While Mazda's vehicles are among the most fun to drive, they can fall behind in other areas. In the case of the previous generation of the CX-5, that was the case with ride quality, family-friendliness and multimedia technology. With the redesigned 2017 CX-5, Mazda has directly addressed two of those issues, and the third has a potential solution looming on the horizon.
Don't think of the redesigned 2017 CX-5 as a completely new model. It's more of an iterative evolution, like an iPhone 6 to a 6S, not a 7. That doesn't mean there aren't useful changes baked in, but the core of the CX-5, including the powertrain, remains intact. Compare the 2017 CX-5 with last year's model here.
In our latest Compact SUV Challenge from 2016 (in which the CX-5 did not participate), the top three finishers were the 2017 Ford Escape, 2017 Kia Sportage and 2016 Honda CR-V. Since that Challenge, the CR-V has been completely redesigned for 2017. Compare the CX-5 with those models here.
The 2017 CX-5 starts at $24,985 (including destination charge), and there are three trim levels: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. Opting for all-wheel drive adds $1,300 to the price of each trim level.
I tested front- and all-wheel-drive versions of the Grand Touring, both equipped with a Grand Touring Premium Package for an additional $1,830, bringing their as-tested prices to $33,465 (FWD) and $34,765 (AWD).
How It Drives
With the redesign, the CX-5 drops its 2.0-liter engine and six-speed manual, leaving only one powertrain for 2017: a 187-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder that makes 185 pounds-feet of torque, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Nobody was sad to see the smaller engine go, and you can mourn the manual if you'd like, but the reality is that not many CX-5s were sold in that configuration — a quick search in mid-April 2017 of Cars.com inventory for 2016 CX-5s revealed only 0.7 percent came with the manual (86 out of 12,441 nationwide).
Those who want another engine will have to wait for the enticing 2.2-liter, diesel four-cylinder option that's scheduled to arrive in the fall. It's unclear if the CX-5 or 2018 Chevrolet Equinox will be the first model in this class to hit the market with a diesel.
Ride quality is an area in which the previous model struggled. During the last Cars.com Challenge from 2015 in which the 2016 model participated, the CX-5 was rated first in handling and acceleration but dead last in ride. To address this, the chassis was stiffened 15 percent, and Mazda engineers said that added strength gave them leeway to make the suspension more pliant while maintaining the CX-5's desired handling characteristics.
The changes seem to have worked: The suspension is more composed than the previous version, while the car's wonderfully responsive handling remains intact. It's impressive how flat it stays in corners and how all the mechanical parts seem to work in harmony — especially the transmission, which knows what gear to be in with almost telepathic precision. Though I drove both FWD and AWD versions, I did so only on dry, well-maintained roads, so there was no detectable difference in performance.
Fuel economy figures are identical for all three trim levels, and they're competitive overall within the class: 24/31/27 mpg city/highway/combined for FWD models and 23/29/26 mpg with AWD, both on regular gasoline. Versions of the Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson and Nissan Rogue rate higher, but in some cases, only with more expensive trim levels or options. Similarly, the CX-5's mileage play — the coming diesel option — is also likely to carry a price premium.
All the mechanical parts seem to work in harmony — especially the transmission, which knows what gear to be in with almost telepathic precision.
Interior Updates and Technology
The most dramatic change is something occupants will immediately notice: It's now very quiet in the cabin. I won't go over the long list of steps Mazda engineers took to keep noise out; just be assured it works without employing any sort of active noise cancelation technology.
The CX-5 continues to employ Mazda Connect with a 7-inch touchscreen that has moved atop the dashboard, following suit with the rest of Mazda's models. I'm not the biggest fan of this system because the touch control is disabled when the car is moving and it takes too long to do things with the control knob behind the shifter.
If you don't care for Mazda Connect, help may be on the way. Mazda has said Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capability are coming and should be backward compatible with existing Mazda Connect vehicles, including the CX-5. So even if you bought a CX-5 prerelease, there will be a way to update it and add those useful technologies — at a price yet to be determined.
Backseat and Cargo
Backseat passengers will be especially thankful for the redesign. The rear seats now recline slightly for a more comfortable seating position, and air-conditioning vents have been added back there. I set up the driver's seat where I would drive (I'm 5-foot-11) and climbed into the back to check the space. While legroom is a bit tight (there was only an inch or two between my knees and the seat), there is plenty of headroom, which is more important for keeping passengers from feeling claustrophobic on long rides. Touring and Grand Touring models also add a pair of 2.1-amp USB charging ports to the backseat, which are powerful enough to charge tablets. There's a caveat, however: The ports are mounted in the fold-down armrest in the center seatback, so if there are three people in the backseat, bye-bye charging.
The CX-5's compromises still come in two key areas: child-safety seats and cargo room. The backseat dimensions are very close to what they were in the 2016 model, and the car's snug legroom versus competitors — while bearable for passengers — makes it harder to fit an infant seat. The new reclining mechanism should help with installation, however, and we will update our 2016 Car Seat Check scores when we get our hands on a 2017 CX-5 at Cars.com headquarters.
For cargo room, the CX-5 has 30.9 cubic feet behind the backseat and a maximum of 59.6 cubic feet with the seats folded down. This lags behind the 2017 Honda CR-V, which sets the pace for this segment: 39.2 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 75.8 cubic feet with the bench folded. The CX-5's one advantage is a 40/20/40-split folding backseat, versus the other models' 60-40 benches, along with a nifty set of handles in the cargo area that allow you to lower each seat from the liftgate without having to walk around.
The Grand Touring models I tested came equipped with every safety option Mazda offers on the CX-5, including lane keep assist, automatic high beams, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, and adaptive cruise control. The adaptive cruise control in particular made big strides in the redesign thanks to an added forward camera (in addition to front radar). The additional camera allows the system to work all the way down to a stop, where it will hold and then take off again if the car in front of you moves after less than three seconds. If it's stopped for longer than that, you have to tap the gas pedal or press the resume button on the steering wheel to continue moving forward.
The CX-5 also includes an updated Active Driving Display, which is just a fancy name for a head-up display. Unlike some Mazdas, the CX-5's ADD displays information on the windshield rather than a short supplemental pane of glass atop the dashboard. Part of the Grand Touring Premium Package, ADD now recognizes stop signs and speed limit signs and projects their info onto the windshield along with a speedometer, navigation directions, adaptive cruise control status and more. The position of the display is also tied to the seat's memory system now, so there's no need to adjust it when the seat gets moved around.
Mazda's application of this technology was already one of my favorites; it does a good job of distilling the information displayed to fit what the driver needs, including blind spot warnings. That's very helpful, keeping the driver's eyes up when thinking about lane changes.
The 2017 CX-5 keeps the driving acumen that made it stand out in a class that's short on fun-to-drive models. The improvements to some of the sore spots of the old model (especially when Android Auto and Apple CarPlay arrive) are exactly what the doctor ordered. It's quieter, more composed and more stylish to boot.