The new 2.5-liter turbo makes the CX-5 a better crossover, but at what cost?
Mazda is on a mission is to move its models upmarket. Powertrain upgrades to the now-more-svelte 6 sedan and an output increase to the MX-5 Miata roadster are a step in the right direction. And now the CX-5 follows suit, as it nabs the turbocharged 2.5-liter engine from the larger CX-9 (it’s also available as an option on the 6).
What’s clear is that the CX-5 maintains its place atop the throne of fun-to-drive crossovers, however, its upgrades (and some lack thereof) don’t drastically increase the already-likable crossover’s mass appeal. At least, not to some of Motor1.com’s editors. The price hike associated with opting for the turbocharged engine and Mazda’s outdated infotainment aren’t doing the more powerful CX-5 any favors, either. Good news is, what we love about the cheaper and less-powerful CX-5 remains intact in this new top-of-the-line Signature model.
Greg Fink, Senior Editor
Favorite Thing: Dynamic Superiority
Least Favorite Thing: Useless Gauge Cluster Screen
It’s hard to hate the Mazda CX-5 Signature. In fact, save for its outdated-looking infotainment system and near useless gauge cluster screen (it measures a sizeable 7.0 inches and displays minute details that a far smaller screen can convey), Mazda’s compact crossover is a joy in almost every way imaginable. It looks great, it drives great, and it feels great.
I struggle to think of a vehicle in this segment that’s as attractive as the CX-5. Its lines are clean and its proportions taught. There’s nothing over the top about its styling, and yet, the CX-5 manages to stand out from the typical compact crossover crowd. Better yet, it does so throughout the model line; from the $25,750 Sport to the top-of-the-line $36,890 Signature.
The same stands for the CX-5’s handling dynamics, which near-perfectly blend passenger comfort with driving engagement. Opting for the CX-5 Signature or the lesser Grand Touring Reserve, of course, adds an extra sprinkling of spice to the performance mix courtesy of a 250-horsepower turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-four, which replaces the more mundane 187-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that comes standard.
It’s hard to hate the Mazda CX-5 Signature... It looks great, it drives great, and it feels great.
Plucked from the larger CX-9, and also available in the mid-size 6 sedan, the forced induction four’s 310 pound-feet of torque help the CX-5 scoot off the line with vigor. And thanks to its standard all-wheel-drive system and quick-shifting six-speed automatic transmission, the turbocharged CX-5 ably passes slower moving traffic.
If I’m splitting hairs, though, I do wish this engine offered a smidge more life at the upper rev range. As is, it feels out of breath around 5,000 rpm, or about 500 revs before the transmission swaps cogs at wide-open throttle, and more than 1,000 revs short of redline. (Yes, it seems the CX-5’s turbocharged engine never gets near its indicated redline. Even with the transmission in manual mode, it automatically upshifts at around 5,500 rpm).
But really, the CX-5 Signature simply feels great. Literally. Every switch and knob moves with the tactility of pieces typically found in luxury vehicles. Additionally, high-quality materials line the interior, and the handful of lower quality bits reside low in the cabin and are not typical touchpoints.
Often times, driving enjoyment comes with a compromise. This isn’t the case with the CX-5, which manages to combine behind-the-wheel excitement with good looks, a relatively affordable price, and luxurious interior appointments.
Jeff Perez, Senior Editor
Favorite Thing: Turbocharged Engine
Least Favorite Thing: Outdated Infotainment
The Mazda CX-5 has always been one of the best driving crossovers in its class. That’s more true now than ever. What makes the 2019 option more appealing is its available turbocharged 2.5-liter engine tested here. Ripped from the CX-9 SUV and 6 sedan, it produces 250 horsepower, 310 pound-feet, and the perfect amount of additional oomph. The already-fun CX-5 is more enjoyable with the optional engine’s extra low-end power, and even more fun to push at speed – at least, within reasonable crossover limits.
Second only to the CX-5’s extra power is its upscale interior. The near-loaded Signature model feels more akin to an Audi or BMW than it does a modest Mazda. The leather front and rear seats are soft and supportive, and the high-quality materials on the dash and door panels keep the upscale theme intact.
My only gripe is the CX-5’s infotainment system. The setup isn’t totally offensive, but it feels outdated relative to what other manufacturers offer, and its usability is questionable in an otherwise supremely good crossover. Given that the new Mazda3 has a fresh infotainment setup, I’m hopeful that same tech carries over to the CX-5 too.
What makes the 2019 option more appealing is its available turbocharged 2.5-liter engine tested here.
John Neff, Editor-In-Chief
Favorite Thing: Gorgeous Looks
Least Favorite Thing: New Higher Price
My colleagues have effusively praised the 2019 Mazda CX-5, but the 2018 model was equally praiseworthy. In fact, in the jump from one model year to the next, the CX-5 gained a new engine it didn’t necessarily need, a larger and more confusing lineup of trim levels and options, and a far higher price when fully loaded.
Let’s talk about this engine. If you subscribe to the belief that more power is always better, you’ll be happy with the turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder. For me, however, the naturally aspirated engine was always powerful enough and, perhaps more importantly, is a paragon of civil operation. Smooth and quiet, it operates with a refinement that rivals luxury carmakers’ motors. In other words, it’s a great engine as is, and far more affordable than the turbo. The most you’ll pay for a CX-5 with the standard 2.5-liter is $34,710, while the turbo CX-5 starts at $34,870 and goes all the way up to $38,530.
Ultimately, the new 2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature is a fine vehicle that offers more power and features than the 2018 model.
Unfortunately, you can’t get a fully loaded CX-5 with the non-turbo engine. For 2019, Mazda added two new trim levels just for this engine: the Grand Touring Reserve and Signature trims. They both push the CX-5 into a new, much higher price range, and they also contain some premium features that are withheld from the Grand Touring model, which used to be the CX-5’s top trim level. Features like cooled front seats, heated rear seats, and a heated steering wheel are only available on the Grand Touring Reserve trim, while a surround-view monitor, real wood trim, and front and rear parking sensors are withheld for the Signature trim.
Ultimately, the new 2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature is a fine vehicle that offers more power and features than the 2018 model. That said, you're probably better off saving money and getting the less-powerful yet still very well-equipped CX-5 Grand Touring.