– Unique styling
– Premium interior
– Excellent handling
– Pricey in full-option trim
– Bit less space than rivals
– Less involving drive than before
The previous-generation Mazda CX-5 got some attention for going above and beyond when it came to driving involvement. It looked good as well, but not in a way that would turn heads. It was also flawed in certain ways, with a boring interior and a noisy ride, which are more important to crossover buyers than handling and cornering grip. So it’s good to see that Mazda addressed these issues in the new-for-2018 CX-5.
The new CX-5 is very slightly shorter than everything else in its class except for the Hyundai Tucson and the Kia Sportage. But the new styling is sharp and angular, with razor-thin headlights, 19-inch alloys, dual exhaust tips, and a built-in roof spoiler. It looks expensive in the candy-red paint our test car had, to the point where an older European couple, who were Mercedes-Benz owners, were asking us for more info about this “smart-looking Toyota.” So much for brand recognition.
Inside, there is a cleanly-styled dashboard with leatherette-clad soft padding on the top and along the centre-console sides as well as near the knees and all door window-sills, aside from the usual padded armrests and inserts. Below-the-waist panels are otherwise hard plastic, but there is no blatant cost-cutting here like you’d find in a Honda CR-V or a Toyota RAV-4, even though all three cost roughly the same.
Where the CX-5 loses out a bit is cabin space, although it’s still pretty good, with moderately-bolstered power-adjustable front seats and just enough legroom for six-footers even in the back, as well as great all-round headroom. Boot floor-space is also sizeable, although the sloping rear window cuts down on some of the volume. There is a hatchback-style cargo cover, the rear bench has three headrests, and the 40:20:40-split rear seatback can almost fold flat. There are enough moulded-in cup-holders and useful storage cubbies, although the door pockets are smaller than most. But it remains very practical, and the premium-looking beige leather upholstery livens up the ambience considerably.
Tech features are impressive too. On the dash sits an iPad-style LCD screen, an idea that’s mostly seen on German luxury cars. Unlike previous Mazdas, it now has touch functionality as well as a rotary-dial controller below the shifter. The screen has labels for the icons now, unlike Mazda’s older systems, but it’s still a bit confusing to use and will take time to get used to.
Aside from that, there’s decent speakers, Bluetooth streaming and USB/AUX ports, a regular-sized sunroof, bi-xenon HID headlights with turning feature, fog lamps, front and side-curtain airbags, trip computer, smart keyless entry and start, power tailgate and more.
The dual-zone auto a/c was unstressed in our February winter test, and the new model finally has rear vents. There’s also a tyre-pressure monitor and available active-safety features such as lane departure prevention, blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control and a rear camera with fixed guiding lines that don’t turn with the front wheels. We did like the little light that goes away only when the engine has warmed up, so you know how long to take it easy.
The standard engine is now a 2.5-litre 4-cylinder making 188 hp at 6000 rpm and 251 Nm of torque at 4000 rpm, mated to a 6-speed automatic. The base model is front-wheel-drive, but the mid-range and our top-spec models get all-wheel-drive. It’s a class-competitive engine, with linear power delivery and acceptable acceleration, although it feels weak in terms of low-end torque. Otherwise, we managed a 0-100 kph time of 9.3 seconds in February weather, and our as-tested fuel consumption of 10.5 litres/100 km (9.5 km/l) is within class standards. The gearbox is a good one, picking the right gears smoothly.
The CX-5 continues to excel in terms of dynamics, as all Mazdas do. It is probably the best compact crossover when it comes to cornering. The 225/55 rubbers offer good grip, and the body roll is kept to a minimum. Oddly enough, the well-weighted and otherwise-responsive steering feels like it has much less feedback than the previous model, and becomes too light when it nudges you back in lane when the lane-departure prevention system kicks in as you get too close to lane markings without indicating. Using the brake pedal also feels less confident than before, although it stops well when you stomp on it a bit harder.
The ride quality has witnessed the biggest improvement. It is smoother than before, still a bit on the firm side, but it’s finally not annoying on long drives. The CX-5 is quieter than before as well. Wind and road noise reach moderate levels at highway speeds, on par with its Japanese rivals.
As for hitting the rough stuff, the CX-5 is more car than offroader, with a basic all-wheel-drive system that comes with no offroad aids whatsoever. The ground clearance is limited and the stability control cannot be turned off completely, so it’s best to not venture too far beyond sandy flats and gravel trails.
Mazda is reaching for the stars nowadays with their latest crop of cars, and it’s great to see this level of premium features in a segment that’s dominated by hard-plastic tubs and CVT droners. The only thing it’s screaming out for is the CX-9’s turbo motor to truly become a premium contender, but then again, in full-option form it’s already a bit expensive for what it is. A mid-range model is a better proposition.
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