The Mazda CX-5 was officially our favorite compact crossover until a few months ago when the latest Honda CR-V swooped in and stole our inaugural 10Best Trucks and SUVs award for the category. Even in its old age, the Mazda gave the more refined and practical Honda a run for our votes for the 10Best compact crossover, however—that’s how fun it is to drive. Now Mazda has redesigned the CX-5, adding refinement to the suspension, gifting the CUV more technology, and installing a classier, more practical interior, addressing the few areas we had noted could use improvement in the outgoing model. Game on.
But It’s the Same, Right?
With more or less the same pentagon-shaped grille, swept-back headlights, and athletic proportions as before, the 2017 CX-5 might not seem all that different to the casual observer. Look closer, and Mazda tightened up the headlights into slimmer, squintier shapes, canted the grille forward slightly, and gave the rear fenders a more pronounced shoulderlike appearance. Everything you see and touch is new inside and out, even if a heavily revised version of the old CX-5’s architecture lurks underneath.
Mazda stiffened the CX-5’s structure by 15 percent and added a rash of new sound-attenuating measures: extra seals for the doors and additional absorption material to quiet the cabin at speed and reduce impact noise over bumps, both among our quibbles with the old CX-5. The underbody paneling was expanded to cover more of the chassis and now is made of a sound-insulating feltlike material. Elements of the cargo-area trim similarly underwent a switch from hard plastic to carpeted pieces to reduce noise reverberation throughout the interior, and the windshield is thicker. We could outline every last highly detail-oriented measure Mazda took to silence the smallest noises (there are many), but we’ll just give the result: The car seems notably quieter. To be fair, the previous CX-5 set the bar low enough in this regard that the model now is merely in line with the segment average.(We’ll know more precisely when we measure noise levels ourselves.)
What remains above the segment standard is the way the CX-5 moves down the road. Mazda told us the goal in tuning the new CX-5’s suspension was for it to match the old one’s athleticism. Where many other crossovers lean and flop, the Mazda carves a cleaner path with well-controlled body movements and genuinely sprightly handling. Keen to smooth out a ride that was previously on the firm side, Mazda says it now allows softer initial bump and body-roll compliance from the front dampers by reducing the units’ friction. It also fits hydraulic bushings to the front lower suspension arms. Both tweaks introduce a newfound suppleness to the CX-5’s ride quality, with the wheels cycling quickly over or into lumps and cracks in the road without tossing the body around.
To make sure the aforementioned didn’t dilute the CX-5’s athleticism, Mazda now rigidly mounts the steering rack to the subframe and employs its G-Vectoring Control technology that enhances steering response through subtle engine-torque manipulation. (Essentially, as you steer into a corner, engine-management software automatically reduces torque ever so slightly to induce a tiny load transfer to the front axle, thus eliminating any compliance in the suspension and allowing very precise driver inputs.) The electrically assisted steering setup sneaks some feedback to the driver’s hands, and the brakes work with a direct and reassuring feel.
Yet for as dynamically enjoyable as the CX-5 remains, it still isn’t quick. It again makes do with a merely adequate naturally aspirated 2.5-liter inline-four, even as many competitors have adopted smaller yet more powerful turbocharged engines. At least the 2.5-liter is now standard, as is a snappy six-speed automatic transmission. (Last year’s base 2.0-liter engine, along with its manual-transmission option, are no more.) Front-wheel drive is standard on each of the three trim levels, with all-wheel drive an extra $1300. Later in the year, Mazda promises a diesel engine, but we’ve heard that before.
Mazda implemented a number of teensy internal changes to the otherwise carryover 2.5-liter engine, gleaning three additional horsepower for a total of 187. Most noticeably, throttle response has improved, although in practice the new CX-5 might actually be slower than before in our testing since the extra standard equipment and noise-reduction efforts add about 100 additional pounds. The trade-off is worth it, since the better-insulated cabin keeps more of the four-cylinder’s high-rpm coarseness away from occupants’ ears.
Rounding Out the Résumé
According to Mazda, consumers who passed on the previous CX-5 cited many banal reasons. Next to that version’s firm ride and loud interior, a common deal killer was the lack of a power-opening liftgate. The CX-5 now offers one in a package on the mid-level Touring, while the feature is standard on the range-topping Grand Touring. This hyper-specific buyer turnoff is emblematic of a broader narrative that the old CX-5 was not as functional or SUV-like as it could be. The rear seats weren’t adjustable and didn’t fold entirely flat (leaning them forward created a tall step between the cargo floor and the seatbacks). Now the CX-5’s rear backrests offer two stages of recline adjustability, and when folded forward they create an uninterrupted load floor all the way back to the liftgate. Cargo and rear-seat space still lag slightly behind the boxy CR-V, but the space that’s there is more usable. Mazda similarly massaged the rear doors to open wider to aid ingress or loading car seats and children, while also adding or expanding door pockets and stowage cubbies throughout the interior. There also are now as many as four USB ports, depending on trim.
Mazda increased functionality without dumbing down the CX-5’s interior. The cabin is rich, truly a class above the competition and better than some so-called luxury crossovers. Front and center sits a 7.0-inch dashboard display that’s standard on all models and is operated by an Audi-like control knob on the center console. The screen also can be controlled by touch inputs but only when the car is stopped, although it’s a far reach from either front seat.
There are soft-touch materials everywhere, and the vibe is lusciously upscale on the Touring and Grand Touring trim levels, which have French-stitched padded armrests and dashboard accents and additional interior brightwork. The driving position is comfortable, and Mazda sweats the details such that the steering wheel is directly in front of the driver and both the door and center armrests sit at the exact same height. There’s really only one glaring interior omission: Apple CarPlay or Android Auto integration. Mazda says both are coming and that early CX-5 adopters will be able to upgrade later.
Taken in full, the CX-5 once again is a standout among generally staid ranks, and a fully loaded 2017 CX-5 Grand Touring tops out at $33,465 without premium paint. (Full features and pricing for the lineup can be found here.) If past is prologue, our gushing over the CX-5 being fun to drive in a segment allergic to the concept won’t keep many competitors from outselling it by multiple factors, in some cases. That’s fine by Mazda, which says profitably selling a cohesive and premium brand experience to its customers is more important than trying to dramatically expand its volume. For our part, we’ll continue to be impressed if Mazda can keep improving its already excellent lineup while keeping its cars’ spirit intact as it did here.
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, front- or all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door hatchback
BASE PRICES: Sport, $24,985;
Grand Touring, $30,355
ENGINE TYPE: DOHC 16-valve Atkinson-capable inline-4, aluminum block and head, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 152 cu in, 2488 cc
Power: 187 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 185 lb-ft @ 3250 or 4000 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic with manual shifting mode
Wheelbase: 106.2 in
Length: 179.1 in
Width: 72.5 in Height: 66.1 in
Passenger volume: 102–103 cu ft
Cargo volume: 18 cu ft
Curb weight (C/D est): 3550-3650 lb
PERFORMANCE (C/D EST):
Zero to 60 mph: 7.6-7.8 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 23.0-24.0 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 16.0-16.2 sec
Top speed: 120 mph
FUEL ECONOMY (C/D EST):
EPA combined/city/highway: 26–27/23–24/29–31 mpg