Mazda is kind of a niche brand in the automotive industry. It seems like the forgotten mainstream choice. When you think Japanese, you immediately think Toyota, Honda, and maybe even Nissan. But Mazda has often been the unspoken choice, right up there with Subaru. However, Mazda has a secret party piece that few people talk about.
The party piece in question is the handling. Whether it’s the Miata, the three-row CX-9, or anything in between, Mazdas drive far better than the competition, especially in comparison to its Japanese rivals. The CX-5 is no exception. Starting with the steering, you’ll be pleased to feel that it’s tight and well weighted, just a touch on the heavy side to keep things interesting. There’s a decent dead spot on center and the actual accuracy of the steering is just above average. Overall though, it gives you a sense of connectivity and purpose. It’s not light and vague like you’ll find in other cars of this class. Cornering is fairly composed for a crossover. There is a decent amount of body roll but it still has a good sense of control. The suspension is extremely supple and the noise isolation is incredible, especially with its double paned windows. The engine revs freely, smooth and without hindrance. It’s 2.5 inline four pushes 187 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque. It doesn’t sound like much, and it isn’t. Around town it has more than enough power but freeway passing can be difficult. It’s about 20 hp and lb-ft short of being enough for a car of this size and weight. My least favorite part of the driving experience, however, is the brakes. They are extremely soft and feel disconnected. I had to double check with Mazda at one point to make sure they are a mechanical system rather than brake-by-wire.
The CX-5 Grand Touring comes standard with all the latest safety features such as blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning as well as lane keep assist. The radar cruise control, also standard on this trim level, is decently smooth in stop and go traffic. The more exciting stuff like the Active Driving Display, basically Mazda’s heads-up-display, with traffic sign recognition and heated rear seats are part of the Premium Package.
Mazda interiors these past few years have been stunning. The materials used, the fit and finish, the design, everything is a huge step above the likes of Honda or Toyota. The design language is more contemporary, rather than ultra modern. It allows the interior to age more gracefully, especially compared to the competition. Mazda’s infotainment system is also extremely intuitive to use, even if it’s a shame that it’s lacking Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The rear legroom is a little tighter than a CR-V or even RAV4 while the cargo area is significantly smaller.
The exterior is bold and sleek. Mazda has also nailed exterior design, creating cars that are striking without being offensive either. It’s a hard balance to pull off. In an era where the trend is dramatic styling in order to capture public attention, Mazda has gone the more traditional route, less polarizing and simple textbook stuff: Skinny lights and swoopy lines.
The compact sport utility segment is heavily dominated by the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. The Subaru Forester is also at the top for consumers that want the best all wheel drive system available. However, if you’re looking for the best drive and best interior in the class, you have to have the CX-5.
Off-road photography courtesy of Justin Pagtalunan @justdayuum at Mazda USA
Excellent Driving Dynamics
Stunning Build Quality
Needs Slightly More Power
Specs: Engine: 2.5L DOHC 16-Valve I4 Drivetrain: AWD
Power: 187hp @ 6,000 rpm Torque: 186 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm Transmission: 6-Speed Automatic
Fuel Economy (City/Highway/Comb.): 24/30/26 MPG (AWD) Wheelbase: 106.2 in Curb Weight: 3,693 lbs (AWD) Base Price: $24,150 Price as Tested: $34,685 (incl. dest.)