The Car Connection Mazda CX-5 Overview
The Mazda CX-5 is a compact five-seat crossover SUV. It replaced the CX-7 in the company's lineup in the 2013 model year, and now is slotted between the smaller CX-3 and the three-row CX-9 in the Japanese automaker's sport-utility lineup.
The CX-5 is is a handsome crossover utility vehicle offering better-than-average interior space and flexibility, as well as excellent roadholding and surprisingly high gas mileage in real-world usage. The tradeoff is some loss of power under maximum acceleration with the standard engine, although the more powerful 2.5-liter engine in Touring and Grand Touring models gives it the grunt to match its athletic handling. The 2.5-liter arrived in the second year of production.
The CX-5 is a rival for vehicles such as the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and Ford Escape, among many others.
MORE: Read our 2016 Mazda CX-5 review
The CX-5 is the very first Mazda designed to utilize what the company calls its SkyActiv design principles. In essence, that means the entire vehicle is lighter. The chassis is light, allowing for a smaller, more-efficient engine and also providing the crisp handling that Mazda has become known for. The same basic architecture has been used on the Mazda 6 and Mazda 3 since then, as well as the new MX-5 Miata. Despite the roominess inside, the base CX-5 is powered by only a 155-horsepower, 2.0-liter inline-4, producing 150 pound-feet of torque, which can be ordered either with a 6-speed manual gearbox or a 6-speed automatic. If you want all-wheel drive, you can get it with any trim level—which we applaud—but only with the automatic transmission.
The base SkyActiv powertrain delivers remarkable fuel efficiency. Both front-wheel-drive versions are EPA-rated at 29 mpg combined, with the all-wheel drive model (automatic only) dropping to 28 mpg. But we did much better than that, as Mazda quietly says many drivers will. Over a weekend road test, our all-wheel-drive CX-5 delivered 33 mpg. The downside of the small engine and high efficiency, though, is that in circumstances where sudden power is needed, the driver has to floor the accelerator and downshift two or even three gears—or wait for the automatic to do it. The power is there in most cases, but the CX-5 can be reluctant to give it up.
Just a year after its launch, the CX-5 received a solid update for 2014. The most obvious change was the addition of a larger engine for higher trim levels; Sport models retained the 2.0-liter, while Touring and Grand Touring CX-5s use a 2.5-liter SkyActiv four-cylinder that delivers 184 hp. The bigger engine takes a second off the 0-to-60-mph time and only gives up 1 mpg in the EPA's combined rating, while bringing the power that some thought was lacking from the 2013 models.
From the outside, the CX-5's lines are typically Mazda. The styling marries a swoopy profile and strong accent lines to a restrained but still aggressive trapezoidal grille and relatively slim headlamps that are swept back into the fenders. It's a sporty look for a crossover, though rear three-quarter vision is hurt by the rising beltline and tiny triangular third window on each side. And it's a shape surprisingly sensitive to color choice. Certain shades—dark gray is one—belie the crossover's body height and make it look almost svelte, though others show the tall doors all too plainly.
While certainly attractive, the CX-5 really stands out for its excellent handling. It acts more like a large hot hatch or a sports sedan than it does a crossover; sharing much with the Mazda 6 sedan, it feels very similar, just with a different point of view on the road. There's little roll in cornering, the steering has the right amount of effort and decent feedback, and there is ample grip to push it on on-ramps. If you feel you must have a SUV for family reasons, this is one way to still have fun on the occasional back road or even your commute.
Inside, the driver sits high, but not as high as in some competitors. Mazda says seat height is exactly halfway between a standard sedan and the typical crossover, which we think is a good compromise. The dashboard is straightforward and handsome, with soft-touch materials on most surfaces. Seats are comfortable and there's a lot of rear leg room with the front seats positioned for 6-foot-tall occupants. The load deck is surprisingly large, and a clever articulated seat mechanism moves the rear-seat cushion forward and down when the seatback is folded forward—giving a lengthy and completely flat load floor.
Mazda offers three trim levels: the base Sport, the mid-level Touring (which Mazda says will account for the bulk of CX-5 sales), and the high-end Grand Touring. Prices start at $22,675, a relatively low figure for a capacious crossover with this much fun-to-drive quotient.
The CX-5 comes with only six airbags, but it immediately earned a Top Safety Pick nod from the IIHS and was upgraded to Top Safety Pick+ for the 2014 model year after an improvement to its small overlap front score and the addition of active-safety features. The NHTSA gave the 2016 model four stars out of five overall, with four stars on the frontal and rollover safety tests, and five stars on side impact; in 2014, that was upgraded to five stars overall, with four in rollover only. The CX-5 has the usual suite of electronic safety systems, and particularly good forward visibility—regrettably offset by particularly bad rear three-quarter visibility. While blind-spot monitors and a rearview camera are optional on higher trim levels, this is one car where we think they should be standard on all models.
In addition to the second engine option, the 2014 model year also brought automatic emergency braking to the Tech Package, which can automatically apply the brakes at speeds between 4 and 19 mph. Changes for 2015 were relatively few by comparison.
The CX-5 is updated again for the 2016 model year, this time mostly concerning aesthetics and features. The front end is revised, with a new grille and modified headlight design. Interior materials have been upgraded, the center stack has been mildly redesigned, and the infotainment system adopts the interface first shown on the Mazda 3, including the available head-up display. Mazda has also added some more active-safety features as options, such as radar cruise control. All automatic models, including the base Sport, come with the 2.5-liter engine now, with the 2.0 reserved for the manual-equipped Sport.