Two years ago I upgraded from my third sedan (a Mazda6) to my first ever crossover SUV – the Mazda CX5. While sedans had treated me well over the years, I needed something with a little more room as well as ground clearance and AWD to make it through New York winters. I cross-shopped the Subaru lineup a bit, but their CVT equipped crossovers were just not engaging enough, or quick enough, for my tastes. I also tried out the Toyota Rav4, praised for its reliability and roominess, but found the interior had such a rental car vibe that I knew it was somewhere I wouldn’t want to spend a lot of time.
And all of that led me to the 2018 CX5. I went with the Touring Trim Level, with the Preferred Package and AWD. Below are some of the notable base features from the Touring Trim, with the Preferred Package. The MSRP of this model was just over $29,000, but you can pick one up on the Certified Pre-Owned market for around $24,000 now.
- Faux-Leather seats with Suede insert
- Leather wrapped steering wheel
- Keyless entry and push-button start
- 19″ Allow wheels with all-season tires
- Power driver seat
- Apple CarPlay with 7″ Touchscreen
- Heated Seats
- Dual-Zone automatic climate control
- Active Safety Features (more on that below)
On top of that, the $1,200 ‘Preferred Package’ added:
- Power moonroof
- Power and remote-operated liftgate
- Car Based Navigation system (when you don’t have cell signal for Apple/Google Maps)
- 11-Speaker Bose Audio system with subwoofer
- Auto-Dimming Rear View Mirror with Garage Door Opener
I had previously rented one and done some minor off-roading in Colorado, so I knew what I was comparing the other options against. There’s no way to really quantify it – but the Mazda is just much more fun to drive. Coming from sedans, I was used to being able to enjoy the backroads and downshift into a tight turn – and surprisingly, the CX5 has handled better than any of my previous cars. Every time that I hop inside for a drive, I get excited. Heck, sometimes I even go out for a drive purely to enjoy the drive. You can actually drive this SUV fast without feeling like you’re going to tip over or get airborne over a bump in the road. And when you do hit bumps – the well-tuned suspension soaks them up without rattling the car or breaking your back. Its a nice balance between sporty and comfortable – and its smile-inducing. Other small SUVs feel a bit ‘floaty’ and like they may tip over through a fast corner, where the CX5 feels glued to the ground and ready to play.
And then when you don’t feel like putting as much effort into driving – the active safety features give you near-autonomous driving on road trips and during traffic jams. No, you can’t take a nap or complete the Sunday crossword while you’re driving the CX5, but you can let the car do some of the work for you. On the highway, the Radar Cruise Control and Lane Centering System work together to both control the speed relative to the car in front of you, and keep you centered in the lane. If you drift too far to either side, the CX5 will adjust the brakes slightly to keep you centered in the lane – and if you drift too far, it will even tug the steering wheel to keep you in the lane. Its not perfect – but once you’ve seen it in action, you’ll realize how much attention you were paying to adjusting the cruise control and making slight steering adjustments.
As far as fuel economy, while its not the best in the class, it isn’t a bad a tradeoff for all the other benefits of the CX-5. Around town and in mixed driving, I average about 26-27 miles per gallon. I recently competed a 300 mile round trip to Brooklyn and back, and with highways ranging from 55-65 mph and a few areas of stop and go traffic, I averaged 31 mpg for the trip. With a front wheel drive version, you might see an extra few mpg due to its lighter setup vs. the AWD.
While it is a bit smaller overall than some of its direct competitors, it has been plenty roomy for my needs – which have included carrying guests to guided hikes, trips to the lumber yard to work on my shuttle bus conversion, and road trips with my pup in the back. You’ll have more cargo space with the Rav4 or Honda CRV, but the Mazda does have an advantage in its 40/20/40 split folding rear seat. That means that you can store long items like skis with just the middle seats folded down, and still have two passengers in the back. And as long as your occupants aren’t in the NBA prospect height class, they’ll be satisfied with the room in the rear seats. I’ve had five guests in mine before with no complaints – though it is a bit tight then. The rear seats can also recline about 15 degrees or so to add a little comfort for the back seat riders. Those riders also get 2 fast charging USB ports and rear air vents, so Mazda definitely didn’t cheap out on the rear seat experience.
Speaking of the interior experience, this was a big selling point for me when looking at the car. Its overall ambiance and material choices just feel more luxurious and well put together than its rivals. When I cross shopped a Toyota Rav4 and Subaru CrossTrek – they both felt bargain-basement in comparison. Pretty much everything above your elbow is soft to the touch in the CX5 – and areas below your elbows if you go for the Grand Touring (GT) trim or higher.
There’s French stitching across all four doors and the dashboard, soft faux-leather and suede seats (power on the drivers side), and a handsomely stitched leather-wrapped steering wheel adnd shiftknob. When you step up to the Grand Touring Trim level, they swap out the faux-leather and suede combo for real leather – but I love the grip of the suede when going through corners, and the ease of cleaning up the faux leather. They throw in some extra goodies on that trim – but I think the Touring with the Preferred Package is really the sweet spot in the lineup.
Other nice touches that you might not notice, but will come to appreciate, include the triple-sealed doors, laminated front windows and glass, the satisfying ‘thud’ of the car door, and crisp audio from the Bose sound system. The sound system is so good that you’ll rarely want to travel around in silence – but when you do, the Mazda is actually quieter than some Lexus models. Mazda put some serious attention into reducing the amount of road noise in their vehicles recently, as vehicles from the early 2010’s were just plain LOUD. Most of the controls move with a satisfying click or thud – perfect for any of those who enjoy some ASMR.
Every car has some drawbacks though, and the Mazda CX-5 isn’t perfect. Heck – when you compare the numbers to many of its rivals, it comes out behind. But the Mazda CX-5 isn’t really a numbers car anyways – its slower than some rivals, smaller than others, and lacks some features that others have at lower price points. But all around – its the best package. I’ve got a few complaints after a year and a half of ownership, but honestly, they don’t really feel like complaints, rather, areas for improvement.
- Power – the 2.5L naturally aspirated 4-cylinder, while torquey around town, sometimes feels overwhelmed in passing maneuvers. Sometimes you’ve really got to floor it to get moving, and passing a slow car in the country becomes a white knuckle affair.
- Backup Camera – the picture is a bit grainy – if you can see through all of the grime kicked up by the rear wheels. In winter, you’ll need to make a point of wiping the salt away if you want to get any use out of it. Mudflaps might help.
- Lack of Heated Mirrors – while I think they’re now included on the top trims, its wild that a $29,000 SUV doesn’t have heated mirrors. It was a little irksome in the winter to constantly have to remove the ice.
- Infotainment Quirks – while the infotainment system is decent for the most part (better so with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto), its got some weird quirks. It can take a while to load sometimes, and during that time, you can’t turn down the volume. Whatever you were listening to last might come blasting through the speakers. Also, entering anything into the Mazda Navigation is a pain. I use AppleMaps to get to most places, and only use the Mazda navigation to get home if I don’t have cell coverage.
- No Touchscreen (when moving) – Like it or not, you’ll have to get used to the Mazda Command Knob to control anything once the car is moving. Sometimes, you just want to poke the screen for what you want. I’ve gotten used to it, but if you really love touchscreens, this may bother you.
- No Individual Readout for Tire Pressure – there’s only a “Tire Pressure Low” warning if one of your tires is low. Most newer cars these days give you a readout for each tire – not the Mazda. Perhaps they think driving enthusiasts will keep their tires adequately pressured.
- Small Gas Tank – no matter how much throttle-babying, downhill coasting or air-conditioning forfeiture I go through, I get the low fuel warning at about 320 miles. Even when averaging 28 mpg in mixed driving, it feels like a tank just doesn’t last. A few more gallon capacity would have been nice.
Overall – I can’t recommend the second generation Mazda CX-5 enough if you’re okay with a bit less space than some of the rivals! In just over 40,000 miles, I haven’t had any unexpected repairs, recalls or maintenance – meaning this little SUV is not only capable and fun, but reliable too.