We think the Mazda CX-5 is the best-driving of the compact crossovers--especially if you value handling--and this year it's become even better.
The CX-5 corners flat and its acceleration, braking, and handling all feel thoroughly integrated and reassuringly predictable—so much so that it’s hard to find anything to say except that they’re just right.
There was, admittedly, one fault with last year's CX-5; when equipped with the automatic transmission, it felt a little sluggish when you loaded it up with people or took on hilly terrain. That engine, a 155-horsepower 2.0-liter engine that produces 150 lb-ft of torque and features a 13:1 combustion ratio (the highest of any gasoline engine on sale in the U.S.) is still around this year on Sport models, but on Touring and Grand Touring models there's a new 2.5-liter version, making 184 hp and 185 lb-ft. The new engine is paired only with the six-speed automatic, and all-wheel drive can only be had with the automatic transmission but it's offered in every trim level.
The all-new six-speed automatic transmission plays a major role in making the most of the new engine's smooth, willing character. It launches with little slip, then makes a near-instant 1-2 shift about as quickly as a dual-clutch unit. There's a manual gate for the shifter, with quick response. The only complaint here is that under full throttle, even in the manual gate, it still forces you to the lowest possible gear available at that speed. Otherwise, simply put, this transmission does everything right, downshifting right away, whenever revs are needed for more pep, but keeps them down whenever it can for better fuel-efficiency.
The major drawback to the CX-5 Sport with the smaller engine is that it takes revs to wring enough power out of the engine, and despite quick downshifts the automatic transmission tends to rush up to higher gears. Mazda quotes 0-to-60-mph acceleration times of 8.8 seconds (for the six-speed manual) to 9.3 seconds (for the all-wheel-drive model) with the smaller engine, and that improves to the low-eight-second range with the larger engine and automatic.
Novice drivers will have to get accustomed to pushing the lever forward to downshift, back to upshift—the reverse of the usual setup, but one which Mazda feels very strongly is “the right way” to set it up. Our issue with this setup is that a pressing the accelerator to the floor, even when you're in the manual gate, still forces a downshift to the lowest available gear.
The new CX-5 is the first complete Mazda to incorporate “SkyActiv” technologies, in which every component of the vehicle is designed to be as lightweight and high efficiency as possible. This sounds like simple stuff, but Mazda expects to get some of the highest fuel-economy ratings in the class without resorting to turbocharging, hybrids, or any of the other pricey ways carmakers can boost mileage.
Instead, the engine has a large and complex 4-into-2-into-1 exhaust manifold that improves combustion efficiency but requires the engine compartment to be designed around it, and every component is lightened. The CX-5’s curb weight varies from 3210 to 3430 pounds, lighter than most competitors, and it quotes a drag coefficient of 0.33, low for a crossover.
The suspension loads up more like that of a sport wagon than that of a crossover—and there's no sudden unloading out of corners or between transitions as in some other taller vehicles. While the suspension is nicely tuned, the steering we'll call pretty much perfect—and by far the best in this class. The ratio is quick; it's well-weighted; and overall, it has a precise feel that's better even than many other compact and mid-size sedans.