If we had to choose a compact SUV to drive every day, it would have to be the CX-5. It looks great on the inside and out. It’s exceptionally safe, reliable, and efficient. It’s also a compact crossover that’s actually fun to drive. If you’re looking for a new SUV, the Mazda CX-5 should make your short list. Drive one to see what all the fuss is about!
Most of the SUVs in the compact crossover segment make compromises in the interest of budget pricing. Somewhere sacrifices are made. Most of the time, it’s in the performance category because basic transportation does not necessitate inspiring driving dynamics. Mazda rejects the status quo and, instead, chooses to focus first on the driving experience and let the rest follow. The result is a compact SUV that’s engaging behind the wheel with impressive handling and enough “zoom zoom” to put a smile on your face!
Despite Mazda’s reputation for exceptional performance, the second generation CX-5 doesn’t handle as sharply as the first. However, this was a calculated decision on Mazda’s part. The decrease in agility is outweighed by a drastic increase in refinement. The first generation rattled and creaked its way over rough roads, while the second handles them with ease and comfort. Yet, it still retains its fun factor when pushed through the corner, controlling body roll and lean better than most compact SUVs. The 187 horsepower inline 4 cylinder engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission offers smooth power delivery and enough grunt for an 8 second 0-60 miles per hour time, a little slower than the first generation. It might not be as quick as some competitors but the excellent fuel economy of 27 miles per gallon combined is well worth it. Then there’s the fun factor. You can’t see it on a spec sheet but this little crossover is a hoot to drive. The small steering wheel and perfectly placed pedals provide excellent feel and feedback. Steering is precise and controlled. Reviewers all rave about this SUV’s handling, you should drive one for yourself to see what we’re talking about!
Perhaps the greatest area of improvement in the second generation CX-5 is on the inside. All new acoustic glass and sound deadening materials replace the old stuff that makes this cabin nice and quiet, one of the biggest complaints about the first generation was excessive wind and road noise. The dash materials are top notch and contribute to the SUV’s upscale vibe, they’re nearly indistinguishable from the more expensive CX-9. There’s even hand stitched panels on the dash, doors, and steering wheel. You won’t find that level of attention to detail in most compact SUVs. The driver’s seat in lower trims may not be as adjustable as some competitors, but it’s pretty perfect for most drivers. Mazda took its time to ensure the pedals were spaced to shoulder width and the seat’s position supports healthy ergonomics.
The small diameter sport steering wheel provides excellent feel and control over this compact crossover’s exceptional handling. The passengers’ seats are great as well, with plenty of room for adult passengers and rear seats that recline. The 7 inch Mazda CONNECT infotainment system is free-standing, a la Mercedes Benz. To the dismay of many reviewers, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto still aren’t available. You can’t use the touch screen while driving either, as driving rather than distraction, remains Mazda’s focus. The rear seats fold flat via simple release handles to access nearly 60 cubic feet of cargo space. That’s less than some competitors, but most are willing to sacrifice a little utility for the Mazda’s exceptional design. There’s tons of tech available as options like a 10-speaker Bose audio system, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, and a beautiful head up display that even recognizes most traffic signs. The CX-5’s interior is better than most of its compact crossover competition in many respects but it can’t match the cargo capacity of main rivals like the RAV4 and CR-V.
The CX-5 is the first Mazda to feature the KODO design philosophy, which has now been implemented across Mazda’s entire vehicle lineup. According to the creator Ikuo Maeda, the General Manager and Executive Officer of Mazda’s Design Division, the word KODO took 12 months to create and blends a few different Japanese words to create a unique word. The KODO philosophy involves giving these cars a soul. The design of all Mazda vehicles begins with a form shaped by human hands, a process which gives the form a soul in Japanese philosophy. The form is then painstakingly edited and re-edited until the form takes shape into a vehicle. The result is stunning, as one can see by looking at any of the latest models. The CX-5 is no exception. There are smooth flowing lines throughout, designed to evoke emotion and imitate nature in motion. Modern LED lighting, aluminum alloy wheels, and a roof spoiler round out the skin of this compact crossover to create one great looking SUV.
The 2017 CX-5 received a 4-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration despite receiving 5-star ratings in all crash tests except for a 4-star rating in the side crash passenger side and rollover test. The 2015 model, in contrast, received 5-star overall ratings and perfect results in the crash tests, with the exception of the rollover test. This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to us because many improvements have been made with the second generation CX-5. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave “GOOD” ratings to this SUV in all crash tests. The front crash prevention technology is rated “SUPERIOR,” the highest possible, though it’s not without its flaws that will be discussed below. Higher trims’ headlights receive an “ACCEPTABLE” rating, higher than most SUVs. The CX-5 is also a “Top Safety Pick+,” which means it's one of the safest SUVs on the market according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The first generation isn’t rated as highly by IIHS, mostly for the compact crossover’s “POOR” performance in the small overlap test though roof strength and seat restraints were rated “MARGINAL” as well. We think the second generation is a top contender in the safety category and the first generation is about as safe as any other compact crossover of a similar model year.
JD Power offers a 3 out of 5 predicted reliability rating for the Mazda CX-5, signifying average reliability for an SUV. Consumer Reports awards a higher 4 out 5 predicted reliability rating, indicating above average reliability. Our research turned up only a few complaints for the most recent model year, 2017. All were for the backup camera failing to initiate when the SUV is placed in reverse. They said they tried turning it on and off and it still didn’t function properly. We suspect a hard reset should do the trick. Simply remove the negative battery terminal for 15 seconds and reattach and it should work just fine. Going back to the last generation, 2016 and earlier, there are several more known issues and reliability complaints.
The LED running lights were prone to failure. Brake calipers did not fully release properly and caused rotors to wear prematurely. The infotainment system is prone to freezing, restarting, and poor connectivity issues, especially when trying to pair with iPhone. 2015 and earlier models do not support iPhone 5 and newer models via lightning cable but will connect via Bluetooth. Mazda has issued a manufacturer communiqué that acknowledges that the available advanced safety technology, including the Smart Cruise Control, may not function properly in environments with excessive heat like Nevada, Arizona, and Texas. Additionally, there are reports of the technology not working properly in rain and sometimes mistaking oncoming traffic or objects in roadway as threats.
Drivers shouldn’t expect this technology to replace their own awareness and should always practice safe driving habits without the expectation of technology replacing them. With any new technology, we shouldn’t expect perfection from the start, we must be patient and understand it’s an evolving process. Considering it’s largely these safety features which impact reliability rating the most on the latest generation, we think the CX-5 is a reliable SUV. This technology didn’t exist just a few years ago, so no one should expect it to work flawlessly. If you’re concerned, choose a CX-5 without these features and you should have few, if any, problems.
The only compact SUV that can compete with this Mazda’s refinement and handling is the Ford Escape. The Ford Escape isn’t quite as nimble as the CX-5, but it does provide a more comfortable and even quieter ride. The CX-5’s performance outmatches all but the 2.0 Liter EcoBoost models in acceleration. This model will cost a few thousand more than a Grand Touring CX-5 and shave a second off the zero to sixty time at 7 seconds flat, making it one of the quickest compact SUVs on the market. The turbocharged engine also provides torque at lower revs, making passing power available quicker than the CX-5. However, the heavier Escape still doesn’t feel as nimble as the CX-5 and it gets much poorer fuel economy, despite being turbocharged.
The Escape does offer about 8 more cubes of overall cargo space and a little more room in the second-row seats. The Ford SYNC 3 infotainment system found in most trims includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard and is well-loved by most reviewers. We have to give the Escape the edge when it comes to entertainment. Be warned that an optioned 2.0 Liter EcoBoost Escape can easily cost close to ten thousand more than the CX-5. If you have the money, the Escape may be a better choice. Otherwise, the CX-5 offers fun behind the wheel for thousands less!
The Mazda CX-5 Sport trim’s MSRP is $24,045 and arrives standard with a 187 hp Dual Overhead Cam 2.5 Liter inline 4 cylinder engine with variable valve timing, a SKYACTIV Drive 6-speed automatic transmission, SKYACTIV VEHICLE DYNAMICS with G-vectoring control, Mazda CONNECT infotainment system, infotainment system voice command, SMS text message audio delivery and reply, E911 automatic emergency notification, Multifunction Commander Control, 7 inch full color touch screen display, rearview camera, remote keyless illuminated entry system with “answer back” feature, Push Button Start, 4-speaker audio system with automatic level control, Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio capability, HD Radio, Auxiliary-audio input jack, dual front USB Audio inputs, steering wheel mounted audio controls, LED headlights, daytime running lights, auto-off headlights, variable intermittent windshield wipers, intermittent rear wiper/washer, body-colored power side mirrors with integrated turn signals, roof-mounted “shark fin” antenna, rear roof spoiler, dual exhaust outlets with bright finish, 17 inch aluminum alloy wheels with all season tires, electronic parking brake, tilt & telescopic steering column, 12-volt power outlets, 6’way manual adjustable driver’s seat, 4-way manual adjustable front passenger seat, 40/20/40 one-touch fold-down and reclining rear seatback, cloth-trimmed seats, carpet floor mats, air conditioning with pollen filter, power windows with driver’s one touch down/up feature, speed sensitive power door locks with 2-stage unlocking, cruise control, advanced front air bags with seat belt-use passenger-weight sensors, front side-impact air bags, side impact air curtains with rollover protection, and Smart City Brake Support.
The Touring trim costs $25,915 and adds Mazda Advanced Keyless Entry, rear USB charging ports, LED headlights with auto-leveling, rear privacy glass, 6-way manual front passenger seat with height adjustment, heated seats with 3 levels, rear seat center armrest with integrated cup holders, leatherette seats with Lux Suede inserts, leather-wrapped gear selector, leather-wrapped steering wheel, carpet floor mats, dual zone automatic climate control with pollen filter, dual covered illuminated visor vanity mirrors, and advanced blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert.
The $28,895 Grand Select trim installs a Mazda Navigation System, Bose 10-speaker audio system with Centerpoint 2 and AudioPilot 2, auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink, LED signature daytime running lights, LED fog lights, LED signature combination lights, adaptive front lighting system, auto on/off headlights, 19 inch aluminum alloy wheels with all season tires, power sliding glass moonroof with one touch open feature and interior sunshade, power liftgate, 8-way manual front passenger seat with power lumbar support, leather trimmed seats, and rear air conditioning vents.
The Grand Touring trim provides all the above plus: Mazda Radar Cruise Control with Stop & Go, lane departure warning with lane keep assist, and Smart Brake Support.