CARS.COM — Buyers can't seem to get enough compact SUVs these days, and automakers are responding with new designs at a pace that rivals smartphone improvements.
Related: Mazda CX-5 Video Review
The tortoise is roadkill in this race and even relatively new models can quickly get passed. Example: The then-new 2013 Mazda CX-5 finished second only to Honda's CR-V in Cars.com's 2012 Compact SUV Challenge. In our 2015 Challenge, however, the 2016 CX-5, despite incremental improvements, finished last out of seven compact SUVs. Not good news for Mazda's best-selling model.
Mazda has redesigned the CX-5 for 2017, and our First Drive found at least five reasons it should be on your compact SUV shopping list:
It's Still the Most Fun-to-Drive
The previous CX-5 already impressed Challenge judges as a driver's choice for handling and acceleration, and the new CX-5 did not break what wasn't broken. Mazda even dropped the former 2.0-liter base engine, so you get the much more satisfying 2.5-liter no matter what you spend, and the $1,800 automatic transmission option is now standard (sorry, stick-shift lovers, but that's gone, and few of you bought it anyway).
Add to that an array of steering and chassis improvements (including the addition of Mazda's G-Vectoring Control electronics) and Cars.com editor Brian Wong concluded, "I'll simply say this: Before the updates, the CX-5 was the best-driving vehicle in the compact SUV class, and that remains true. It stays incredibly flat in corners, the transmission is almost telepathically responsive, and the steering feel and weight are spot-on."
I Can Hear You Now
Challenge judges rated the 2016 CX-5 as notably noisier than rivals; Mazda listened. Just as I found with the upgraded 2017 Mazda 6 sedan, the automaker is getting up to speed with what mainstream buyers now expect in noise suppression. Said Wong: "The biggest improvement for the 2017 CX-5 versus the previous version is quietness. There are new door seals, added sound deadening and new acoustic glass, all of which work in concert to keep the cabin more isolated and free of wind and road noise."
The Rear Seat Does Not Take a Backseat
Judges in the Challenge already were impressed by the former CX-5's cabin design and materials. Wong found that Mazda gave special attention to the new model's backseat, which is good news for small families and others who regularly carry rear passengers: "The backseat got a lot of attention in the redesign, with [midrange] Touring and above models adding air-conditioning vents and two USB charging ports to the backseat area." He added, "Rear legroom is class competitive, but where the CX-5 excels is in headroom" — even without using the backseat's new reclining function. He also noted that heated rear outboard seats are available on the top Grand Touring trim.
Slim and Trim
The CX-5 already was trimmer than some rivals, some of which have gotten nearly mid-size. Mazda resisted the temptation to super-size it, which makes it a better fit for urban buyers and others who want SUV utility in a trimmer package. Said Wong: "Dimensions are for all intents and purposes unchanged in the redesign ... keeping the compact SUV... well, compact."
Smarter Tech and Smartphone Capability
The full array of available safety tech now includes an adaptive cruise control system that works "all the way down to a stop (the old system shut down at speeds of under 19 mph), which is welcome news for those who live in high-traffic areas," noted Wong, who lives in traffic-challenged Southern California. The head-up display adds more information.
And if having Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is a deal-breaker, it should be on the way. Mazda officials told Wong at the First Drive event that Mazda is adding smartphone integration to its lineup and that both technologies "should be retroactively upgradeable onto all Mazda Connect systems [which includes the CX-5] with a potentially minimal hardware addition needed."