by Jared Rosenholtz
The Compact SUV segment is the fastest-growing segment in the automotive industry and every automaker wants a piece of the action. Mazda entered the segment back in 2012 with the CX-5 but has since moved upmarket, upstaging the other mainstream automakers in the process. As soon as you take a seat in the 2019 CX-5 Signature, you’ll assume you’ve stepped into a luxury crossover. Anyone who is cross-shopping compact luxury SUVs, but feels they are reaching the top of their budget, should be looking at the CX-5.
Mazda has managed to take elements from the premium brands and offer them at a mainstream price. We even brought our 2019 CX-5 Signature test car over to a neighbor who is currently shopping for a replacement for her Audi Q5 and she was blown away that the Mazda approached the standard set by the Acura and Lexus crossovers she had test driven.
After a significant facelift in 2017, 2019 sees a substantial update made to the CX-5 range. Chief amongst the changes is the addition of a 250 horsepower 2.5-liter turbocharged engine to the line-up - the first ever in a CX-5 - equipped to the top two trims, as well as a diesel engine only available in the top trim. Both the range-topping models are new for 2019, too.
The Grand Touring Reserve and Signature models are all-wheel-drive only and both add a range of new, luxurious features to elevate the CX-5 in stature amongst its peers. The suspension geometry and tuning has been revised across the CX-5 range, along with the latest updates to the G-vectoring Control Plus system. Features and infotainment have been updated with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, while a 360-degree camera is a new tech added to the Signature trim.
Mazda’s Kodo: Soul of Motion design language has carried well from sports cars to family hatches and crossovers, giving the CX-5 a unique presence in an otherwise dull vehicle segment. LED headlights and daytime running lights are found across the CX-5 range, while DRLs become LED from the Grand Touring model which also incorporates LED combination taillights and foglights. All models feature dual chrome exhaust outlets and a body-colored roof spoiler. Wheel sizes range between 17- and 19-inches in size, depending on the trim, with finishes and designs varying per model as well. Rear privacy glass is added from the Touring trim, while model-specific badging is reserved for the range-topping Signature model.
Occupying the compact crossover segment, the CX-5 measures 179.1 inches in length, with a body drawn over a 106.2-inch wheelbase. From mirror to mirror it measures 83.3 inches wide, while all models are 66.1-inches tall to the tip of the standard sharkfin antenna. Regardless of whether equipped with front- or all-wheel drive, ride height remains the same with 7.5-inches of ground clearance giving ample clearance for dirt roads, but not enough for thorough off-road excursions. The CX-5 weighs in moderately for its class, with weight ranging from 3,541 lbs to 3,825 lbs depending on trim and drivetrain.
The CX-5 features a seven-strong color palette, matching the 2018 offering. Five color choices are available across the range, with the four no-cost hues including Jet Black Mica, Deep Crystal Blue Mica, Eternal Blue Mica, and Sonic Silver Metallic, while Snowflake White Pearl Mica is available for $200. But it’s the extra-cost options from the Touring trim upwards that attract the most attention, Machine Gray Metallic for $300, or the Soul Red Crystal Metallic for $595 that appears liquid in its depth, highlighting every curve on the CX-5’s body.
Our Signature trim came finished in Machine Gray Metallic, which paired beautifully with the 19-inch wheel finished in Dark Silver. As with all new Mazda models, we do recommend opting for the Soul Red Crystal Metallic paint because it elevates the CX-5 handsome exterior to even greater heights. If red is too bold of a statement or you just can’t justify spending $595 on paint, Machine Gray is not a terrible second option.
With the addition of turbocharged engines to the 2019 line-up, the CX-5 has finally remedied the ultimately lackluster straightline performance afflicted upon it previously by the lone engine option for 2018 (a normally aspirated four-cylinder). The new 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder outputs 250 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque (or 227 hp with on 87-octane fuel) and is mated solely to a six-speed automatic gearbox and all-wheel drive, making the Grand Touring Reserve and Signature trims the most potent performance-oriented in the lineup. 0-60 mph takes a spry 6.2 seconds, giving the CX-5 hot-hatch rivaling pace, while the top speed is electronically limited to 130 mph. Meanwhile, the turbocharged torque makes it good for a towing capacity of up to 2,000 lbs.
Mazda offers the CX-5 with three engine choices, depending on trim. A base 2.5-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder carries over from last year, available on the Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring trims, developing 187 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque. The Grand Touring Reserve and Signature trims benefit from the new turbocharged 2.5-liter and its outputs of 250 hp and 310 lb-ft while later in 2019, Mazda will be offering a 2.2-liter diesel engine on the Signature trim with outputs of 168 hp and 290 lb-ft. Regardless of the choice of engine, a six-speed automatic gearbox is the only available transmission, sending power to the front wheels of the Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring trims (AWD optional), while all-wheel drive is standard with the turbo and diesel engines.
The turbocharged engine has transformed the CX-5 from a nicely driving crossover with a lack of guts to a crossover worthy of its handsome looks and finely-tuned chassis. With so much torque on tap, the engine rarely has to reach the high portion of the rev range to complete passing maneuvers but it engine noise can intrude into the cabin regardless. Mazda could have included more sound deadening in the engine bay buy likely chose not to due to cost restrictions and a desire to fit the profile of a sportier vehicle.
If you ask most automotive journalists which compact crossover you should buy, and your budget clearly doesn’t call for a performance option like a BMW X3 M or Mercedes GLC 63, the Mazda CX-5 has been the go-to option for several years. This is because, compared to almost any other crossover it competes against, the CX-5 is a blast to drive. More so than almost any other crossover at this price, the CX-5 doesn’t sacrifice driving dynamics in a mundane pursuit to provide more interior volume and top-rank fuel economy.
The steering in the CX-5 is tight and direct and responds with precision when the driver demands a quick input. Likewise, the suspension is tuned on the firm end of the spectrum, which is great for country backroads but less than perfect on torn up city streets. We think the suspension is perfectly supple for the majority of shoppers but some buyers may want a softer ride with less road noise at high speeds.
Acceleration is brisk but not spine-snapping and the CX-5 can hold its own in a straight line compared to most of its competitors. Mazda is lagging behind in terms of transmissions, where the CX-5’s six cogs can feel low compared to the eight- and nine-speed gearboxes in competitors. We didn’t think the CX-5 felt noticeably hampered by its lack of gears but two extra cogs could help the turbo engine lay its power down more smoothly. Shifts are mostly dignified but there are some moments where the CX-5’s lack of gears shows with a poorly executed upshift or downshift.
Mazda has included a simple Sport Mode to coax the drivetrain into a more aggressive setting. We didn’t prefer to use Sport Mode because it let the engine reach higher RPMs before shifting, which became tiresome during normal driving. Even without Sport Mode engaged, the CX-5 has plenty of torque and the lack of gears works to the car’s advantage because it doesn’t need to perform as many downshifts to initiate a quick burst of acceleration.
With three engines varying in power output and fuel type, the CX-5 surprisingly keeps gas mileage within a relatively tight span. It’s a dead heat for the most economical between the 2.2-liter diesel and the base 2.5-liter gasoline motor, both returning average estimates of 28 mpg, but the diesel manages it with AWD, while the gas engine only manages that in FWD guise. With all-wheel drive equipped, the base motor achieves estimates of 24/30/26 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles, while the diesel manages 27/30/28 mpg and the 2.5-liter turbo engine manages 22/27/24 mpg. With a 15.3-gallon fuel tank on AWD models (the FWD gets a smaller 14.8-gallon capacity tank), the diesel achieves the greatest range of up to 429 miles in mixed driving conditions.
During our week of testing, our CX-5 Signature trim with the 2.5-liter turbocharged mill fell just shy of EPA estimated with around 21.5 mpg combined. This could be attributed to how we drove the CX-5, which was mostly on the highway but involved many unnecessary passing maneuvers to enjoy the engine’s massive torque.
The CX-5 bridges the gap between commonality and premium with one of the best cabins in its segment, pairing seating for five occupants with a range of high-class materials and quality fit and finish. Sound ergonomics, supportive seats, and a plethora of soft-touch surfaces mesh superbly, while the new-for-2019 Grand Touring Reserve and Signature trims add a host of new, luxurious finishes like additional wood and chrome accents, ambient lighting, and brown leather.
It feels premium even though the price isn’t, but the CX-5 also misses the mark in some aspects, with rear passenger room and cargo volume below that of the segment leaders, while the infotainment system looks dated despite the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality. Mazda has a new infotainment system that just made its debut on the 2019 Mazda3, so we hope it finds its way into the CX-5 sooner rather than later.
Our CX-5 tester was optioned with the Deep Red Nappa leather interior, which looked more like brown than red to our eyes. The front seats are fairly comfortable with eight-way power adjustment and lumbar support but we could have liked more than just one adjustment on the lumbar. Both of the front seats are heated and ventilated on the Signature trim and the ventilation felt wonderful on hot Florida days. As with some other Mazda SUVs, we found that the center console felt too wide and we were not able to spread our legs as much as we would have liked. If you have larger legs and like to spread out, this could present an issue.
The rear seats, while not the largest in the compact segment, offer 39.6-inches of legroom, which should be plenty for most shoppers. Those rear seats also have two air vents and two USB ports located in the center armrest.
Even a base CX-5 is a nice place to sit but the Signature trim level takes it to a near-luxury level. Mazda used premium materials throughout the cabin including Nappa leather and genuine wood. We enjoyed the Deep Red leather found on our tester, though we had to squint to see the red coloring in it. All of the buttons and switches would not feel out of place in a premium crossover and all of the surfaces you interact with often, like the steering wheel and shifter, are wrapped in supple leather.
Behind the second row of seats, the CX-5 boasts a cargo bay measuring 30.9 cubic feet in volume. The figure is by no means the worst in the segment, faring well against the 23 cu ft of the Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, but it’s a far cry from the 39.2 cubic feet found in the class-leading Honda CR-V. The rear seats fold in a 40/20/40 split with one-touch fold-down functionality, which increases storage volume to a more usable 59.6 cubic feet for the storage of larger items, and the rear seats fold almost completely flat, which can’t be said of all rivals.
Internal storage is one of the best around and with large door pockets at all four main entrances, water bottle accommodation included, as well as a deep center bin with a storage tray, a secondary storage nook in front of the shift lever, and a rear storage bin inside the center armrest which includes two USB ports so the kids won’t have to fight over who gets to charge up their phone. The glove box is also decently sized, there are standard seatback pockets on the front seats, and there’s an overhead storage console for sunglasses.
The CX-5 punches well above its weight when it comes to the array of features and tech available. While lower trims benefit from standard blind spot monitoring and available lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, and pedestrian detection for the forward collision warning system, higher trims get power adjustable front seats, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, sunroof, a power liftgate, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. On the Grand Touring Reserve (optional on the Grand Touring) you receive, a driver’s head-up display, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, and a heated steering wheel while the range-topping Signature adds ambient cabin lighting, front and rear parking sensors, and a surround view camera.
Infotainment has been one of Mazda’s lone weak points up until recently. Controlling the system is simple thanks to a touch screen, though it locks out as soon as the vehicle is moving. The main controller is a BMW iDrive-style stick that both rotates and bumps up, down, left, and right. It also has plenty of shortcut buttons surrounding it to make it easy to jump between menus. Mazda has finally added Android and Apple CarPlay to its system but neither can be used as originally intended on the touchscreen.
We’ve never had any major issues with Mazda’s infotainment but our CX-5 tester felt extremely slow upon startup. Right after starting the vehicle, the infotainment took several seconds to allow us to change radio stations or go to the map. Hopefully, the newer system introduced in the 2019 Mazda3 finds its way to the CX-5 soon.
There has been just one recall for this generation Mazda CX-5, affecting certain 2018 year model vehicles whose curtain airbags may not deploy in the event of a rollover. This generation CX-5 has, however, been generally more reliable than the previous one, with minor isolated issues reported by current owners. However, with two new engines added to the range, potential issues may arise over time. Mazda covers every CX-5 under a standard 3-year/36,000-mile limited and 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty, while also providing a 3-year/36,000-mile emergency roadside assistance program.
Our tester didn’t experience any issues during our week of driving except for a slower-than-normal infotainment system.
The CX-5 takes home top safety honors, being awarded the IIHS’s top title of 2019 Top Safety Pick + for superior forward collision avoidance and top marks for headlights. The NHTSA awarded the CX-5 an overall safety rating of five stars out of five.
Contributing to the high safety scores is an extensive arsenal of safety equipment. Across the range, the CX-5 is equipped with six airbags (dual front airbags, front side impact airbags, and side curtain airbags), blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and smart city brake support, while higher trims add pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, and on the Grand Touring Reserve, traffic sign recognition. The Signature trim receives a 360-degree camera and front and rear park sensors.
After spending a week with the 2019 CX-5 Signature, we still believe it should be the go-to option all automotive journalists should recommend to their friends. Mazda’s recent facelift has made the CX-5 even more attractive than when it was first introduced and the interior feels more premium than almost all of its competitors.
The CX-5 still feels like a joy to drive but can now back up its finely-tuned driving dynamics with an engine that isn’t just lackluster at best. With a price maxing out at around $40,000, the CX-5 ends where most luxury crossovers begin and should make buyers seriously question whether or not they should spend up just to have a more premium badge. The CX-5 remains among our favorites in the segment and its few faults do little to detract from our love.
With five trims and two drivetrain options, there’s a CX-5 to suit most budgets. The cheapest model is the Sport FWD, which carries a base price of $24,350. From there, the Touring FWD carries an MSRP of $26,615, while the Grand Touring FWD has a price in the USA of $30,045 and the addition of all-wheel drive is a further $1,400 for each of these three trims. New for 2019 is the Grand Touring Reserve with a price of $34,870, while the fully-loaded Signature has an MSRP of $36,890 with the gasoline engine and $41,000 with the diesel engine launching later in 2019. Prices exclude tax, license, registration, and a $1,045 destination charge.
The Mazda CX-5 range comprises five trims: Sport, Touring, Grand Touring, Grand Touring Reserve, and Signature.
Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring models feature a 187 horsepower 2.5-liter engine with standard front-wheel drive and optional all-wheel drive. The Grand Touring Reserve and Signature models are equipped with a 250 hp turbocharged 2.5-liter engine and standard all-wheel drive, while the Signature will have an available 168 hp 2.2-liter diesel engine later in the year. All models make use of a six-speed automatic transmission.
The Sport model forms the base of the range, equipped with 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic LED headlights, a rearview camera, push-button start, manual seat adjustment, cloth upholstery, single-zone air conditioning, and blind spot monitoring. Infotainment is taken care of by a seven-inch touchscreen system with four speakers.
The Touring trim adds power driver’s seat adjustment, leatherette seats, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, six-speakers, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, keyless entry and start, and adaptive cruise control.
The Grand Touring equips 19-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights, a power tilt-and-slide sunroof, power liftgate, leather seating surfaces, power adjustment for the front passenger, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, navigation, and a Bose ten-speaker sound system.
Moving up to the Grand Touring Reserve model ups the standards of refinement with traffic sign recognition, ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, and heated rear seats.
The Signature tops the line-up with a frameless rearview mirror, brown Nappa leather seats, genuine wood trim, a surround view camera, and front and rear parking sensors.
|Sport||2.5-liter Inline-4 Gas||6-Speed Automatic||Front Wheel Drive, All Wheel Drive||$23,897||$24,350|
|Touring||2.5-liter Inline-4 Gas||6-Speed Automatic||Front Wheel Drive, All Wheel Drive||$25,850||$26,615|
|Grand Touring||2.5-liter Inline-4 Gas||6-Speed Automatic||Front Wheel Drive, All Wheel Drive||$28,877||$30,045|
|Grand Touring Reserve||2.5-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas||6-Speed Automatic||All Wheel Drive||$33,513||$34,870|
|Signature||2.5-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas||6-Speed Automatic||All Wheel Drive||$35,452||$36,890|
Trim depending, a range of packages are available to upgrade the CX-5.
On the Touring trim, a Touring Preferred Equipment package is priced at $1,375 and includes an auto-dimming rearview mirror, ten-speaker Bose sound system, power tilt-and-slide sunroof, and a power tailgate, all of which you’ll find standard on the Grand Touring.
The Grand Touring has an available GT Premium package for $1,625, adding a head-up display with traffic sign recognition, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, ventilated front seats, and a windshield wiper de-icer. This equipment is standard on the Grand Touring Reserve.
Standalone options are few, but the worthwhile options include rear parking sensors on the Sport, Touring, Grand Touring, and Grand Touring Reserve trims for $475, while a frameless auto-dimming rearview mirror at $325, and navigation at $400 are available on the Sport and Touring models.
It’s hard to fault any of the CX-5 trims on price but we think two levels stand out above the rest. If you are trying to stay on a budget and don’t require the added power of the turbocharged engine, opt for the Touring trim for $26,615. This trim adds tons of nice options including heated leatherette seats, rain-sensing wipers, keyless entry with push-button start, and adaptive cruise control with stop and go.
If you do require more power, we recommend the Grand Touring Reserve trim. This keeps the CX-5 at a more reasonable $34,870 and still included niceties such as heated and ventilated seats, heated steering wheel, and driving display with traffic sign recognition. In our opinion, the 360-degree camera, Nappa leather seats, parking sensors and wood trim aren’t worth approaching the $40,000 mark.
The Toyota RAV4 has been completely redesigned for 2019 and represents a huge leap over what the old model offered, but keeps the fundamentals right. It has a higher ground clearance and more rugged looks than the CX-5, coping better with dirt roads and speed bumps, but it’s also far softer to drive than the CX-5. That means greater comfort on pockmarked roads, but it also means it leans more through the corners and is far less fun to drive. It offers more cargo volume and rear legroom than the CX-5 does, but the CX-5 has a nicer cabin that feels more premium and offers better features, especially on higher-end derivatives. The RAV4 offers a hybrid variant which bests the Mazda’s mileage estimates by a good margin, but with the addition of a turbocharged engine, the Mazda is a better performer, and it has a better towing capacity. If practicality ultimately defines your decision, the RAV4 is great, but if you prefer the finer things in life, the Mazda CX-5 is more enjoyable and more luxurious - a premium offers without the price premium attached.
The Honda CR-V is one of the compact crossover segment’s class leaders, offering a complete package that appeals to a broad range of buyers. It’s bigger than the CX-5, both inside and out, offering better accommodation for front and rear occupants, and providing huge amounts of storage the Mazda can’t match. Like the Mazda, it offers exceptional safety ratings, loads of available tech, and a premium cabin. It’s fun to drive too and has a turbocharged engine available as well while matching the CX-5’s base price to the cent. But it doesn’t offer the same performance as the Mazda’s turbocharged engine does, lacking some 60 hp, by comparison, but countering the lack of power with better mileage estimates. It’s a truly tough battle between these two for top honors in the segment, as both drive exceptionally well and have loads to offer. The CX-5 is a driver’s SUV, more enjoyable on a twisting road and with greater performance, plus, with the addition of more premium trim lines, it’s more luxurious at the top of the range. However, the CR-V is 90% as good to drive and boasts more practicality. Either crossover would be a brilliant buy, and both are the best available in their class.