Power184 HP / 185 LB-FT
0-60 Time7.8 Seconds
Top Speed122 MPH
Curb Weight3,589 LBS
MPG24 City / 30 HWY
As Tested Price$34,140
Historically the Mazda CX-5 is one crossover that has been quasi-immune to my knee-jerking. It doesn't weigh two tons, offers a manual transmission (in poverty spec, but still...), and looks faster than its competitors. Most importantly, the CX-5 can round a corner without wobbling like a Slinky at the top of the stairs.
No item on that list of plaudits would likely crack the top ten "desirables" for average small CUV shoppers. So, for the 2016 update, Mazda instead upgraded the in-cabin experience along with the requisite nips and tucks to the exterior. I borrowed a 2016 model CX-5 to see whether or not those concessions to comfort affected the car-nerd stuff. And to see if the Mazda could still be my go-to CUV recommendation.
- The engine options are unchanged for 2016. You can still have the fine, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, with its 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque, or its wimpier 2.0-liter lil' brother. My fully spec'd Grand Touring came with the bigger engine, which feels adequately powerful for the class, but not quick. In an era where turbocharged engines are everywhere, revving the Skyactiv 2.5-liter up to its torque peak at 3,250 rpm takes some commitment.
- I'm annoyed that there's no manual offered with the 2.5L (a combo I can have in both the Mazda3 and Mazda6), but I don't hate the automatic transmission. The six-speed unit is unobtrusive 99 percent of the time; something I regretfully can't tell you about certain nine-speed autos. There are no paddles to play with, but you can tap the shift lever up and down if you're struck by a need for total control.
- With a new center console and dash, and the addition of the Mazda Connect infotainment system, the '16 CX-5 feels like a new vehicle from behind the wheel. An attractive, pliant, leatherish material swaths the neat console and surrounding real estate. And the perforated leather seats feel damn near upscale.
- I think that Mazda Connect's version of the central control knob (with handy adjacent volume knob) is almost luddite-proof in its simplicity. There's no latency between twisting and reaction on the screen. Better still, menus use clean graphics and offer fast loading times from one to the next. The touchscreen works well, which I appreciate as an advocate for this technology.
- The navigation system was a weird little nugget of joy, too. Graphically speaking, the Mazda software can''t touch the epic 3D cityscapes you see in BMW or Audi products. But it's easy to read on the go, has smooth animations and makes finding or entering your destination quite simple.
- The Grand Touring spec for 2016 comes with the dark-finish 19-inch wheels you see here. The larger rolling stock didn't add any tire roar; in fact the revised CX-5 now seems quieter than ever. Cool wheels and low noise levels are huge wins in this segment.
- Other visual updates for the new model year – a sleeker grille, available LED headlights and new foglight surrounds – didn't do anything for my driving experience, but they look cool. Progress.
- Even in its heaviest trim (3,589 pounds for my all-wheel-drive tester), the CX-5 still feels more nimble than its contemporaries, which is a relief. Steering is quick and linear, with just a taste of feedback. I'd put the ride quality on rough surfaces as below the small-CUV average, with the tradeoff being more roll control and a tighter handling profile overall.
This is one of the very hottest segments in the new car world right now. Titans like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 might still rule the class, but competitors are everywhere. Chevy, Ford, Hyundai, Jeep, Kia, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru and Volkswagen all play in the CX-5's sandbox. Most of those challengers start within a hand's span of the Mazda's low-$20k entry price, and hit the mid-thirties when decked out.
With practical matters like cost to own, size and fuel economy all neck and neck, the choice of your new crossover really could come down to "intangibles" like handling. In that way I think the added driving joy of the CX-5 becomes a difference maker, even if the driver in question isn't of the enthusiast bent.
The added tech and quieter cabin won't hurt, either, of course. Both should insulate your test drive from my insistent hollering about the SportWagen for sale down the street, and perhaps help Mazda sell a few more cars.