Lovely inside and out
Quick steering and agile handling
Distracting infotainment system
Short on rear seat room
2019 Mazda CX-5
Mazda's CX-5, was first introduced as a 2013 model, and later given a facelift in 2016. Last year marked the first major re-design, and this year the brand's best-selling vehicle receives a more powerful turbocharged engine that is offered with two new range-topping trims.
Visually stunning from any angle, the 2019 CX-5 - especially in the new Signature trim - sets the design standard for all other crossovers in its class, as well as many costing thousands more. The design's restrained elegance begins up front with Mazda's signature shield-like grille – the lower portion outlined by a chrome trim strip that traces a line from the bottom of the grill to under the narrow headlights.
The look along the flanks is much simpler: aggressive wheel arches (that surround dark silver-finished 19-inch alloy wheels wrapped in P225/55R19 Toyo A36 rubber on our Signature tester), an upper character lines that begins mid-fender and another that begins at the mid-point of the quarter panel, a deep character line above the rocker molding, and a narrow chrome strip along the beltline that kicks up behind the back window. The sculpted rear fascia is topped by a body-colored upper spoiler, and features a pair of narrow, horizontal tail lights, and a simple black lower valance with cutouts for a pair of round, chrome-tipped, exhaust finishers.
That lovely sheetmetal is wrapped around an elegant interior slathered in rich-looking soft touch materials that – especially in Signature trim – achieves a premium level of luxury for thousands less. The driver-focused cockpit on our tester featured supportive, nicely bolstered, front seats that were heated and ventilated, and excellent views from a driver's perspective out the front and sides, despite A-pillars that aren’t all that narrow. The view out the rear three-quarters is aided by a small window between the C- and D-pillars, although it's hampered by a wide D-pillar. The controls are, for the most part, intuitive, well organized, and easily reached by the driver.
Touring and above models feature power adjustments for the driver's seat and, even with a sunroof there's plenty of head, hip, leg and shoulder for front seat occupants. Durable cloth upholstery is standard, while Nappa leather-trimmed Signature models that also offer such niceties as standard LED ambient lighting, a frameless rearview mirror, and layered wood trim equal BMW levels of luxury at a fraction of the cost.
But there are nits. The faux leather upholstery on Touring trims looks a bit cheesy, the back seats are comfortable, but three adults will find accommodations tight, while the cargo area behind the second row, at 31 cubic feet, is just average for the class and eclipsed by offerings from Ford, Toyota, and Honda. In addition, the view out back – partially blocked by the rear seat headrests - isn't helped by the smallish rear window.
Our biggest issue, however, concerns the infotainment system. For one, the control center's placement on the center console is too close to the arm rest - requiring an awkward bend of your hand to operate. In addition, the 7-inch touchscreen looks low rent, the infotainment's menus and sub-menus are often too distracting to navigate when driving, while Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration that mitigate many of those issues aren't available on the Sport trim.
Under the hood
For 2019, CX-5 now offers a choice of two engines. Sport, Touring and Grand Touring trims - in both front- and all-wheel-drive configurations - feature a 187 horsepower 2.5-liter, normally-aspirated inline-4 with active cylinder displacement that allows it to run on 2 cylinders under light load. Two new upper trims –all-wheel-drive-only Grand Touring Reserve and Signature models - feature a 227 horsepower 2.5-liter turbo-4 with maximum toque available at a very usable 2000 rpm. Both engines are mated to a smooth but aging 6-speed automatic.
Fuel economy remains a high point - not something you’d expect in a crossover that’s this much fun to drive. Front-wheel-drive 2.5-liter CX-5s score an EPA-estimated 25 miles per gallon in the city, 31 on the highway, and 28 combined, with all-wheel-drive models nearly as good with an EPA-estimated 24 mpg city, 30 highway, and 26 combined.
Meanwhile, AWD Grand Touring Reserve and Signature trims achieve an EPA-estimated 22 mpg in the city, 27 on the highway, and 24 combined. Around town, we managed a vehicle-measured 24.2 miles per gallon in our Signature tester.
On the road
Most buyers choose Mazdas for their superior handling characteristics, and the CX-5 falls in line with the brand's other models. The polished ride, communicative steering, and poised chassis are among the best in the class. Tracking nicely down the road, suspension compliance is excellent, with well-controlled body motions and minimal lean through the corners. The ride is firm, but not at all jittery – hardly easy to accomplish in a vehicle with this profile. Braking is uniformly excellent, with an easy to modulate pedal, a good initial bite to the pads, and plenty of feedback.
The nicely-weighted electric steering offers G-Vectoring Control – a nearly invisible engine torque vectoring system designed to shift the vehicle's weight in turns, helping to hold a cornering line, and aiding in straight-line tracking at highway speeds, making freeway driving less taxing, and reducing driver fatigue.
At the same time, the larger 19-inch wheels found on the three top trims offer a stiff ride, wind and road noise is apparent on models equipped with 19-inch wheels, while the base engine, with good throttle response, is hardly quick off the line, with engine thrash and noise readily apparent when you put your foot into it. The 2.5-liter turbo, for its part, lowers the zero-to-60 time on AWD models from 8.8 to 7.3 seconds, but there's discernible turbo lag from a standstill, and the transmission could use at least a couple more gears to efficiently handle the extra power.
2019 Mazda CX-5 prices
Prices for the 2019 CX-5 start at $25,395 for a front-wheel-drive Sport and run up to nearly $40,000 for a fully-accessorized all-wheel-drive Signature model. Aside from the typical power features, all CX-5s come with alloy wheels, LED headlights, keyless entry with push-button start, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a seven-inch touchscreen, and Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity.
All models come with a rear view camera, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and low-speed automatic emergency braking. Standard on other versions, but a $625 option on the Sport trim adds automatic headlights with high-beam assist, rain-sensing wipers, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, and all-speed automatic emergency braking - a very good price for that much equipment.
Our Snowflake White Pearl Signature AWD tester was, as it should be, near the top with a base price of $36,890. Adding a $70 cargo mat, $400 illuminated door sill trim plates, $200 paint job, $125 all-weather floor mats, $125 rear bumper guard, $250 retractable cargo cover, and $400 roof rack and side rails brought its MSRP, including a $995 destination charge, to $39,455.
The Bottom Line
Despite an infotainment system that remains frustrating, mediocre cargo space, a base engine that lacks refinement, and an outdated automatic transmission, the stunning-on-the-inside-and-outside CX-5 brings style and handling prowess to the small crossover class, with the Touring trim, in particular, offering good value, with the entire lineup our choice in the compact crossover class.