Two years ago my sister-in-law decided that it was time to replace her 4-cylinder 5-speed Honda Accord coupe with something new. Like everyone else in the world these days, she wanted a small cross-over. She wanted one for the same reasons that everyone else wants one for – higher ride, bigger trunk, ease of egress and ingress, and the availability of AWD. But she wanted something else – she wanted a car with some kind of a soul, not just an appliance.
I advised her that soul is something that develops over time and promptly suggested a Jeepster Commando. When that was vetoed, I told her to test drive the RAV4 and the CR-V first. Then I sent her to MINI and Mazda dealerships. Like most would, she wrote the Toyota and Honda off right away despite the amazing deal she was offered on the RAV4. The MINI she wanted priced itself out rather quickly. The CX-5 emerged as a clear winner in terms of price, functionality, driving, and personality.
For 2017 Mazda has revealed the new CX-5. It is emphasizing the previous model’s zoom-zoominess and borrowing heavily from the handsome looks of its bigger sibling, the CX-9. Where other makers offer functional appliances, could Mazda win over more buyers like my sister-in-law who want a good-looking, fun to drive vehicle?
Typical two-box designs of CUVs and SUVs make unique styling of these vehicles somewhat challenging. There are a few exceptions to the rule, but the most popular models are bland at best. Mazda is not known for following form (rotary engines, anyone?) and the CX-5 design is a clear deviation from the norm.
It starts in the front. The grill is negatively angled akin to BMWs of old, but its size is modern – huge. It’s a shape that is familiar to other Mazdas. The LED headlights are angled in and narrow, flowing with the lines on that relatively long hood. Gentle lines flow from the hood into the fenders and front doors. Going back the sharp lines disappear and cleanly turn into smooth molded angles. All cars these days are full of some kind of designer-spec angled lines but on the CX-5 those become visible even to function-focused engineering minds.
Those same pesky practical engineers will quickly point out that the carefully styled body has an impact on rear visibility. The slightly rising beltline and moderately sloping roof, along with a thick D-pillar, make reversing and parallel parking tricky. The rear glass, despite having a large surface, is low in height. This also has an impact on cargo capacity, which dropped from 65.4 cu.ft. on the old to CX-5 to 59.6 cu. ft. on the new one.
Other dimensions remain very similar to the previous version. The new CX-5 is marginally lower, wider, and shorter. All those measurements are within half an inch of the previous generation but the weight has climbed up almost 200 pounds. Despite that, my daughter was convinced that her aunt’s car had more space in the rear seat.
The interior gets equally modern treatment as the outside. The dash layout hints of Audi and Land Rover designs – clean, simple, with fewer buttons. Rotary knobs for primary HVAC and infotainment controls were retained, the former on the dash and the latter on the center console, like an Audi. Sadly, I did not see any references to actual engine rotors.
The CX-5’s infotainment system, which is in all Mazdas and one Fiat, is not as sleek as the rest of the car, however. Programming radio station presets is a multi-step process. Channel surfing on satellite radio is kind of annoying as there are no hard buttons, just the touch-screen or the multifunction rotary knob that corresponds to the screen. There is no Apple CarPlay but there is a Pandora app to which my phone refused to connect to, requiring the use of a USB input.
The navigation system is equally non-intuitive and will require several attempts by novice users. The bigger issue was the fact that one address I put in, one for a race track that has been around since the 1930s, was not in the nav system’s database. Overall, it is a system that is dated but it shouldn’t deter anymore from this vehicle. The Bose audio sounds great.
There are four USB ports, two in the front and two in the rear. The problem with the rear ones is that they are located in the center armrest and become useless with three people sitting on the rear bench. There are two 12v sockets, one in dash and one in the cargo area. The rear bench splits and folds 40:20:40 for cargo carrying convenience.
Aside from its unique looks, its driving characterizes where Mazdas excel and the CX-5 is no different. While the CX-5 will never be confused for a Miata, it does corner well. It has less body roll and drama than others in this class, as experienced by me on public roads. The ride is also quite comfortable – the CX-5 feels solid, with the biggest of bumps sending only deep thumps into the passenger compartment.
Lesser models of the CX-5 come with 17-inch wheels and 225/65 tires. The Grand Touring model comes with 19-inch wheels which are wrapped in 225/55 tires. In days where automakers put on tires with almost no sidewalls, Mazda showed great restraint here, proving that overly large wheels exist only for looks and don’t really add anything to performance, especially on an SUV.
The Mazda CX-5’s SKYACTIV-G 2.5-liter naturally aspirated 4-cylinder engine makes 187 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 185 lb-ft at 4000 rpm (3250 rpm in FWD versions). The power is being sent to the wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission. While there is a manual shift mode that no one will ever use, the proper manual transmission that was available in FWD models of the past generation is gone. I doubt that very few CX-5 buyers will actually miss it. Fuel economy is 23/30 MPG City/ Highway, which is about average for this class.
Those 187/185 power numbers are good enough for this vehicle, and for most people. It has that magic chassis faster than engine feel, but it could really use a few more ponies. The CX-9 has a lovely 250 hp turbocharged engine that would really transform the CX-5 from a great vehicle into an amazing one. Mazda says that the diesel version is finally coming but I won’t believe it until I see it.
The base 2017 CX-5 starts at $24,045. The Grand Touring AWD model shown here is $30,695. Added to it was a $75 cargo mat, $300 gray paint, a very clever $250 cargo cover, and an $1830 premium package which includes driver’s seat memory, four heated seats and a heated steering wheel, and a head-up display. Then there is the $940 delivery fee. All of this brought this CX-5 to $34,085, which is very similar to equally equipped competitors.
The new CX-5 builds on the previous generation’s strong points. It focuses more on the driver than other vehicles in this very competitive segment. In the world of boring CUVs, the CX-5 has a personality, almost a soul, that comes from the fun-to-drive factor and good looks. Those two rather simple things really give the CX-5 something that others just do not possess.
[Disclaimer: Mazda North America provided the vehicle for the purpose of this review. Due to a scheduling conflict on my part all images were provided by Mazda]