What is it: The CX-5 is Mazda's 5-passenger crossover, and the brand's best-selling vehicle in the U.S. by far. In Grand Touring trim like our tester, buyers get a power rear liftgate, navigation, heated leather seating and a moonroof, though front-drive is still standard. All-wheel drive is an available option.
Key Competitors: Ford Escape, Nissan Rogue, Toyota RAV4
Full Review: 2017 Mazda CX-5
Base Price: $31,920
As-Tested Price: $34,685
Highlights: The basic size and shape of Mazda's CX-5 may mimic the enormous population of small crossovers on sale today, but from behind the wheel the brand's trademark friskiness is immediately noticeable. It's great for the driving enthusiasts among us, but average consumers may find the CX-5 a bit loud inside, with a taut suspension and hyperactive powertrain.
Our Opinion: The pretty little CX-5 has never been particularly powerful (especially the earlier 2-liter versions) or refined, but it's always had a lightweight, tossable verve that set it apart from duller competitors like the CR-V and RAV4. For 2018, it's mostly status quo, though continued development has improved nearly ever aspect of this compact utility. It's not slow; instead of counting on low-rpm turbo torque, Mazda instead lets its naturally aspirated I4 rev freely into its powerband and uses frequent shifts from the six-speed automatic to get the job done. As a result there's more action from the engine bay (and higher numbers on the tach) which can be offputting to buyers used to bigger, lazier engines. It's all psychological though — fuel economy and acceleration are just as good in the CX-5 as they are in competitors' turbo engines (and in some cases, better).
It's also a ton of fun in the snow, as I had ample opportunity to discover. Though our CX-5 was delivered with all-season radials, Mazda's AWD system didn't let things get too out of hand on slippery streets. However, when I deliberately tried to have some fun…it let me. That's a revelation in itself to those of us accustomed to traction control/stability control systems that simply stop delivering power when things get bad. The Mazda let things get just a bit squirrely but kept the torque flowing, allowing me to power out of ruts and deeper drifts while maintaining (relatively) forward progress.
It's got personality, in other words, for better and for worse. The solid body structure that helps the CX zip through turns also telegraphs a lot of road noise, and it can be noisy on the freeway, especially over expansion joints. Though nicely trimmed, the interior feels somewhat spartan, and the infotainment system could use a good user interface update to the menu structure.
For drivers like us, Mazda will continue to rate highly; at the same time, the CX-5 has quirks enough that I understand why it's still a niche brand. That said, if you're one of the millions who will buy a small utility this year, you owe it to yourself to test-drive one and see if you're part of the clique.
Options: Premium package including active driving display with traffic sign recognition, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, windshield wiper de-icer ($1,395); soul red crystal paint ($595); illumated door sill trim plates ($400); retractable cargo cover ($250); rear bumper guard ($125)
On Sale: Now
Base Price: $31,920
As Tested Price: $34,685
Powertrain: 2.5-liter I4, AWD six-speed automatic
Output: 187 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 186 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
Curb Weight: 3,693 lb
Fuel Economy: 24/30/26 mpg(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)
Pros: Good steering/brake feedback with tossable Mazda driving feel
Cons: Stereo/navigation interface isn’t as intuitive as it could be