DIGITAL EDITOR ANDREW STOY: What a difference half a liter of displacement makes. The Mazda CX-5, always one of our favorite handlers in the small crossover arena, suffered on American roads due to its 2.0-liter Skyactiv engine. The 'utelet wasn't slow, per se, but you really had to make the engine and transmission work to get any semblance of spirited progress from it. The setup led to greater overall fuel efficiency, but it just wasn't well suited to the way Americans like their cars to feel -- the fact it's been a runaway success for Mazda proves how well the rest of the vehicle is configured.
Our Grand Touring CX-5 came fully loaded yet still came in under $32,000. Everything one would expect in the category is accounted for, up to and including auto on/off HID headlights, heated mirrors, leather seating with front bun warmers and a power moonroof, but don't mistake the CX-5 for a luxury crossover. Mazda products tend to focus more on the cornering dynamics than they do on sound deadening, and this vehicle is no exception. Still, what it shows is that the prospective Toyota RAV4 or Honda CR-V buyer can get a vehicle with similar interior space and utility with significantly more driving entertainment behind the wheel if he or she is willing to sacrifice a half-point of refinement. To us, the sacrifice is well worth the payoff.
Buyers can still get the original 2.0-liter I4 in a CX-5 -- in fact, it can be ordered with six-speed manual transmission in FWD guise for the true sport-crossover purist, but not with all the upgrades. For most, though, the 2.5 with Skyactiv automatic will prove to be a delightful, responsive daily driver and occasional back-road bomber with room for the kids and the dog -- the fact you won't see yourself at every red light in town is a nice bonus, too
SENIOR ROAD TEST EDITOR NATALIE NEFF: Andy, I have to concur. The concessions an enthusiast-minded driver has to make to put a Mazda CX-5 in the driveway are not only worth it, but I'd argue are not nearly as great as conventional wisdom might dictate. Yes, the CX-5 loses in a head-to-head against a Honda CR-V in terms of refinement, but only barely; it's not like the Honda feels/sounds like a Lexus or Benz at highway speeds. And while the Mazda's materials might not be exactly on par with the Honda's, it's close enough, especially considering the CX-5 has the CR-V handled in almost every other way, from interior layout, standard content, overall value and the most important metric, fun-ness of driving.
I'd also proffer that as much as we regaled our long-term Mazda CX-5 on that last point, there were times the 2.0-liter, six-speed automatic combo was downright dangerous. The transmission had a tendency to get stubborn and refuse to deliver prompt downshifts when demanded, particularly during maneuvers like making an aggressive Michigan left into traffic. The extra half-liter of displacement seems to have erased the effect; this Mazda, with its 184-hp 2.5-liter is much more eager to respond to, um, dynamic inputs.
On a more personal note, this was the first time I had the chance to drive a CX-5 in a year. Our long-termer served as the chariot in which my son came home from the hospital. Revisiting it made me more than a bit sentimental.
ASSOCIATE WEST COAST EDITOR BLAKE Z. RONG: There's a lot of lip service paid to the theory that the CX-5 is the Mazda Miata of SUVs. As if 1.) that could even be possible; and 2.) it could even be necessary. Believe the hype! The CX-5 is a surprisingly fun little trucklet to drive around in, possessing in some amount the principle of sporty cars if not the thorough execution of them -- otherwise, the CX-5 would be a Miata shooting brake with a 13B rotary engine.
The CX-5's steering feels great -- get up to speed and there's proper resistance and feedback, though lightened significantly for practical purposes. The handling is on point, going exactly where you want it without understeer or protest. Nimble and smooth, the CX-5 rides pretty well with minimal body roll. The transmission shifts quickly and never gets flustered or strained under sudden acceleration. Like most Mazdas, it ain't quick. The 184-hp Skyactiv engine builds slowly and never imparts a feeling of actual acceleration. But it holds highway speeds with ease, and can waver from 60 to 80 with subtlety.
Judging by the exterior, the proportions seem to shrink the CX-5; walking up to it makes it look larger. The CX-5 isn't terribly big, with less cargo room than the perennial Honda CR-V/Toyota RAV4 twins; the difference between the CX-5 and the CR-V, for example, is about four cubic feet. Headroom, front and rear, is sufficient.
Two things that I'd like to see the CX-5 improve: the black trim around the wheels looks cheap and ruins a wonderfully cohesive design; the CX-5 isn't particularly butch, but I'd like to see one built into an awesome off-roader. And the center screen desperately needs an upgrade to the Commander knob and the responsive new interface from the Mazda 3 I drove recently.
Sportiness might not matter in such a compact crossover, but by this seemingly insignificant, surmountable virtue in the crossover segment, the CX-5 is already king.
2015 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring
Base Price: $30,030
As-Tested Price: $31,760
Drivetrain: 2.5-liter I4; AWD, six-speed automatic
Output: 184 hp @ 5,700 rpm, 185 lb-ft @ 3,250 rpm
Curb Weight: 3,532 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway/Combined): 24/30/26 mpg
AW Observed Fuel Economy: 23.9 mpg
Options: Grand Touring Tech package including navigation system, HID headlamps w/ auto leveling, adaptive front lighting, smart city brake support, auto dim mirrors w/ homelink ($1,425); door sill trim plates ($125); rear bumper guard ($100); Cargo mat ($60)
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