

Outside of the appealing nature of the CX-5, Mazda has made some significant improvements and upgrades to the current-generation since its introduction in 2017. The biggest being the introduction of a new turbocharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that makes 250 horsepower with 93 octane gas and 227 horsepower with regular gas. The 2.5-liter 187 hp 4-cylinder has become the base engine. Both engines are paired to a six-speed automatic transmission. The bigger engine is EPA-rated at 22 mpg city, 27 highway and 24 combined.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity was added in 2019, and for 2021 Mazda offered a larger 10.25-inch infotainment display, and made blindspot warning with rear cross-traffic alert and adaptive cruise control standard across the lineup. The top Signature trim — such as our test car — gets a higher-definition 360-degree camera, a driver-attention alert, and rear automated emergency braking.

And all CX-5's regardless of trim level now come with all-wheel drive as standard equipment.

We drove the bigger engine in our Signature AWD test car, but kept it at the 227 horsepower level with regular gas. Is it worth filling with the more expensive 93 octane? That depends on your needs, but we found the engine burning the on-average 50 cent cheaper 87 octane, performs just fine. Either way, you will get 0-to-60 times in the upper reaches of 6 seconds, which is well above average for the segment. If you want to save some cash and opt for the 187-horsepower engine, you will still have adequate performance measured for comparison purposes at 8.5 seconds from 0-to-60.

Where the CX-5 separates itself from the competition is in its outstanding handling traits. 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. 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."

On mountain road twists and turns 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 badge, and all the while the car amazes its occupants with a quiet cabin that mimics a much more expensive vehicle.

Mazda says it 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.

Interior materials have a quality look and feel with use of contrasting colors, aluminum or wood trim, and solid feeling controls.  A sleek dash infotainment screen is controlled with a console knob. Our Signature edition elevated the experience with dark brown Nappa leather seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, power sunroof, and soothing ambient lighting. Everything looks and feels expensive.

It sounds expensive, too, with crisp sound from the 10-speaker Bose audio system, which was standard equipment in our test vehicle. On the downside, Mazda’s infotainment system is
needlessly cumbersome. Saving radio stations is a time-consuming experience, and simply seeking out a station while driving is a distraction.

One thing we've noticed with late-model Mazda vehicles is that the center screen can unexpectedly go dark. We haven't mention this before figuring the problem was just with our test car. But it is a recurring problem, and we have no explanation as to why Mazda has't successfully addressed the issue by now — after several years — with its new models.

It happed again with our 2023 CX-5. The problem apparently occurs for many owners as witnessed by the number of discussions on Google. If it happens to you, there is a remedy. Here's what you do — it worked for us with the 2023 model — put the car in reverse and then hold down the volume/mute button and the navigation button at the same time. A few seconds later the screen reappears.

The 2023 CX-5 starts at $27,975 for the non-turbocharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine. The turbocharged version begins at $38,125 and the top-line Signature begins at $40,925. Our test car with a couple of low-cost options including $595 for Machine Gray Metallic paint carried a bottom line including the $1,275 destination charge of $41,655.

Base price: $27,975; as driven, $41,655
Engine: 2.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 227 (87 octane), 250 (93 octane)
Torque: 310 pound-feet @ 2,000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 106.2 inches
Length: 179.1 inches
Curb weight: 3,832 pounds
Turning circle: 36 feet
Towing capacity: 2,000 pounds
Luggage capacity: 30.9 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 59.6 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 15.3 gallons (regular/premium)
EPA rating: 22 city, 27 highway, 24 combined
0-60: 6.2 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape

The Good
• Excellent performance from turbo-charged engine
• Engaging handling
• Attractive cabin with top-notch fit and finish

The Bad
• Cumbersome infotainment system

The Ugly
• Below average gas mileage