Mazda CX-5: Still the sportiest small SUV, but perhaps a bit too much so
Launched in 2012, the Mazda CX-5 is no longer the new kid on the block, but continues to provide a sporty alternative for folks who need a more practical vehicle. As we’ve come to expect from Mazda, everything from the steering to the suspension and brakes just invites you to attack the next curve with confidence. Push the limits and the CX-5 will surprise you with how capable it is, although this impressive handling is not without trade-offs.
After driving the Tucson for almost a week, the CX-5 seemed almost harsh in comparison. When every pothole and crevice in the road makes itself known, the ability to hang with a sports sedan seems much less enticing, especially since most SUV buyers are just not going to be driving that hard much of the time.
The CX-5 is still available with a choice of four-cylinder engines – 2.0L and 2.5L – with the smaller engine only available on the base Sport trim. You can still get the 2.0-liter engine with a manual transmission, which is quite novel in 2016, but most buyers will opt for the six-speed automatic. The 2.5-liter engine makes 184 horsepower and provides more than adequate acceleration, although given how capable the handling is the car can feel somewhat underpowered.
Although Mazda helped popularize the trend towards increased fuel efficiency through its Skyactiv technology, the CX-5 couldn’t quite keep pace with the Tucson in the mileage race. Try as we might, it was hard to break out of the mid-20s, especially during ordinary driving such as commuting to work.
Overall, the CX-5 performs perfectly well, but it definitely felt a bit dated, especially when compared to the constantly innovating competition. A peppy and efficient four-cylinder engine with a smooth shifting six-speed automatic may have been competitive five years ago, but powertrain technology has progressed quite a bit in just the past few years, and Mazda is a bit behind the curve.
Mazda continues to impress with its refined, well-executed interiors, and the CX-5 is no exception. The infotainment system is as good as what you’d find in most $40k luxury cars, and the quality of materials is definitely a cut above. Our Grand Touring test car featured leather upholstery and all the expected creature comforts. The CX-5 also provides a good value, as the Sport trim can be had for as little as $21,795, and the top-level Grand Touring starts at $28,570, which is more than reasonable for the level of equipment.