- Very good handling
- Expressive good looks
- Great front seats
- Smooth, efficient powertrains
- Rear visibility isn't great
- Acceleration is just average
The 2016 Mazda CX-5 is one of the more athletic crossovers; high gas mileage and high style just add to the value.
Looking for a crossover utility with sport-wagon charisma? We may know just the solution.
The 2016 Mazda CX-5 is smart-looking, handles well, and is stocked with plenty of features. It's also right-sized for the kind of drivers it appeals to and on top of all that, it's one of the safest vehicles in its segment.
Heading into its fourth year on the market, the CX-5 still has a tough set of rivals, including the just-updated Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, Nissan Rogue, and Subaru Forester. That's why it's been lightly updated, retuned, and restyled for the 2016 model year.
With the CX-5, Mazda has finally found a balance between its lithe sports sedans and roadsters and the real-world dimensions of a crossover utility vehicle. The CX-5 has an expressive design, with big wheel arches and a rising window line, but a more conservative roofline than the just-unveiled CX-3. The car is sensitive to colors, though, with lighter shades accenting the height of its doors and darker tones making it appear lower and sportier. A handsome trapezoidal grille has been slightly reshaped this year, and the CX-5's headlights have been slimmed down and connected to the grille with bars of brightwork. LED lighting is now available at the front and rear end. Inside, the look is businesslike, with restrained silver trim and sporty red piping on the high-level leather seats.
Road manners are well attended to in most Mazdas, and the CX-5 fares better in handling than most crossovers. Steering and ride control are very good; nonetheless, handling has been tweaked with revised dampers and bushings, better noise damping, and driver-selectable driving modes for the automatic-equipped versions. We've found the CX-5 to be one of the best-handling crossovers we've driven in past years, and hope for the same with the revised model.
The CX-5 handles so well and hits all the right marks otherwise in driving enjoyment, that its four-cylinder engines are really what hold it back from shoppers enticed by turbocharged Escapes and Foresters. The 2016 Mazda CX-5 offers a 155-hp 2.0-liter inline-4, which is now offered solely with a 6-speed manual gearbox and front-wheel drive on Sport models. Sport models with an automatic transmission, Touring, and Grand Touring models include a 184-hp, 2.5-liter inline-4. The larger engine is only offered with the automatic, but in either case the entire powertrain and vehicle are tuned for maximum efficiency.
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. Mazda's added cushion length to the back seats for better comfort. 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, amplified this year by some noise-reduction work, some nicer trim and materials, including a new Parchment leather option, and additional storage bins,
Safety add-ons for 2016 include available adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitors, and forward-collision warning with automatic braking, as well as the Mazda Connect smartphone connectivity system, which bridges the safety and technology realm by moving control of personal devices to the car's knob controller. The IIHS has deemed the CX-5 one of its Top Safety Pick+ winners, while the feds have given it a four-star overall rating.
Touring models get blind-spot monitors, 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 add leather upholstery, a nine-speaker Bose audio system, dual-zone climate control, a power driver seat, front heated seats, and Sirius satellite radio.
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 2.5-liter models lose only about 1 mpg combined. Automatic versions still manage 24 mpg city, 30 highway with all-wheel drive. This year, front-drive versions with the 2.5-liter four now get 29 mpg combined, up slightly. 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.
2016 Mazda CX-5
The interior can seem a little too sober, but the Mazda CX-5's lines are catchy and curvy.
Mazda's CX-5 has always been attractive, and for 2016 the relatively new model gets an early refresh. Both the exterior and interior have been lightly updated to keep things fresh.
The CX-5 was the first vehicle in Mazda's portfolio to receive the brand's "Kodo" design language, which has translated well across the Mazda 3 and Mazda 6, as well as the new MX-5 Miata and CX-3. 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.
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.
For 2016, the grille has been reshaped, with gray-painted horizontal slats creating a new feel. The headlight units have been redesigned, with LED running lamps now included in the Technology Package. The taillights also get LED elements with the Technology Package. Mazda has updated the design of the available 19-inch wheels as well.
Inside, the CX-5 changes are mostly technology-based, but Mazda also made some changes to enhance the details and materials of the interior. To create some more space on the center console, the mechanical parking brake has been replaced by a smaller electronic brake switch. Mazda's latest infotainment setup, Mazda Connect, is included.
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 latest 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 exterior 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 cloth upholstery or black or "parchment" leather.
2016 Mazda CX-5
You'll find some of the best handling among compact 'utes in the CX-5.
The Mazda CX-5 is one of the best-driving crossovers in its segment. Everything feels just right here, from its flat cornering and direct steering, to its responsive brakes and just-enough power.
The CX-5 was the first Mazda to incorporate the full suite of SkyActiv technologies, in which every component of the vehicle is designed to be as lightweight as possible. This sounds like simple stuff, but it allows Mazda to get some of the highest fuel-economy ratings in the class without resorting to turbocharging, hybrids, or any of the other pricey and complicated ways carmakers can boost mileage.
Instead, the engines have 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 ranges from 3,210 to 3,590 pounds, lighter than most competitors, and it has a drag coefficient of 0.33, which is fairly low for a crossover.
There was, admittedly, one fault with the lone engine offered in the CX-5's first year of production; when equipped with the automatic transmission, it felt a little sluggish when the vehicle was loaded up with people or taken on hilly terrain. That engine, a 155-horsepower 2.0-liter inline-4 that produces 150 pound-feet 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 on base Sport models, but all other models now receive a more powerful 2.5-liter version, making 184 hp and 185 lb-ft. The engine is paired only with the 6-speed automatic, which is required when choosing all-wheel drive. For 2016, Mazda is now restricting availability of the 2.0-liter to the manual-transmission front-drive Sport model, whereas it had previously been available with an automatic. Now, stepping up to an auto also brings the 2.5-liter engine, even on Sport models.
The 6-speed automatic 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 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. Further improvements to the transmission have improved highway, city, and combined mpg ratings by 1 mpg for the front-drive 2.5-liter model.
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, but some can see that as a fun challenge with the manual transmission. Mazda quotes 0-to-60-mph acceleration times of 8.8 seconds for the 6-speed manual and the smaller engine, and that improves to the low 8-second range with the larger engine and automatic.
As the sportiest compact crossover on the market, the CX-5 has a firm ride. We wouldn't call it harsh, but it can get somewhat busy on choppy two-laners, though the response to bumps seems to have improved slightly for the new model year. Otherwise it's solid and reassuring.
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 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, well-weighted, and overall, it has a precise feel that's better even than many other compact and mid-size sedans.
2016 Mazda CX-5
Comfort & Quality
All-day driving comfort is the CX-5's forte; interior space is a little above average for compact crossover SUVs.
The 2016 Mazda CX-5 is about the same size overall as the rest of the vehicles in its segment. While it doesn't offer quite as much versatility as the old Mazda 5, the CX-5 boasts excellent seats and decent cabin refinement and ride quality. Some updates for 2016 should improve the interior feel and smooth out the ride somewhat.
Most will find the seating, and the seating position, about ideal. It's halfway between that of a car and a sport-utility—high enough for good visibility and confidence, but low enough so that occupants don’t have to step up but can simply swing themselves in through the opening. The seats are comfortable both front and rear, with good bolstering in front to hold occupants in place. We could stand more lumbar support for the driver, however.
Hollowed-out front seatbacks give enough rear-seat leg room for four 6-foot-tall adults to sit comfortably without contortions. Mazda says rear-seat leg room 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, which may have something to do with it.
The interiors include a handsome soft-touch dashboard top surface, and for 2016 Mazda has attempted to improve both the materials and the quality of construction. 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. Another change for 2016, the CX-5 switches from a mechanical parking-brake lever to an electric switch, which frees up more storage space on the center console.
Liftover height for the cargo area 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, which could be related to the spare tire. 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. Mazda thoughtfully 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.
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 where 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.
Noise is another area Mazda targeted for improvement for 2016, adding sound insulation to the body, and it seems to pay off—it's easier to hold a conversation at highway speed than even in Mazda's own 6 sedan, despite a body style that should have more sound resonating through it.
2016 Mazda CX-5
The CX-5 has good crash-test scores, and a new bundle of collision-avoidance features on the options list.
The 2016 Mazda CX-5's SkyActiv body structure not only yields a lightweight crossover, but also a safe one as well. The CX-5's body has high-strength steel sections engineered for excellent passenger safety, and for 2016 offers even more active-safety technology.
The CX-5 has the usual complement of electronic aids, including stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes, and other safety control systems. Its handling is so predictable that we expect more drivers than usual simply to drive around or away from potential dangers.
Although the 2016 CX-5 has fewer airbags than some of its rivals, it has several noteworthy active-safety options that can be added to the upper two trim levels. The Touring Technology Package adds automatic emergency braking—which can automatically brake the vehicle for hazards at speeds ranging from 4 to 19 mph—as well as adaptive front lighting. The Grand Touring Technology Package adds adaptive cruise control, park assist, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, and automatic high beams.
The CX-5 has performed well in safety testing. The NHTSA has given the CX-5 four stars overall—down from five in 2015—with a five-star rating for side impact collision safety.
The 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+ for 2016 on the merits of those top-notch scores.
Rear-quarter vision is as bad as the front visibility is good. Over their shoulders, drivers will see only gigantic blind spots at 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 and is an option on the Sport is a necessity. Fortunately, it's only a $400 option on the Sport and is bundled with a 7.0-inch infotainment screen and other technology features.
2016 Mazda CX-5
Mazda's improved the CX-5's infotainment system, but other crossover SUVs have more standard features.
The 2016 Mazda CX-5 is once again available in three trim levels, although the powertrain options have been refined slightly again this year. Base Sport models come with a 2.0-liter inline-4, automatic and front-wheel drive, while the automatic-equipped Sport now brings the 2.5-liter engine, either with front- or all-wheel drive. The Touring and Grand Touring models continue to be equipped with the 6-speed automatic, 2.5-liter four, and a choice of front- or all-wheel drive.
The Sport includes a tilting and telescoping steering wheel with audio controls, keyless ignition, power windows and doors, and 17-inch alloy wheels (on the automatic model). An optional rearview-camera package adds a 7.0-inch display and its associated control knob, plus HD Radio.
Step up to the Touring, and in addition to the standard 2.5-liter engine you get a six-way power driver’s seat, blind-spot monitoring, the new 7.0-inch infotainment screen with a reversing camera, HD radio, Bluetooth phone and audio pairing, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. Touring models can add a package that contains a nine-speaker Bose audio system and a power moonroof.
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.
Technology packages are available on the Touring and Grand Touring, adding safety-related items, LED lighting elements, rain-sensing wipers, and garage door openers. There are a few other a la carte options such as remote start and rear parking sensors.
The infotainment system has been updated to a 7.0-inch display and is now branded Mazda Connect. Ancillary controls have migrated to the center console, where there is also a controller knob. Like most systems of this kind there's considerable hand motion required just to do commonplace tasks, like saving a radio station to favorites. The navigation system's map output isn't the richest we've seen, but the setup's voice recognition seems quite good. The system includes Bluetooth, HD Radio, voice command, text-message audio delivery, and Pandora compatibility, as well as new smartphone-connected features.
2016 Mazda CX-5
Gas mileage is a real strength of the CX-5.
The Mazda CX-5 manages to be fun to drive and very efficient. Gas mileage is exemplary for a compact crossover, both on the official EPA scales or in real-world driving. Some of its scores even improve for 2016, thanks to transmission improvements.
In base Sport, manual-transmission form with the 2.0-liter inline-4, the 2016 CX-5 returns 26 mpg, 35 highway, 29 combined, according to the EPA. With the 2.5-liter, 6-speed automatic, and front-drive, it now returns 26/33/29 mpg, up from 25/32/29 mpg in 2015. And the all-wheel-drive model, which comes only with the 2.5 and automatic, earns ratings of 24/30/26 mpg.
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, Texas, 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. One still hasn't appeared, having been delayed several times now for the 6 sedan, and it isn't a likely addition to this generation of CX-5 at this point, especially given the relative prices of gas and diesel these days.