Driven: 2022 Mazda CX-5 Still The Driver's Choice

Test Drive / Comments

But is the Mazda blend right for you?

If you want a compact crossover with luxury and premium style for mainstream money, the closest you're going to get is the Mazda CX-5. As a bonus, you get something that blends practicality with agile handling and entertaining driving dynamics. That's especially the case if you move up the trim ladder from the 187-horsepower four-cylinder engine to the turbocharged power plant making 256 hp with premium gas. All-wheel drive is standard on the CX-5, which is something to bear in mind when cross-shopping with any of its many competitors. However, like any car, it's not perfect, but the CX-5 stands head and shoulders above others in some ways but doesn't match up in others. To find out if its pros and cons suit your lifestyle and tastes, we spent a week with Mazda's most popular vehicle doing everything from a Sunday pleasure drive to an airport run.

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Mazda's Design At Its Best

If you're looking for something flashy, it's best to look elsewhere. Instead, Mazda's design language is an example of a refined and consistent style that we think even Mercedes can't currently match. The CX-5 sits in the middle of Mazda's range size-wise and takes advantage of its proportions. There's no denying it's a handsome vehicle, particularly following its recent refresh. Mazda's use of reflective body surfaces rather than emphasized character lines is enhanced by its new three-dimensional textured grill and sleekly sculpted headlights and taillights. Then, a new bumper and tailgate design hold the whole updated look together. Even in its $25,900 base trim, the 2022 CX-5 punches above its weight in style - the mildly updated 2023 model is slightly pricier at $26,700.

Our test vehicle is the range-topping 2.5 Turbo Signature model with Mazda's Snowflake White Pearl paint. The Signature trim adds smart 19-inch wheels with a Bright Silver finish and a unique grille finish, along with a host of other features, and begins at $38,650.

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That Mazda Interior

Inside, not much has changed except a new seat design that Mazda says provides "greater stability to help create a natural and comfortable experience." The fact that the interior hasn't changed much except for greater comfort in the seats is a good thing. The seats weren't bad before, but after putting in the long miles without feeling the need to stretch out aching muscles, they get our approval. We're fans of how Mazda's thoughtful approach to the infotainment screen; it's positioned high and set back on the dashboard for easier viewing while driving rather than being just another oversized tablet. It's also hard to reach, which is part of the point, as Mazda isn't convinced touchscreens are the safest option. Instead, you'll control it from the rotary dial, and buttons in front of the elbow rest on the center console. The interior is a lesson in mixing style and ergonomics, but the cupholder placement takes the hit. If you're a sipper while you drive, they are a little awkwardly placed directly in front of the elbow rest.

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Simplified Infotainment But Some Missing Tech

While Mazda hasn't entered the infotainment system size war, the screen is a useful 10.25-inch unit and boasts a smooth, clear, and easy-to-use interface. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, but there are no wireless options for those services yet. That's a bit of a letdown and something you can find on Hyundai and Nissan competitors as standard. As well as the control dial and buttons on the steering wheel to operate the infotainment system, Mazda Connected Services includes access to remote vehicle functions with its smartphone app. There's also a subscription-based Wi-Fi hotspot. The Premium Plus model comes with a "Bose 10-speaker premium audio system," which is fine. By fine, we mean it's a Bose system and an upgrade over the standard speaker system, but calling it "premium" is pure marketing.

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A Choice In Drivetrain Power

For the more cost-conscious drivers that aren't fussed about power, the base engine is a 2.5-liter naturally-aspirated four-cylinder with 187 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque. The upgrade is quite a big one to a 2.5-liter turbocharged-four making 227 hp or 256 hp with premium gas, along with 310 lb-ft or 320 lb-ft (with the premium gas).

Either way, the CX-5 comes with all-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic transmission as standard. Occasionally, the transmission programming gets confused and makes a questionable change for comfort, but that's in rare and specific circumstances. The base engine is quick enough off the line, but it's at higher speeds when trying to pass or merge onto the freeway that the larger engine makes life more comfortable.

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An Enjoyable Driving Experience

The CX-5 is a nimble crossover, which sets it up well for city hustling or taking the back roads home. Every aspect of how the CX-5 behaves is up to par with Mazda's dedication to driving dynamics. Throttle response is sharp without being oversensitive before you go into Sport mode. The steering is weighted well, accurate, and reasonably communicative. Around town, it's a breeze to drive and rides firm enough to keep the chassis flat but compliant enough not to annoy on a rough road. On a tight back road, you don't have to work hard to keep a reasonable pace, and if you go into Sport mode, it will get its hustle on with sharper throttle response and more aggressive gear selections. It's no hot hatch, but it's a lot of fun, and the handling is crisp regardless of which engine you go for.

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Is The CX-5 The Best Compact Crossover On The Market?

We love the CX-5 as a small family mobile, but we do have a bias toward Mazda's consistent approach to fun driving dynamics. In terms of comfort, style and quality inside, it's hard to beat, although Hyundai might have something to say about that with its capable Tucson. Hyundai definitely has something to say about the level of infotainment technology, and Toyota is now upping its game there.

Our conclusion remains the same: If you love to drive and you want an infotainment interface that works without getting in your way, the CX-5 is an excellent vehicle. If you want the latest and greatest tech and driving is just a thing you have to do, there are plenty of other options. However, the CX-50 also exists, and that could be worth cross shopping with the CX-5 for more adventurous families.

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