A week spent in the slick handling compact crossover SUV from Mazda
Exterior and interior styling
Quick steering and agile handling
Sport models lack standard Bluetooth
2015 Mazda CX-5 overview
The Mazda CX-5 was first introduced in 2012 as a 2013 model, replacing both the larger CX-7 as well as the Ford Escape-based Tribute that was discontinued a year earlier. It's also based on Mazda's SKYACTIV platform which it shares with both the Mazda6 and Mazda3.
When the CX-5 was first introduced in 2013, the only engine available was a 2.0-liter 155 horsepower inline-4. That engine is still standard on the entry-level Sport models. Beginning in 2014 both the up level Touring and top line Grand Touring trims come with Mazda's new SKYACTIV-G 2.5-liter 4-cylinder with 184 horsepower at a very usable 5,700 rpm and 185 lb.-ft. of torque at just 3,250 rpm.
SKYACTIV, for those unfamiliar with the term, is Mazda's suite of fuel efficient technologies that includes such features as direct injection and high compression ratios. In the case of the 2.5-liter engine found in the CX-5, we're looking at a 13.0 to 1 compression ratio at a time when most passenger vehicle engines check in at around a 10.0 to 1 ratio.
It's mated to Mazda's SKYACTIV-Drive 6-speed automatic with manual mode. According to Mazda, it's both smoother and more responsive than either a DCT or CVT, with a six speed torque converter that has a full range lock-up clutch for all six gears called "full range direct drive". It features a lock-up clutch ratio of 89 percent (as compared to the previous 5-speed transmission's 64 percent) which cuts back on the power losses during acceleration typically associated with torque converter-equipped automatics.
Mazda's smallest SUV also sports a four-wheel independent suspension using MacPherson struts in front and a multi-link setup in the rear.
All-wheel-drive models come with Mazda's Active Torque AWD system that monitors wheel slippage, steering angle, yaw rate, lateral acceleration and available driveline torque. In normal driving it directs 100 percent of the driving torque to the front wheels. During aggressive acceleration or when the system detects that one front wheel is on the verge of slipping, a controlled percentage – up to 50 – can be directed to the rear wheels.
Outside it shares Mazda's "KODO-Soul of Motion" design language with, and bears a strong resemblance to, the larger CX-9 crossover as well as the current Mazda6 sedan and Mazda3 sedan and hatchback.
Up front it features the requisite five-point grill that on all but its upper half is outlined by a narrow chrome trim strip. This trim follows the lower two-thirds of the grille until it meets and bisects the "eagle eyed" headlamps. Below the headlights are a pair of highly sculpted fog lamp enclosures while, in back, the grill's five-pointed shape has been cloned more softly in the shape of the rear window.
17 x 7-inch aluminum alloy wheels wrapped in P225/65R17 all-season tires are standard on both Sport and Touring models, while our Grand Touring tester came standard with 19 x 7-inch alloys paired with Toyo A23 P225/55R19 all-season rubber.
Inside, the CX-7 is kind of a mixed bag. For the most part, it can hang with the best small crossovers. The dashboard features soft-touch surfaces and the interior is trimmed in rich-looking polished brushed-metal trim. But unlike the rest of the cabin, the cardboard-like headliner both looks and feels cheap – detracting from the CX-5's overall interior appearance.
Like other Mazdas, the CX-5's various gauges and knobs are clear and easy to read as well as intuitive. Not only does the CX-5
Grand Touring come equipped with a touch screen, the system also features conventional buttons as well that act as redundant controls for most of the system functions – a feature that not only makes using the system easier, but reduces driver distraction.
Both front seats are firm and supportive, with the right amount of bolstering – although the seat cushions felt a bit narrow. With above average room for the class, there is plenty of head, hip, leg and shoulder for both occupants up front as well as three adults in the back seat. The steering wheel both tilts and telescopes and, on the Grand Touring, the front seats are heated while the driver's 8-way power seat also features a power lumbar adjustment.
The driver's view out the front and sides is excellent, although the A-pillars aren't all that narrow. The view out the rear three-quarters is helped by a small window between the C- and D-pillars, although the D-pillar, itself, is fairly wide. The view out the back isn't helped by the smallish rear window, but both Touring and Grand Touring models get standard blind spot monitoring as well as a rear view camera.
Mazda is known for its driver-oriented "Zoom-Zoom" vehicles and this is also true for the CX-5 which is the best-handling vehicle in its class and, unlike most small crossovers, is actually fun to drive. Feedback through the steering wheel is closer to car-like than any other small SUV. It tracks nicely down the road while suspension compliance is excellent with body lean being well controlled through the corners. The ride is firm, but not at all jittery – not an easy thing to accomplish in this kind of vehicle. Braking is also excellent with plenty of feedback to the driver and it's easy to modulate the brake pedal.
On the expressway, the CX-5 exhibits the same excellent handling characteristics as it does in around-town driving. It's not affected by crosswinds and I never found myself having to make the constant steering corrections that are usually the hallmark of vehicles equipped with electric-assisted power steering systems.
But all is not perfect. The level of noise in the cabin is one of the few drawbacks of the CX-5. Around town it's about the same as any small SUV. But on the highway, some road and a great deal of wind noise makes its way into the cabin. It's not enough to make conversation difficult, but louder than many vehicles in this class.
Mazda offers the 2014 CX-9 in Sport, Touring and Grand Touring trim levels. All of them come standard with air conditioning, cruise control, power windows, locks and mirrors, keyless entry with push button start, a tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, AM/FM/MP3/CD radio, auxiliary input jack and carpeted floor mats.
In order to get the 5.8" touch screen, audio menu voice command and Bluetooth in the Sport, you have to opt for the $400 Bluetooth Audio Package.
The Touring trim come standard with everything in the Bluetooth Audio Package and also adds upgraded cloth seats (6-way drivers with manual lumbar), leather shift knob and steering wheel, blind spot monitoring and a rearview camera.
The optional Touring Technology Package ($1,485) features a Tom Tom-based navigation system, Smart City Brake Support, auto-off, adaptive, auto-leveling HID headlights, rain-sensing wipers and an auto-dimming inside rearview mirror. The optional Moonroof/Bose Package ($1,130) includes, as the name implies, a Bose 9-speaker system and a moonroof.
In addition to the 19-inch alloys, Grand Touring models get a leather interior (including steering wheel and shift knob), heated front seats (driver's 8-way), moonroof, rain-sensing wipers, Bose audio system, dual-zone automatic climate control and Sirius satellite radio.
The optional Grand Touring Technology Package ($1,625) comes with Tom Tom navigation, proximity keyless entry, Smart City Brake Support, adaptive, auto-leveling HID headlights, and an auto-dimming inside rearview mirror.
2014 CX-5 pricing
2014 Mazda CX-5 pricing starts out at just $21,990 for a manually-equipped FWD Sport. Yes you can get a 6-speed manual – but only with the base model with front wheel drive and can top out at over $34,000 for a fully-optioned and accessorized Grand Touring AWD model.
In addition to the tech package, our tester, a Liquid Silver Metallic, all-wheel-drive Grand Touring model, sported a cargo mat ($60), rear bumper guard ($100) and door sill trim plates ($125) for an as-tested price, including delivery, of $31,775.00.
The Bottom Line
There's a lot to like about the CX-5. Unlike most small crossovers, it's actually fun behind the wheel with plenty of zip from the engine and plenty of feedback through the steering wheel. It also has a ride that's both firm and well-controlled. On the flip side, it's noisier on the freeway than many small SUVs and the cheap-looking headliner detracts from the rest of the well-executed interior.
So the bottom line, as I see it, is that when it comes to the CX-5, Mazda has upped the ante in the compact SUV segment. Buyers looking for agile handling along with excellent fuel economy will find it a joy to own and should definitely put it at the top of their shopping lists.