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Review: 2018 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring

by Byron Hurd

We get some quality time with Mazda\'s updated CUV.

Last year, Mazda debuted an updated CX-5, with some nip-and-tuck styling updates and interior enhancements. Last week, Leftlane finally got its hands on one as part of a seven-way comparison test of compact crossovers. We'll bring you that feature before the holiday next week. Today, we're taking an in-depth look at Mazda's compact crossover.

What is it?
The Mazda CX-5 is a compact crossover built on the same modular platform that underpins the Mazda6 sedan. As with most compact CUVs, it seats five passengers and offers ample cargo space (30.9 cubic feet with the seats up; 59.6 cubes with them folded) behind the second row.

The CX-5 is powered by a naturally aspirated, 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine that produces 187 horsepower and 186lb-ft of torque. It's offered in front- and all-wheel-drive configurations and both come standard with a six-speed SkyActiv automatic transmission. Front-drivers are rated at 25 MPG city, 31 highway and 28 combined. All-wheel-drive models, like our tester, have been certified at 24/30/26.

Mazda has long been known for tuning even its mundane vehicles for sharper response and engaging dynamics. The CX-5 is no exception. It's underpinned by a MacPherson strut front suspension and a multi-link setup in the rear and offers G-Vectoring Control (Mazda's torque vectoring system) for better acceleration out of tight corners.

What's it up against?
The Mazda CX-5 swims in a crowded and competent pool. The leaders in its segment are the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, but it also counts the likes of the Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Compass, Chevrolet Equinox and Ford Escape (among many others) as its direct competitors.

Vehicles in this segment are almost always based on the midsize sedans with which most share (or once shared) showroom space. For this reason, they tend to align very closely in cost. This makes the likes of the Mazda6, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Chevrolet Malibu competitors for those who are shopping by budget more so than vehicle class.


What does it look like?
Mazda is on a roll with its recent styling, and the CX-5 benefits from the most recent iteration of the "Kodo" design philosophy that has dictated the styling of everything in the lineup from the humble Mazda3 sedan to the iconic MX-5 Miata. The vaguely pentagonal corporate grille and angular (but not overwrought) nose help disguise the CX-5's large front overhang (a necessary feature of SkyActiv vehicles) and upright front end (a side effect of improving pedestrian impact safety).

This simple, clean design continues down the CX-5's uncluttered flanks. Our tester boasts 19-inch, ten-spoke alloy wheels wrapped in all-season tires which fill the wheel wells nicely despite the black plastic cladding which exaggerates their size.

Simplicity rules the day in the rear as well, where there's little unnecessary surface work or extravagant tail-lighting. Dual exhaust outlets provide symmetry and a nod toward Mazda's sporty theme without going overboard.

And the interior?
Our well-equipped loaner featured perforated "Parchment" (an off-white/cream) leather seating, which looks fantastic but shows stains (including denim wash) very obviously. Black leather is also available, and would be our choice. The dash is simple and attractive, with a horizontal design splitting the middle air vents from the HVAC controls on the center stack.

Mazda's interior is inviting and comfortable, but lacking in some key tech goodies we've come to expect from modern vehicles. The high-mounted screen is touch-operated when the vehicle is stationary but must be manipulated with a knob on the center console when in motion. It incorporates audio, navigation and vehicle settings in a fairly straightforward and intuitive interface.

Unfortunately, for the time being, Mazda does not offer smartphone connectivity beyond basic Bluetooth phone integration. An updated system is due later this year, and Mazda has also indicated that some owners of current vehicles already equipped with newer hardware will be eligible for an upgrade that will add Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support.

This will require a dealer visit as there is a hardware component to the upgrade, but it will go a long way toward future-proofing those cars. That said, if smartphone integration is high on your list of priorities, you may want to wait a model year before pulling the trigger on a CX-5.

Our tester was also equipped with a HUD, and it's one of the better ones out there. The display is condensed but informative, displaying speed limits (fed both by the navigation system's database and an on-board camera), cruise control status (including the set speed). Mazda's adaptive cruise control can be used in both its full-featured mode or without sensor guidance if you prefer to cancel/decelerate on your own.

Also included in our loaner's "Premium" package (necessary for the HUD) were a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats and a windshield wiper de-icer. Heated front seats are baked (sorry) into the trim and don't require an additional package.

But does it go?
So, the 2018 Mazda CX-5 has plenty of show, but does it still hold its own on the road? The short answer is "yes." While 190-ish horsepower may not seem like a ton for a 3,700-pound, all-wheel-drive crossover, but it's plenty of oomph for everyday driving. It's also competitive for a segment where high-output engines have fallen out of fashion.

What's really impressive about the CX-5's power is how effectively it's put down when you're hustling. The i-Activ all-wheel-drive and G-Vectoring Control work together so effectively that it's almost impossible to overwhelm the CX-5's available traction. We put this to the test on mountain roads surfaced only in rain-soaked gravel.

Coming out of tight switchbacks, we could put the throttle to the floor immediately and the CX-5 would bite hard and fast, doling out the torque in perfect unison with the unwinding of the wheel. No torque steer. None of the back-and-forth scrubbing you'd expect from a reactive all-wheel-drive system hunting for grip in the face of slip. Just pure, uninterrupted acceleration without even a hit of understeer.

On the highway, the CX-5 is composed, quiet and comfortable. Its steering is quick, but not twitchy; its helm communicative, but not abusive. Mazda's performance edge once came with compromises in ride quality, but its engineers seem to have put those days behind them.

If the short answer is "yes," here's the long one: We've driven quite a few crossovers over the course of the past few years, and while most of them provide an adequately car-like experience for people used to sedans and hatchbacks, the CX-5 is the outlier that is still genuinely rewarding to drive.

Leftlane's bottom line
For 2018, Mazda has made the CX-5 a little more comfortable, a little more stylish and a lot less fatiguing to drive on a daily basis. We're pleased to say that despite this, its fun-to-drive nature still remains. This is the driver's crossover, without a doubt, and one we'd gladly recommend to anybody shopping in the compact CUV segment. Shame about the tech, but that will be remedied soon enough.

2018 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD base price, $30,945; as-tested, $34,685
Premium package, $1,395; illuminated door sills, $400; Soul Red paint finish, $595; rear bumper guard, $125; retractable cargo cover, $250; Destination, $975

Exterior photos by Byron Hurd. Interior Photos courtesy of Mazda.