2018 Mazda CX-5 Review: Trailing Its Own Triumph

– Cleveland, OH

Verdict 5.8 / 10

 The CX-5 had always been a critical darling because it was so fun to drive. Mazda, however, changed all that when it completely redesigned its compact SUV last year to ingratiate it more with buyers who often overlooked it. In particular, it’s now quieter inside and rides softer than before. The cost for widening the CX-5’s appeal, though, is that it no longer handles like a Miata on stilts. Without those superlative driving dynamics, the CX-5’s faults – its smallish cargo area, lack of power, and middling fuel efficiency – are now harder for this critic to forgive.

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Pricing 7/10

The CX-5’s base price of $24,150 is right in line with the segment’s best-selling compact SUVs. This Grand Touring model, though, is the SUV’s top trim level, which comes nicely loaded starting at $30,620. Adding all-wheel drive ($1,300), special Soul Red Crystal paint ($595), and its lone option package – which costs $1,395 and includes a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, windshield wiper de-icer, and traffic sign recognition technology – raises the CX-5’s as-tested price to $34,685. That’s still at least two grand or so below what a fully loaded Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4 costs.

Design & Exterior 6/10

Mazda completely redesigned the CX-5 last year, so no changes were made for 2018. That’s fine, as the brand’s new less-is-more aesthetic suits this small SUV very well. Compared to many SUVs today that over-adorn themselves with cladding, chrome, and complicated grilles, the CX-5 appears pleasingly elegant and premium.  

Interior & Comfort 5/10

The CX-5’s interior gives a great first impression with high-end ergonomics and convincingly premium materials. The rotary control and volume knob on the center console, for instance, come straight out of Audi’s playbook, while the wood-grain accent piece that bisects the dashboard doesn’t give its true nature up too quickly. That said, the center armrest and cup holders sit too far back between the front seats, which is a constant annoyance.  

From a comfort and cargo standpoint, the CX-5 lags behind other compact SUVs that are, frankly, just larger. The CX-5’s front seats, for instance, felt oddly narrow, like my legs were smothering the seat cushion’s side bolsters. And while the spec sheet says there’s more head and legroom for rear passengers than some competitors, my eyes and body experienced the opposite back there. Lastly, the cargo area is far down on cubic feet compared to the segment’s best sellers; the CX-5’s max cargo capacity of 59.6 cubic feet is nowhere near the Nissan Rogue’s 70.0, the Toyota RAV4’s 73.4, or the Honda CR-V’s 75.8.

One big positive is that wind and road noise penetrating the cabin is now curbed, at least better than before. Being one of the last CX-5’s most mentioned flaws, the decibel level issue was important for Mazda to fix, though it comes at a cost, as you’ll read below.

Technology & Connectivity 5/10

While Mazda gets points for developing its own infotainment system with an easy-to-use rotary controller and sharp graphics that respond quickly to inputs, we’ll take some of those points away for still, in 2018, not offering Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. If you can live without that, though, you’ll like the infotainment experience here.

There are also many innovative technologies available in the CX-5 that are difficult to find in non-luxury SUVs. For instance, my tester came equipped with an optional traffic sign recognition system that reads approaching traffic signs and displays them in the high-res, multi-color head-up display. All of the exterior lighting, as well, is LED-powered, and the headlights auto-level and turn their gaze with your steering. There’s even a power liftgate with adjustable height settings, which is very useful in tight garages, and appreciated by the vertically challenged.

Performance & Handling 5/10

Where the last-generation CX-5 might’ve scored much higher in this category, the current model has lost some of the edge that made it such a great driver’s SUV. For one, Mazda added hundreds of pounds of weight (a portion of which was due to new sound deadening) to the CX-5 when it was redesigned last year. And two, responding to many owners’ requests, its engineers retuned the suspension for a softer ride. The cumulative effect is handling that’s gone from class-leading to just better-than-average.  

It’s a shame, because being fun to drive was the CX-5’s calling card, and its superb handling made up for its lone engine’s lack of power. The naturally aspirated (sorry, no optional turbocharging here) 2.5-liter four-cylinder produces 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque. Route all that through a six-speed automatic and the CX-5’s available all-wheel-drive system, and there’s not much oomph left to move this SUV in earnest.

Surprisingly, though, the CX-5 can tow. It has a maximum towing capacity of 2,000 pounds, which while about 1,500 pounds fewer than the segment’s V6-powered tow champs, is respectable for a four-cylinder.

Safety Features 7/10

Mazda takes safety seriously by offering a full suite of both passive and active safety systems on the CX-5. What’s more, the company doesn’t make you pay a lot extra or restrict them to more expensive trim levels. The technologies available include blind spot monitoring and a rear cross traffic alert system, lane departure warning with lane keep assist, automatic emergency braking at high and low speeds, radar-based cruise control that works in stop-and-go traffic, and automatic high beams. This whole suite is standard on both the Touring and Grand Touring trim levels, and only $625 extra on the base Sport. That’s a great deal, only outdone by companies like Toyota, which include these technologies as standard equipment on every car they sell.

Running Costs & Fuel Economy 5/10

The fully loaded Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring with all-wheel drive achieves a somewhat disappointing 24 miles per gallon in the city, 30 on the highway, and 26 combined. This despite benefitting from cylinder-deactivation technology that lets the engine get by on just two cylinders while cruising (Mazda’s the only automaker to offer this tech on a four-cylinder engine). Dropping all-wheel drive, meanwhile, nets two more MPGs for the combined rating.

Most competitors are more fuel efficient than the CX-5, and while the very popular RAV4 is a bit less so, Toyota offers a hybrid version that blows the rest of these straight gas-burners, CX-5 included, out of the water. At least premium fuel is neither required nor recommended.

Photos: John Neff / Motor1.com

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