Review: The 2023 Mazda CX-5 is the Great Winter SUV Most of You Guys Aren’t Buying

The CX-5 faces a tough competition from its own CX-50 sibling, let alone the competition

Refreshed styling Mazda CX-50 is all the CX-5 is, and then some
Refined, dynamic handling capability 6-speed automatic transmission is showing its age
Luxurious interior (especially on the top-end Signature) Better (but still not phenomenal) infotainment system
Top Safety Pick+ ratings

2023 Mazda CX-5 Overview: Still mightily impressive, but should you buy one?

Over the past decade, the fun-to-drive and elegantly styled CX-5 crossover has been the backbone of Mazda’s lineup. It brought us “Kodo” design language and the new “SkyActiv” engine lineup, and it continues to be one of the best handling crossovers in its class. If you’re shopping in the crowded crossover segment and are looking for an affordable, solid daily companion that is still engaging to toss around, the CX-5 is hard to fault.

Speaking from personal experience (and making an important disclosure), the driving dynamics are what keeps me coming back to Mazda over the years. I’ve owned four, including the first-generation CX-5, and TFL’s own Nathan Adlen has a similar sentiment toward the brand. You still get that with the 2023 Mazda CX-5, as well as standard all-wheel drive across the entire lineup. That makes this car unflappable in wintry conditions, while you also get the styling, technology and performance to make Mazda’s compact SUV a tempting choice.

With all that in mind, this is still far from the most popular crossover out there.

Through the third quarter of 2022, the Toyota RAV4 outsold the CX-5 three-to-one. Among the competition including the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Chevy Equinox and Ford Escape (among many others), Mazda’s offering lands in about the middle of the pack.

There are no huge updates for 2023, as the Mazda CX-5 just saw a modest facelift for the 2022 model year. You do get a larger 10.3-inch infotainment screen as well as the freshened-up headlights and taillights. Rhodium White is one new ($595) color for this model year.

Pricing for the 2023 Mazda CX-5 starts off at $27,975 for the base trim, rising to $40,925 for the top-end, turbocharged Signature. We’re testing at the high end of the range today, though I’d recommend saving at least $3,100 and going for the Turbo (non-Signature) model instead. Let’s cover why you’d want to consider that below.

Mazda CX-50

What about the CX-50?

Before diving into more on this car, though, let me address the elephant in the room. Why bother looking at a 2023 Mazda CX-5 when the CX-50 now exists? The sibling rivalry makes it a tough call, because the CX-50 packs the same powerplant and can pull off most of the same tricks. In a lot of ways (like rugged looks and off-road capability), the slightly larger CX-50 is actually better.

Here’s my take on that, if you’re just cross shopping these two and want a TL;DR version. If you’re looking for an on-road machine and a great snow car, the CX-5 is still a class act. Fit some good tires to match the snow and icy conditions, and the CX-5 is nigh on unstoppable. When it comes to some canyon carving and getting the best driving dynamics for the class and mainly plan to stick on-road, I’d still strongly consider the CX-5. Ultimately, Mazda may drop this car and go CX-50 only (as they did with the old CX-3 and the new CX-30), but for the time being they plan to sell both side-by-side. So, you’ll have to choose.

Honestly, though, I’d wager you won’t really go wrong with either, if Mazda’s selling points are up your street. If you’re looking for something a bit more butch and rugged, go for the CX-50 instead.

Performance: The same story as before, but I have a nit to pick…

Pop the hood on any 2023 Mazda CX-5, and you’ll meet one of two powertrain options. Mazda’s corporate 2.5-liter SkyActiv engine powers the entire lineup, either with or without a turbocharger. Sticking with the lower trims and the naturally aspirated version gets you 187 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque. It will see you along just fine, but the Turbo is where the power lies.

Opt for the Turbo or Turbo Signature models, and you’ll get a healthy bump in output. The turbocharged variant manages 256 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque, provided you’re running on premium fuel. Either way, you’ll get laser-precise steering, a relatively firm but compliant ride, and a composed driving experience overall. Seriously, it beats the pants off not just every other crossover in its class, but even those that cost tens of thousands more.

I only have one gripe here: the 6-speed automatic transmission.

It’s admirably quick to shift, don’t get me wrong. But…while it’s served Mazda wheel, it’s a gearbox that’s really showing its age at this point. Especially with that extra grunt, I notice some delay as it rises and falls through a fairly wide RPM range between gears. I usually complain that some cars have too many gears (i.e. a 9-speed auto bolted to a 1.3-liter engine), but this car needs more gears, in my opinion.

Offering up a now-common 8-speed ‘box instead, where it has a couple more narrowly spaced gears to play with, would likely help keep this engine right in the sweet spot under acceleration. It may even help fuel economy a bit, which is rated at 22 mpg city and 27 mpg on the highway. During my few days with it (in inclement weather), it fell right bang in the middle, at 25 mpg combined.

Fortunately, if Mazda’s latest CX-60 crossover and its near-term derivatives are any indication, Mazda’s thinking in that direction. Perhaps we’ll see an updated CX-50 with that option before too long.

The 2023 Mazda CX-5’s interior still punches well above its weight

I’ll admit, you’re certainly spoiled in the top-end Turbo Signature trim, with its layered wood and Nappa leather seats. Throughout the entire lineup, though, the CX-5 still brings upscale materials and class you won’t really see outside of full-on luxury crossover models. For the winter months, you also get heated seats on all trims above the base model. Opt for the 2.5 S Premium Plus or either of the Turbo models, and you’ll also get a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats.

As far as tech goes, everything you’ll likely want is available throughout most of the range. That is, you’ll get i-Activ all-wheel drive, smart braking support with pedestrian detection and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration across all trims. You can opt for a trim with heated power seats, a moonroof and leather trimmed seats while still keeping the price right around $30,000.

The Turbo model comes mostly loaded, including wireless smartphone charging. You also get access to the Mazda Connected Services app, allowing remote functions like locking, unlocking and remote start from your phone. The CX-5 offers a subscription-based Wi-Fi hotspot if you need that sort of connectivity, as well.

The CX-5’s passenger and cargo areas aren’t the most spacious in the class, sacrificing the practicality award to the Honda CR-V. With the seats folded, the Mazda only offers up to 59.3 cubic feet of cargo volume.

Verdict: A great companion (for all times of the year)

We had this opportunity to test out the 2023 Mazda CX-5 Turbo Signature in the snow, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Even though it’s Mazda’s best-seller, we still feel it’s underappreciated among its peers, and you should absolutely give one of these (or indeed, the CX-50) a try if you’re shopping in this class.

The CX-5 is a car that ticks all the boxes well enough, with its notable weak points being practicality and warranty coverage. Its 3-year/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper and 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain coverage is the industry standard, but Kia and Hyundai still offer 10 years and 100,000 miles of powertrain coverage. Some rivals (like Toyota) consistently offer a couple years of complimentary maintenance — Mazda does not.

Check out more on the CX-5 and what Nathan thinks of it in the video below: