2015 Mazda CX-5 Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
July 6, 2015

The 2015 Mazda CX-5 is an athletic, fuel-efficient, well-designed small crossover.

It's easy to see why the 2015 Mazda CX-5 is one of the best-rated crossover wagons on this site. The CX-5 is stocked with plenty of features, has excellent handling, and is sized to suit a wide range of families and single drivers. It's also one of the safest vehicles in its segment, and has a rather elusive combination of SUV utility and sport-wagon charms.

The Mazda CX-5 was introduced in 2013, when it replaced both the turbocharged CX-7 crossover and the smaller Mazda Tribute. It now competes with cars like the Subaru Forester, Nissan Rogue, Honda CR-V, and Toyota RAV4.

The CX-5's lines are typically Mazda, with expressive design, large wheel arches, and a rising window line. Up front, however, Mazda has thankfully ditched the grinning "smile" look for a handsome trapezoidal grille shape. Inside, the look is businesslike, with restrained silver trim and sporty red piping on the high-level leather seats.The car is sensitive to colors, though, with lighter shades accenting the height of its doors and darker tones making it lower and sportier.

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For the most part, the CX-5 is pleasingly versatile, and its front seats are probably the best-bolstered you'll find in this kind of vehicle; there's good seating space in back, too. But this is one of the more compact models in the class, and its cargo floor is a bit higher than rival models it seems (perhaps due to the presence of a spare tire). The load floor is long and flat, and for the most part (save for some engine noise occasionally), the CX-5 has a quiet, refined interior.

New for this year, the smart key with keyless entry and start is now standard on both Touring and Grand Touring models.

Driving enjoyment gets a little more emphasis in the CX-5 than it does in other models in this class--as is the case with most Mazda models. Last year Mazda addressed one common complaint with the earlier models: It handles so well and hits all the right marks otherwise in driving enjoyment, but it could use more pep.

In the 2015 Mazda CX-5, in addition to the 155-hp 2.0-liter four, still offered with either a six-speed manual gearbox (in front-wheel drive only) or a six-speed automatic (which can be ordered with all-wheel drive as well) on Sport models, Touring and Grand Touring models also offer a 184-hp, 2.5-liter four. The larger engine is only offered with the automatic, but in either case the entire powertrain and vehicle are tuned for maximum efficiency, under the company's SkyActiv initiative.

For this kind of vehicle, the gas mileage is great. The EPA rating for the base Sport with a manual gearbox is a best-in-class 35 mpg on the highway, and the new 2.5-liter models lose only about 1 mpg combined, with those automatic versions still getting 25/32 mpg with all-wheel drive.

Key to that efficiency, in part, is that the transmission is so willing and well-matched, with very little slip, very quick upshifts and downshifts, and the smarts to hitch onto a higher gear when the revs aren't needed, to reap better efficiency. Otherwise, we've found the CX-5 to be the best handling crossover we've driven. If you've come out of a sports sedan or a hot hatch and are moving up to a compact crossover, this is probably the way to go.

CX-5 Sport models all come with the 2.0-liter engine, while Touring and Grand Touring models step up to the 2.5-liter engine. Touring models get the Blind Spot Monitor system, upgraded audio, fog lamps, rear cupholders (and an armrest), a rearview camera, steering-wheel controls, and upgraded upholstery, while top-of-the-line CX-5 Grand Touring models get leather upholstery, nine-speaker Bose audio, dual-zone climate control, a power driver seat, front heated seats, and Sirius satellite radio. However the navigation and touch-screen system remains a disappointment, with its rather sluggish responses and odd menus.

8

2015 Mazda CX-5

Styling

The svelte shape looks great from the outside, but the Mazda CX-5's interior is a little too businesslike.

The CX-5 was the first vehicle in Mazda's portfolio to receive the brand's 'Kodo: Soul in Motion' design language, and it's translated well across the Mazda 3 and Mazda 6 at this point, too. It's not quite as overwrought as the previous smile-face design, but it's also not all-out aggressive, either. Instead, the CX-5 wears simple, handsome sporty styling, making it one of the more attractive vehicles in the segment.

Calm and business-like is the way of this functional and attractive interior—which isn't nearly as overdesigned as some competitors’ dashboards, and that's both a pro and a con. The only down side of this design is at the center stack, where a lens over the climate controls can gather reflections during daytime driving--although it works better with the more upright look here than in the 2015 Mazda 6 sedan, which has a similar layout.

Instrument faces are some of the simplest we’ve seen, with black needles, black backgrounds, and white numbers. The ridiculous 160-mph speedometer aside, they work well.

Mazda’s color palette remains stunningly basic: two reds, two blues, two whites, silver, gray, and black. The dash and center stack are black, surfaced in soft-touch plastics, with either black or “sand” beige upholstery (in cloth or leather), the latter providing a nice two-tone interior.

The upright five-point Mazda grille and swept-back headlights are distinctive, and the side profile stands out as well. Despite its raked tailgate and deep trailing roof spoiler, the CX-5 still tends to vanish in a row of similarly proportioned crossovers.

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8

2015 Mazda CX-5

Performance

The Mazda CX-5 gets our nod for some of the best handling traits in the segment.

The Mazda CX-5 is one of the best-driving crossovers in its segment, especially if you value handling. Everything feels just right here, from its flat cornering and direct steering, to its responsive brakes and just-enough power.

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 3,210 to 3,430 pounds, lighter than most competitors, and it quotes a drag coefficient of 0.33, low for a crossover.

As the sportiest compact crossover on the market, the CX-5 has a quite firm ride. We wouldn't call it harsh, but it can get busy, or jiggly, on choppy two-laners; otherwise it's solid and reassuring. And it all pays off, of course, as soon as the road turns twisty.

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.

There was, admittedly, one fault with 2013'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 the 2.5-liter version, making 184 hp and 185 lb-ft. The 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.

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2015 Mazda CX-5

Comfort & Quality

A near-ideal driving position and good seat comfort give the CX-5 all-day driving comfort.

The 2015 Mazda CX-5 is about the same size as the rest of the vehicles in its segment, and while it doesn't offer quite as much versatility as its cavernous Mazda 5 sibling, it boast excellent seats and a decent cabin refinement and ride quality.

Noise is well suppressed until the engine has to rev—which it will do often to move the car along expeditiously—and at higher speeds, it’s quiet enough inside that wind noise from mirrors is apparent. It’s particularly silent at idle, when a glance at the tachometer may be needed to see if the engine is running.

The interiors include a handsome soft-touch dashboard top surface, and otherwise upholstery and trim are typical for the price. We like how the shift lever is in just the right place for most arms, and there's a bottom-hinged accelerator pedal that helps cut foot fatigue on longer trips. A cell phone fits into the arm-rest recess, which has a rubber mat at the bottom, and there’s a console bin, a sunglasses holder, and another flat tray at the front of the console.

Liftover height is typical for the class--quite low and uninterrupted, but the cargo floor is maybe a bit higher than you might expect for such a vehicle; that's perhaps related to the presence of a spare. Single-pull releases for the 40-20-40 split rear seat-back cushions are standard in the cargo area, though the system (which moves the rear seat cushion forward and down) requires the rear headrests to be removed first. On the other hand, Mazda provides two dished trays outboard of the load area into which those headrests fit neatly—a very nice touch we wish every maker would copy.

Most will find the seating, and the seating position, about ideal. It's halfway between that of a car and a sport-utility, and high enough for good visibility and confidence, but low enough so occupants don’t have to step up but can simply swing themselves in through the opening. The seats themselves are comfortable both front and rear, with good bolstering in front to hold occupants in place. Hollowed-out seat backs in the front give enough rear-seat legroom for four six-foot adults to sit comfortably without contortions. Mazda says rear-seat legroom is the best in the class, though we don't feel like the front seats go back quite as far as they do in other models and that may have something to do with it.

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2015 Mazda CX-5

Safety

The CX-5 is a safety superstar, with excellent crash-test ratings and an advanced forward-collision warning system.

The 2015 Mazda CX-5 has a body structure that is in part shared with the Mazda 6, with high-strength steel sections engineered for excellent passenger safety.

The CX-5 has the usual complement of electronic aids, including stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes, and other safety control systems. And its handling is so predictable that we expect more drivers than usual simply to drive around or away from potential dangers.

Although the 2015 CX-5 has fewer airbags than some of its rivals, it does have several noteworthy active-safety options--including side blind spot alert system for Touring and Grand Touring trims, as well as Smart City Brake Support—wrapped into the Tech package—that will automatically brake the vehicle for hazards at speeds ranging from 4 to 19 mph.

In terms of safety ratings, it does very well. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the CX-5 its highest ratings of "Good" for frontal offset and side impact crash tests, for roof strength, and for rear crash protection—as well as in the new, more stringent small-overlap frontal test. The IIHS also designated the CX-5 a "Top Safety Pick+" on the merits of those top-notch scores, and it should repeat in the 2015 calendar year since its forward-collision system is rated as Advanced by the IIHS.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has given the CX-5 five stars overall, with a top five-star rating for side impact, as well as in the side-pole test. 

Rear-quarter vision is as bad as the front visibility is good. Over their shoulders, drivers will see only gigantic blind spots on the corners, with the small triangular windows offering little help. We think that for all but the tallest drivers, perhaps, the rearview camera that you get in Touring and Grand Touring models is a necessity.

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2015 Mazda CX-5

Features

A base, manual-shift CX-5 is a great bargain, but we're ready for Mazda's new infotainment interface--this one is lacking.

There are three available trims available in the 2015 Mazda CX-5: the base Sport, the mid-grade Touring, and the upscale Grand Touring model. All-wheel drive is available on each of these models. Touring and Grand Touring models both get keyless entry and start this year, and both are equipped with the larger 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Sport models receive the 2.0-liter engine.

The new touchscreen system that you get throughout most of the lineup includes Bluetooth, HD Radio, voice command, text-message audio delivery, and Pandora compatibility. Essentially it's the same as the system in the 2015 Mazda 6—minus the Command Controller—and it's adequate but far from ideal. As we noted in that model it can be surprisingly sluggish, and the menu structure is odd. Voice commands are included, too, but don't expect to have a conversation with it, Siri-style.

The Sport includes a tilting and telescoping steering wheel with audio controls, remote keyless entry, a Start button, power windows and doors, and 17-inch alloy wheels (on the automatic model). An optional Bluetooth package for the Sport only adds Bluetooth pairing, an in-dash color monitor, HD radio, and Bluetooth controls on the steering wheel.

Step up to the Touring, and in addition to the 2.5-liter engine you get a six-way power driver’s seat, blind-spot monitoring, a 5.8-inch in-dash touch screen with a reversing camera, HD radio, Bluetooth phone and audio pairing, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.

Then at the top of the lineup, the Grand Touring offers larger 19-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, an eight-way power driver’s seat with lumbar support, heated front seats, the nine-speaker Bose audio system and power moonroof as standard, rain-sensing wipers, and auto-on/off headlights.

Options are limited to a Bluetooth Audio Package on the Sport; a Bose sound and moonroof package on the Touring, and Technology packages on the Touring and Grand Touring—as well as a few other a la carte options such as remote start and rear parking sensors.

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8

2015 Mazda CX-5

Fuel Economy

Real-world fuel economy and EPA ratings are both among the best we've seen in compact crossovers.

The Mazda CX-5 earns the right to crow about its fuel economy. Gas mileage is exemplary for a compact crossover, either on the official EPA scales or in real-world driving.

The EPA gives the 2015 CX-5 a combined rating of 29 miles per gallon in front-drive versions, and 28 mpg when all-wheel drive is specified. Upgrade to the 2.5-liter four, and the combined ratings stay high, at 27 mpg (FWD) and 26 mpg (AWD).

As we've noticed with other Mazda vehicles, the payoff on paper (on our screen, really) is just as big on the streets. Over a 260-mile drive route that we're familiar with, a 2013 2.0-liter CX-5 returned an excellent 33 mpg--several miles per gallon better than we've seen from competing models. As for models equipped with the 2.5-liter four, on a medium-length drive through urban and suburban Austin, we averaged more than 26 mpg overall—much better than we're accustomed to in this class.

Mazda long ago promised a small-displacement diesel for its compact and mid-size vehicles. As of this year, it's put the diesel into turnaround, and does not confirm a production date.

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March 13, 2017
2015 Mazda CX-5 AWD 4-Door Automatic Grand Touring

Nice price sporty feel to drive!

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Great car for the money and fun to drive even in snow and ice gets around great!
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May 10, 2016
2015 Mazda CX-5 AWD 4-Door Automatic Grand Touring

Everything one could expect and more

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Very confortable to drive,with the heated seats on cold mornings just adds to the comfort. With standard features such as walk away door locks, to the Bluetooth being able to connect to two phones at once... + More »
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November 16, 2015
2015 Mazda CX-5 FWD 4-Door Automatic Sport

UNIQUE REVOLUTION

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THE DESIGN EXTERIOR IS UNIQUE ESPECIALLY FOR A JAPANESE CAR. INTERIOR WAS DESIGN TO BE SIMPLE YET STYLISH. WHEN WE NEED POWER, IT PERFORM & RESPONSE AT MY REQUEST. EVEN WHEN I WANT ECO, IT PROVIDES TOO. ITS... + More »
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July 28, 2015
2015 Mazda CX-5 AWD 4-Door Automatic Grand Touring

Excellent small SUV for the money

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Over the years have owned many new cars from Audis, Mazdas, Mercedes, and Porsches, The Mazdas have never disappointed for quality and value for the money. The CX5 is right up there too. And having a great... + More »
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June 1, 2015
2015 Mazda CX-5 FWD 4-Door Automatic Grand Touring

GREAT BUY FOR THE MONEY.

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Was looking for a small SUV (or Crossover) and found the CX-5 to be the best buy in the market. Good gas mileage (30 mpg) mixed driving. Handles great and looking sporty. My first Mazda and am very impressed... + More »
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May 3, 2015
2015 Mazda CX-5 AWD 4-Door Automatic Touring

very nice small SUV

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so far after 15,000 kms. no problems, original tires not so good in the snow, some body minor noises.
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