The Mazda CX-5 is an affordable compact SUV that does an excellent job pretending to be a luxury-branded one. Thanks to its sleek design and fun-loving driving dynamics, the CX-5 pulls off this difficult balancing act better than most of its rivals. That’s saying something when the competition includes the likes of the Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4 and Volkswagen Tiguan.
What helps the CX-5 separate itself from the competition? For starters, the handling of this Mazda validates that this SUV comes from the same automaker that gifted the world the MX-5 Miata roadster. The handling is informative, and the CX-5 is truly fun-to-drive in all conditions. And besides, try loading four of your best friends and a weekend’s worth of their luggage into a Miata!
Granted, the CX-5 trails a few key competitors when it comes to class-leading cargo room and rear legroom. And while we’re fans of the optional turbocharged four-cylinder as well as the new Grand Touring Reserve and loaded-to-the-gills Signature trim levels, adding more power and goodies nudges the price of the CX-5 upward.
Be sure to read our full review of the CX-5 above. But for SUV shoppers just looking for the highlights (and lowlights), we’ve compiled this quick rundown of the things we like — and some things we don’t — about the 2019 Mazda CX-5.
Things We Like
1. Two New Luxury Trim Levels
For the 2019 model year, Mazda has added the Grand Touring Reserve and Signature trim levels to the top of the CX-5 range. Both models come standard with all-wheel drive and a new turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The Signature is the one to choose for anyone who hates deciding between options. That’s because it comes loaded with every conceivable convenience and safety feature you could add onto the CX-5, including heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, Nappa leather, a 360-degree camera system, 19-inch alloy wheels and a Bose audio system. From behind the wheel, Cars.com reviewer Fred Meier said the CX-5 in Signature trim comes “oh so close” to feeling like a premium SUV. As tested, our CX-5 carried a sticker of $39,325; a base CX-5 starts at $25,395 (all prices include destination charges).
2. Turbo Power
Mazda has upped the CX-5’s game when it comes to horsepower. For 2019, there is an available turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 227 horses when running on regular unleaded gas or 250 hp when fed a diet of premium. The base 187-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder is fine, “but the turbo is for buyers looking for more than adequate,” Meier noted in his review.
3. Superb Steering
So, you need the convenience and space of an SUV but hate the idea of giving up driving enjoyment in the process? Well, lucky you, because the Mazda CX-5 has an agile chassis and possibly the best handling you’re going to find in an affordable SUV. Meier said the Mazda’s “steering has smile-inducing precision and feel.” Try applying that standard to most other family-oriented SUVs.
4. Elegant Cabin
The Mazda CX-5 isn’t just graced with great handling; it also has an interior that feels several notches above its direct competitors. This is especially true in the posh Signature trim level, which was fitted with real wood accents, satin trim finishes and high-quality leather, as well as piano-black surfaces on the dash. Thankfully, even the base CX-5 has a cabin that looks and feels like it belongs in a pricier product.
5. Distinctive Exterior Design
Styling is subjective, though it’s hard to deny the Mazda CX-5 stands out in a crowd. The exterior is elegant and doesn’t go overboard with details. A distinctive front end and shapely sides give the CX-5 real presence on the road.
6. Rear Passengers Aren’t Left Out
Sometimes the best cars and SUVs coddle those sitting in the front row but then drop the ball when it comes to rear-seat accommodations. That’s not the case with the Mazda CX-5: Quality trim, padded armrests and soft-touch surfaces extend to the rear seats. Headroom back there is abundant, while legroom is fine for the class — though not as generous as what you’ll find in the Honda CR-V or Nissan Rogue.
7. Sharp Alloy Wheels
The Mazda CX-5 has some sharp wheels, particularly when you opt for the wheel-arch-filling 19-inch numbers on higher trim levels. Our test vehicle was fitted with smoke-finished alloys that are specific to the CX-5 Signature model; in comparison, the standard CX-5’s 17-inch rims look a little puny.
8. Thumbs Up for the Head-Up
The Mazda CX-5 has a sharp and informative head-up display unit that’s full of useful information. This is one of those features many people don’t know they want until they have it. Thanks to its brightness and clear graphics, the HUD system on the CX-5 is a great addition.
9. Smooth Six-Speed
Many a fine engine has been ruined by a recalcitrant transmission. We’re happy to report the six-speed automatic fitted to the CX-5 is smooth and quick-witted when changing gears. Meier noted that this gearbox is better behaved than the continuously variable transmissions found in the Honda CR-V and Nissan Rogue. But he also wondered whether an eight-speed automatic — such as the type used in the VW Tiguan — would make a good thing even better.
10. Safety Features
The Mazda CX-5 scored a Top Safety Pick Plus rating — the highest possible score — in safety tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The base CX-5 Sport comes with rear-cross traffic alert, blind spot monitors and a low-speed front collision system. Moving one trim beyond the base CX-5 gets you additional standard safety items like adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane keep assist and automatic high beams.
Things We Don’t
1. Multimedia System Needs More Zoom-Zoom
The Mazda CX-5 is so tantalizingly close to feeling like it deserves a luxury badge on the front grille. Speaking of, pop quiz: Can you name Mazda’s would-be luxury brand that fizzled out before it was officially launched in the U.S.? (Answer: It was to be called Amati. Go ahead, look it up. We’ll wait). Back in the here and now, the infotainment system in the CX-5 is slow to start and takes too much time when toggling between screens and menus. In his review, Meier also said the 7-inch screen is starting to feel small compared to the 8-inch screens fitted in many rivals. One other quirk: The touchscreen is only a touchscreen when parked. On the move, you need to use a controller and buttons located on the center console between the front seats.
2. Cargo Room Gets a B-Plus
Cargo room is merely OK in the CX-5. Behind the rear seats, you’ll find 30.9 cubic feet of space. For comparison, a Honda CR-V offers 39.2 cubic feet of cargo room. Then again, the CX-5 does have a handy 40/20/40-split, folding backseat for those times you need to haul especially large and bulky items.
3. A Thirsty Turbo Engine
Power can corrupt, but it can’t pay the gas bills. We love the extra surge provided by the new turbocharged four-cylinder engine, but we wish our Signature AWD test vehicle got better than an EPA-estimated 22/27/24 mpg city/highway/combined. Thankfully, it’ll run on regular or premium fuel.
4. Odd USB Outlet Placement
Mazda engineers, where the heck do you keep your phones when driving? It’s slightly nitpicky, but the front USB placement in the CX-5 is downright weird. There are two outlets, but they’re located at the back of the center storage compartment between the two front seats and under the armrest. This isn’t a deal-breaker, but it’s something that could easily be fixed, too.
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