Car Review: Mazda CX-5

2017 Mazda CX-5
2017 Mazda CX-5

Looking for a success story? How about the Mazda CX-5? Ever since it debuted with the 2013 model its sales have grown by big leaps in the United States. So how do you improve on that?

2017 Mazda CX-5
2017 Mazda CX-5

Meet the all new 2017 Mazda CX-5. Completely redesigned and ready to continue Mazda’s growth.

Mazda builds three SUVs. There’s the sub-compact CX-3 and the mid-sized CX-9. Not surprisingly, the CX-5 slots right in the middle. Think of it as competition for Toyota’s RAV4, Honda’s CR-V, Chevy’s Equinox, Ford’s Escape or the Nissan Rogue (with plenty of other compact SUVs thrown in).

2016-17 Mazda CX-5 comparison
2017 on top, 2016 below. Notice the nose.

The redesign adds plenty of new bits and pieces. From a re-engineered chassis to enhancing something Mazda calls G-Vectoring Control vehicle dynamics (it uses engine timing to control chassis dynamics – which means better handling). The most obvious thing for buyers will be the restyled body. Mazda has decided to go bolder up front. The last generation had a grill that sloped gently backwards. The new snout is more up-right.  On the CX-9 it looks huge. It’s not quite as big on it’s smaller brother, but it still stands out. It definitely changes the look of the car giving it a stronger appearance.

Up front you have one – and only one – engine choice. It’s a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that puts out 187 horsepower. Some compact SUVs have base engines that offer less, other models have upgraded models that offer more. 187 horses is enough to get you around town comfortably. You can choose either the normal of the sport mode to control the car’s feel. It’s mated to a six-speed transmission that does just fine. The mileage isn’t especially impressive. It’s rated at 23 mpg in the city and 29 on the highway with a combined number of 26 mpg. During my week with the CX-5 I averaged a little under 24 mpg. Compare that to the Honda CR-V, and it’s a little low.

2017 Mazda CX-5
Sharper styling up front

If there is one place where the CX-5 shines, it’s in the handling department. Mazda has always bragged that it builds cars for people who drive. Review after review will talk about how nimble this car feels on the road. There are two ways of looking at that. First, most people have no idea whether their car is nimble or not. They rarely accelerate through windy canyon roads. They’re not going to notice the chassis refinements on their way to work each morning. On the other hand, and this is a really important other hand, a better handling car is safer. When something jumps in front of your vehicle and you suddenly have to swerve around it, that handling will make a difference. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with other cars, but just don’t discount the added safety value of a car that drives well.

Speaking of safety, my test CX-5 also had adaptive cruise control (which keeps the distance between you and the car ahead constant) and lane keeper assist. Mazda’s version will gently tug you back into your lane if you begin to veer. I’d rate it as OK. I’ve driven some that are better, but I’ve also driven worse.

2016-17 Mazda CX-5 Interior comparison
Nice update on the CX-5 Interior. 2016 above, 2017 below.

The interior has also been redesigned and is both attractive and comfortable. The design of the previous model pulled everything to the center. The new version has a slightly flatter feel. Mazda likes to put the display high on the dash. While that’s better from a safety standpoint (it keeps your eyes closer to the road), it also ends up looking like an after thought.

Speaking about the display, I’ve never been a fan of the Mazda interface. It’s confusing and complicated to use. Having said that, I read a review last night from someone who loved it. As always, try it out and figure out it fits your needs.

2017 Mazda CX-5 Rear Cargo Area
Those Rear Seats Fold Flat

One big change in the interior is the way the back seat folds down. In the earlier version, the seats couldn’t fold flat. As a result, it impacted the kinds of things you could load into the back. The new CX-5 allows the seats to lay flat which will make plenty of folks happy. As for legroom in the back, it’s right in the middle of the pack. A little less than the CR-V but more than Escape.

My test car was the Grand Touring All-Wheel-Drive edition. With plenty of upgrades the final sticker came in at $34,085. The base model starts at about $10,000 less.

Mazda has a long way to go before it knocks off the class leader in the compact SUV world. The Toyota RAV4 sold more than three times as many so far in 2017 and its sales grew by an even larger percentage. Still, the newly redesigned CX-5 is moving in the right direction for Mazda and is building a solid following.



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