The second-generation Mazda CX-5 compact crossover / SUV stands as the best choice for driving enthusiasts who need an affordable crossover to haul gear or family members. The 2017 CX-5 is also emerging as the category’s technology champ with a head-up display, smart blind spot detection aler t, full-range adaptive cruise control, standard LED headlamps, and an intelligent all-wheel-drive system. Mazda makes a fair claim that the CX-5 has “class above” technology more in line with what Audi, BMW, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz offer. “We know we’re already better than [Honda] CR-Vs and such, so we benchmarked upscale,” Mazda’s chief engineer proclaims.
To appeal to mainstream buyers who’ve made Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 each outsell Mazda 3-1 last year, Mazda has worked on sound-damping, improving ride quality, adding rear seat heaters, upping the quality of the audio system, and adding rear seat USB jacks. Nobody’s perfect and in Mazda’s case there’s still no performance engine for enthusiasts. For mainstream buyers, there’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto offered, no satellite radio except on the costliest CX-5, and those rear seat heaters are an option on the costliest CX-5. Overall, the positives far outweigh the negatives.
Second generation, looks like the first generation
Mazda says there are big changes inside and out, as there have been almost every since the first-gen CX-5 arrived as a 2013 model. For 2017 (lower image above), there’s a sharper nose, a black egg-carton grille (no horizontal strakes now), and a side body character line that sweeps down instead of up as it moves rearward. It’s still 179 inches long, right in the sweet spot for compact SUVs. There’s one engine choice, a 187-hp normally aspirated (no turbo) four-cylinder engine, rated at 23 mpg city, 30 mpg highway, 26 mpg combined for all-wheel-drive, 24/31/27 for front-drive. The transmission is a six-speed automatic.
Mazda said new features appealing to mainstream buyers are an available power liftgate, a second-row seat that reclines (slightly) and also folds fully flat, and improved NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) without degrading handling. See the slideshow below for the 10 tech improvements that make the CX-5, as Mazda says, punch above its weight, including full-range adaptive cruise control, G-Vectoring, more USB jacks, a head-up display that includes blind spot information, and traffic sign recognition.
Ten tech features make the 2017 CX-5 stand out:
On the road
I test-drove the CX-5 in San Diego and eastward along the US-Mexico border (lots of border patrol agents, no sign of the wall). In comparison with the 2016 Mazda CX-5 I’ve been driving the past half-year, the new one is indeed quieter and a bit less bouncy on rough roads. Mazda attributes this to more welds, acoustic laminated glass in front, extra door seals, and more sound insulation in the floor.
The adaptive cruise control was smoother; the older one sometimes locked on to a car ahead and then a few seconds later braked firmly, enough to make the passengers look up. The head up display was a great addition, particularly since it put the blind spot warning in the HUD (as well as in the side mirrors). When a car shows up in your blind spot, three sonar-looking waves turn orange on the left, right, or both. If you’re thinking about changing lanes, you have to shift your vision to the side mirror for a couple hundred milliseconds; with the HUD, you just glance down, all the while keeping your eyes on the road ahead. The steering wheel has even bigger buttons this year.
The engine is basically the same: Mazda’s high-tech SkyActiv inline-four with low emissions and adequate pickup for merging onto expressways. The mileage is decent, but you’ll probably be in the high 20s in combined driving; you need a light foot to pass 30 mpg. Thus my interest in seeing how peppy and economical the 2.2-liter SkyActiv diesel will be this fall.
Navigation is adequate; there are better and worse from competitors, but it gets the job done. The new Bose audio with 10 speakers sounds better. It’s great having USB jacks for back seat passengers. I’ve grown to like the Commander control wheel in the console. A nearby button to fetch audio presets (you scroll to the one you want) gives you as many as you want, but it’s not as direct as having six or eight dedicated presets right under the center LCD.
The back is still roomy especially for a small car. Four adults can travel all day in comfort, and even more so with back seat HVAC vents and the improved ride.
Where Mazda isn’t yet class-above
Mazda wants to be compared with the big boys: Audi Q3 and Q5 (the CX-5 falls in between in size), BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC, and the two Japanese crossovers that are 1-2 in premium SUV sales: Lexus NX and Acura RDX. Fair enough. Here’s where Mazda comes up short.
Blind spot detection doesn’t offer haptic feedback, meaning a steering wheel or seat vibration that only alerts the driver. The beep is only a second long, which makes it only halfway annoying. Lane departure warning does offer a vibration now, along with either a beep or a rumble strip sound through the speakers (pick one).
Not having Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in 2017 is starting to look dated. We understand that adopting them puts a small automaker at the mercies of Apple and Google. At least it’s in the works. Satellite radio is only offered on the costliest CX-5, the Grand Touring. It needs to be on every trim line.
Some, not all, class-above competitors offer side window screens (the CX-9 does, too) and it’s great for long trips. The CX-5 also lacks surround vision cameras, automated parallel parking, and factory-installed rear parking sonar (as a dealer accessory, it’s costly). Campers and boaters would wish for 3,500-pound towing capacity, not just 2,000 pounds; it’s rare in affordable compact SUVs (Toyota offers a special RAV4 that tows 3,500 pounds), but not uncommon among higher end competitors.
Mazda as yet offers no telematics package like GM OnStar. It will become more and more useful to get real-time updates on road conditions, detours, and restaurant and hotel information. Mazda at least gets current speed information by reading roadside speed limit signs (also stop signs and traffic lights).
There are also little things: BMW and Audi have roller wheels on the steering wheel for adjusting volume or audio choices, which is faster, smoother, and cooler than up-down buttons. It also costs a bit more.
The interior leather trim is either off-white or black; a medium brown or chestnut would be a good in-between choice. For Mazda, the challenge is that every time it offers another choice, there’s more complexity in finding exactly what you want in stock. (Although it’s zero percent now if you want a tobacco-color leather.)
Mazda doesn’t lose all the comparisons. Mazda has LED headlamps standard; BMW offers LED headlamps on the X3 for $1,900. Advantage, Mazda.
Mazda CX-5 pricing: $25,000 to $34,000 all-in
Mazda pricing is on par with most other mainstream compact crossovers. There are three trim lines, or model variants. The technology builds with each trim line.
CX-5 Sport. $24,985 (including $940 freight), $26,285 with all-wheel-drive. Standard equipment includes LED headlamps, Smart City Brake Support, backup camera, two USB jacks, phone and audio Bluetooth, 7-inch dash mounted LCD, AM/FM/HD radio, and 17-inch alloy wheels. Seats are manual with cloth trim. There are no options packages other than Soul Red Crystal paint: $595 for a dazzling red.
CX-5 Touring. $26,855, $28,155 with AWD. It adds blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, keyless entry, two rear USB jacks, leatherette heated front seats with “lux suede” inserts and six-way power driver’s seat, auto-leveling LED headlamps, six-speaker audio, rear center armrest, and rear HVAC vents. The $780 Preferred Equipment Package adds 10-speaker Bose audio, a moonroof, a power liftgate, navigation, auto-dimming mirrors, Homelink (garage door opener), and auto on/off headlamps. The Touring i-Activsense package, $625, adds lane departure warning, automatic high beams, lane keep-assist, stop and go adaptive cruise control (“radar cruise control”), and smart brake support. Machine Gray Metallic paint is $300, and Snowflake White Pearl is $200.
CX-5 Grand Touring. $30,335, $31,635 with AWD. In addition to the Touring’s standard and optional features, it adds steerable headlamps, LED fog and tail lamps, satellite radio, rain-sensing wipers, heated outside mirrors, eight-way power driver’s seat, leather seats, and 19-inch alloy wheels. The $1,830 Grand Touring package includes a true head up display (“Active Driving Display”) with traffic sign recognition, power front passenger seat, heated outboard rear seats, heated steering wheel, and windshield wiper de-icer.
Is this the compact SUV to buy?
Mazda makes a strong case that its compact crossover has the most features offered at a competitive price. If marriage and a baby make you trade your sports sedan for a small SUV, this is hands-down the best crossover for enthusiasts who don’t want to pay BMW X3, Audi Q5, or Mercedes-Benz GLC kinds of money. A loaded CX-5 is a couple thousand less than a stripped Lexus NX or Acura RDX, the two sales leaders among premium compact SUVs, and about $6,000 less than an zero-options X3. Comparably equipped, a premium compact SUV will be $10,000-$15,000 more, although they’ll likely have better resale value, meaning attractive lease rates.