Anytime anyone seeks a vehicle recommendation for a mainstream vehicle, a Mazda is almost always on my list. Generally speaking, their products are usually near the top of their respective segment and bring a level of style and uniqueness you just cannot find with price comparable brands. That said, Mazdas aren’t for everyone.
I was at lunch one day in the office, talking about the 2019 CX-5 tester with coworkers. One asserted that she just recently test drove a CX-5 and didn’t like it because “the steering felt too hard.” Translating the statement into automotive terms: the steering rack had more weight on it than she would prefer.
Mind you, I’m the one that recommended the CX-5 to her in the first place, so the response was sort of an ah-ha moment for this gear head: Mazda’s, as great as they are to those of us who love the automobile, are ultimately not high-volume vehicles for a reason, so let’s dig into why with the 2019 CX-5.
UTE WITHOUT THE CUTE
Refreshed for the 2019 model year, the CX-5 has morphed its overall exterior design theme to be more in line with Mazda’s current Kodo design language. As always the case with newer Mazda’s, this one looks great. This particular market segment is filled with “cute-ute” style crossovers, which Mazda avoids with its dramatic front fascia treatment; to the point the CX-5 almost looks pissed off. It’s overly-aggressive front clip more than makes up for the fact its greenhouse design–functional for the sake of rear headroom–is kind of vanilla.Though the greenhouse is supplemented with a fairly long hood that gives the CX-5 unique proportions and a slight rear-wheel-drive look.
We’ve come to expect great designs from Mazda, but we also expect superior handling, which the CX-5 also delivers in spades. During our testing, the CX-5 consistently demonstrated an ability to take turns and quick left-rights (slalom) to a point you’d forget you’re driving a five-passenger, front-wheel-drive based crossover. This ability is stemming from a suspension setup that is quite firm for the segment and a steering rack that is remarkably communicative, as noted by my coworker.
At no point does the CX-5 come off as a harsh sports sedan, but the ride quality reminds of Mazda’s sporty intent. Road imperfections left by a long winter are dealt with quickly with a swift rebound rate on the springs, but it lacks the softness most of the competitive set offer. This is either a good or bad trait, depending on your perspective.
BIGGER ENGINE FOR A BIGGER PRICE
For 2019 Mazda slotted in the larger CX-9’s turbo 2.5-liter for the CX-5 Grand Touring Reserve and Signature trim levels, while the rest of the lineup is left with the same engine, sans turbocharger. The engine difference alone is enough to opt for–at least–the Grand Touring Reserve trim as even with the turbo 2.5-liter the CX-5 isn’t insanely quick off the line. We found its power output to be more than enough for the type of vehicle, but it’s just shy of being to the level this vehicle is from a handling perspective, but it is worth mentioning we only ran regular 87 octane fuel in it.
The turbo 2.5-liter is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission that is perhaps the biggest limiting factor to the CX-5’s powertrain. With the drive control system in “Normal” the transmission is often reluctant to downshift and, at times, feels like it could be geared to more effectively manage the engine’s minor turbo lag. That said, in “Sport” mode the transmission will hang on to gears as long as you want it to and is quick to downshift at even the slightest indicator the driver wants more torque.
While the CX-5 is putting a smile on the driver’s face for its athletic ability, all passengers will find the CX-5 interior to be a good place to reside. Mazda’s interiors seem to just keep getting better when it comes to design and material quality, so the CX-5 is falling right in line with the rest of the lineup. There’s soft-touch materials galore, making the CX-5 feel far more expensive than reality.
The only area we found issue was with the seat comfort. The front seat side bolsters lack support, while the rear bench seat bottom is very flat. Both attributes are minor impositions in an interior that is quiet even at highway speeds and very driver-centric, befitting of a Mazda product.
Buyers after cargo space may also take issue with the CX-5 as it offers less of the aforementioned than most of its competitors. It’s not a deficit large enough to knock the CX-5 from the consideration set, but something to note for those prioritizing interior space for purchase consideration.
One area of the CX-5 that is a problem area is its infotainment system. Mazda is a small automaker and doesn’t have the resources of a Toyota or General Motors. As such, their infotainment system is painfully inadequate versus nearly all competitors. The dial-controlled software in our tester was slow to boot up and was consistently laggy when attempting to navigate the user interface.
The only reprieve the system gets is that it supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for 2019, which is good because most buyers will have little desire to deal with the built-in system. It is a shame, because it is a glaring problem in an otherwise fantastic vehicle, but every Mazda currently has this problem and it’s certainly something to factor into the purchase decision.
While the infotainment system may be an issue, fortunately Mazda has loaded up the CX-5 with other great features that will attract buyers. Our loaded Signature tester was equipped with adaptive cruise control, blind spot alert, lane-keep assist and emergency braking to keep things safe and appeal to the young families that generally buy crossovers.
LOTS OF LUXURY FEATURES
On the luxury side, the CX-5 can be had with a Bose sound system and heads-up display, although the heads-up display system cannot be moved, meaning it the driver has to adjust the seat to conform to the display position in the windshield. Most automakers allow you to move the projection up and down. EDIT: A keen reader has pointed out that, in fact, the HUD is adjustable within the settings menu.
Mazda also offers an optional moonroof in the CX-5, though it is a standard size unit when most competitors are offering large, panoramic sunroofs.
GREAT FOR THE FEW
So, as noted by my coworker, Mazdas are not for everyone. The CX-5 is a really great product; it drives like a sports sedan and offers a host of equipment and an interior that is worthy of a luxury vehicle. By the same token, it drives so great its appeal is limited to those who love driving and can appreciate the sensory experience that comes with it; like “hard” feeling steering.
If you’re into driving and need the utility of a crossover, the Mazda CX-5 is a clear contender. If you’re looking for the ultimate family vehicle that’s going perform its functional purpose really well, this probably isn’t the best choice.
It’s mainstream, but not for everyone.