Mazda may have dumped its zoom-zoom tagline, but the Japanese carmaker hasn’t eliminated it from its vehicles: witness the CX-5 compact crossover.
While most carmakers are happy to offer decent power, meh handling and a useful interior, Mazda doubles down on excellent power, sports sedan handling and ride, plus AWD, luxury interior and an exterior that garners attention.
Granted I test drove the new top-level CX-5 Signature edition, which is loaded. But much of the good stuff comes on the base Sport, or next level Touring model, all at reasonable pricing. Not to put too fine a point on this, but if you’re searching for a compact crossover to carry four or five folks regularly, you owe it to yourself to test drive a CX-5, but only after you’ve driven a few of its competitors.
That includes the likes of the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape and Nissan Rogue. Subaru’s new Forester also falls in this category, but is much more like the Mazda than the others as it handles well, has good power and an upgraded interior.
Let’s start outside where Mazda boasts a distinctive large grille that is somewhat indented, tucked under the hood and blends at the corners to sporty slim headlights. The look is aggressive and stylish and this sporty snout will get noticed whenever you slip up behind another vehicle. Nice to see styling that sets a vehicle apart from the crowd. Subaru, take note.
But it’s the handling and power that surprise even more.
Mazda uses something called G-Vectoring Control Plus, a torque vectoring system that uses intermittent light braking on individual wheels as you toss the CX-5 into a corner. The result? Excellent handling that feels more like you’re driving a German sport sedan than a family-style crossover.
The CX-5 Signature also touts Mazda’s new turbocharged 2.5-liter SkyActiv-G I4 engine that delivers a burst of power while still managing good gas mileage. The numbers are 227 horses and 310 lb.-ft. of torque on regular unleaded. If you have deep pockets for $3+ a gallon fuel, you can go with premium 93 octane gas and boost the power to 250 horses.
Either way, the CX-5 leaps from a stop and races up to highway speeds. If an occasional adrenaline rush is on your next car wish list, consider this a dream fulfilled.
Then there’s the ride, which seems much improved from past CX-5s I’ve tested. First, the wheelbase is a solid 106.2 inches. Second, there are MacPherson struts and a stabilizer bar up front. Third, a multi-link suspension with stabilizer bar works well in back. The ride is sporty but well controlled, and mostly pleasant. Big potholes still get your attention, but they don’t deliver severe jolts to passengers.
Add to that both AWD, which helps in winter slop, but also a Sport Mode setting that boosts engine revs by holding lower gears longer in the 6-speed automatic to enhance acceleration. I used it a couple of times just to feel the extra power, but really never felt I needed it.
A side note if you go with a lower trim level: The base CX-5 engine is a reasonably powerful 2.5-liter I4, but with no turbo. It generates 187 horsepower and gets better fuel economy at 24 mpg city and 30 mpg highway.
The tested CX-5 Signature is rated 22 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. I got a reasonable 24.6 mpg in about an even mix of the two, and with some aggressive acceleration as I found the turbo tempting on every highway run-up.
Inside, the machine gray metallic (dark metallic gray) test crossover featured a black and burgundy (deep red, Mazda calls it), leather interior. Seats were that burgundy shade and perforated leather to better use the heated and cooled seat feature standard here. Rear seats also were heated, as was the steering wheel and all power up quickly.
The Mazda’s interior looks rich and luxurious, both in its leather trim and aided by satin chrome trim around the dash’s gray wood insets, on the air vents, and door release handles. Then there was black gloss trim on the console and by the control buttons on the door armrests.
Seats are well formed and comfortable and the rear seats will accommodate five, but four fit more comfortably. Rear seats split and fold flat with release handles inside the power hatch for convenience. A Honda CR-V has more cargo room, but this is sufficient for most purposes. Overhead there also is a sunroof.
Up front is a manual tilt/telescope steering wheel with multiple controls on the hub. All that was easy to figure out and get comfortable with. However, the 7-inch infotainment screen isn’t a touchscreen. Instead, you control it via a knob on the console, which I find distracting while driving.
I asked two younger co-workers — one in his 40s, the other in her 20s — to tune the radio as I drove. Neither found it easy as the screen icons are mostly obscure. Few give you any clues as to their function once you dial them in via that console knob. Sorry, but this system is a major stumbling block for me, and I suspect would be for others.
Yet on the brighter side is the bevy of safety systems, from smart cruise control and blind-spot warning to the lane departure system, which thankfully can be turned off easily via a button on the dash’s lower left. There also is cross-traffic alert with the backup camera, parking sensors and a lovely 360-degree camera that serves well in tight parking spots.
Note that you can fold the side-view mirrors flat to the vehicle’s sides with the punch of a button too. Nice in tight urban parking spots.
The CX-5 Signature also features a head-up display, which can be helpful. However, I could not find a way to dim its brightness. Too bad because it was much too bright. Oddly, the dash light adjustment does not phase the head-up display’s intensity.
Pricing is attractive for the CX-5 too, starting at $26,795 for the front-drive Sport, and that includes delivery. The Touring lists for $29,060, but includes a power driver’s seat, heated front seats, dual climate controls, smart cruise and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard at this level and higher. The Touring seems the best entry-level option.
AWD is available too and standard on the higher trim levels such as the tested Signature model. Moving up to the Grand Touring gets you leather seats. Then there’s the GT Reserve and finally Signature, which lists at $37,885 with delivery. The test car added a variety of small options to push it to $39,155. I could skip most and would not pay the extra $300 for the dark gray. Stick with Mazda’s bright red if you’re going to pay extra for a special color.
I absolutely loved driving the CX-5, easily the most fun compact crossover I’ve driven this year, although the Forester is a close second. If you can figure out the infotainment screen, this Mazda should be on your crossover shopping list.
Hits: Sporty looks and handling, excellent power, plus AWD and good gas mileage. The ride is improved and interior luxurious with heated/cooled front seats, heated wheel and rear seats, sunroof, full range of safety equipment, head-up display, 360-camera, mirrors fold flat, power hatch and lane departure can be turned off.
Misses: Infotainment screen controls difficult and non-intuitive, non-touchscreen with a dial on console for adjustment, head-up display too bright, the ride is sports sedan firm.
Made in: Hiroshima, Japan
Engine: SkyActiv-G 2.5-liter turbocharged I4, 227 horsepower
Transmission: SkyActiv-Drive 6-speed automatic
Weight: 3,825 lbs.
Length: 179.1 in.
Wheelbase: 106.2 in.
Cargo: 30.9 cu.ft. (59.6 cu.ft. seats down)
MPG: 22/27, 24.6 (tested)
Base Price: $37,885 (includes delivery)
Major Options: Cargo mat, $70
Floor mats, $125
Illuminated doorsill plates, $400
Machine Gray paint, $300
Rear bumper guard, $125
Retractable cargo cover, $250
Test vehicle: $39,155
Sources: Mazda, Kelley Blue Book
Editor's note: Mark Savage's auto review column, Savage On Wheels, looks at a new vehicle every week and tells consumers what’s good, what’s not so good, and how the vehicle fits into the marketplace.