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2017 MAZDA CX-5 Grand Touring AWD: Making a good thing better.

By Ted Orme

I’ve been reviewing cars on and off for a lot of years. But to call yourself an “expert” you have to immerse yourself in this business full time just to keep up with all the changes. That’s why the car mags employ whole staffs of experts.

But there is one model I consider myself an expert on: the Mazda CX-5 crossover. I was so favorably impressed by a test drive of the 2015 model that I bought one. Over the past three years, I have logged thousands of enjoyable miles in my mid-trim CX-5Touring AWD. So I jumped at the chance to test drive the next generation, top-of-the-line 2017 version of a vehicle I love.

That may have been a mistake. Mazda has so improved and refined the CX-5 that, once again, as Jimmy Carter would say, I have lust in my heart. To the point that I am sorely tempted to extend my car payment just to get all those neat new treats and bells and whistles.

First introduced in 2012, the CX-5 was much praised by auto writers for its sporty character combined with family friendly utility. Tapping into a burgeoning SUV and crossover market, this compact crossover with “SKYACTIV” engineering and “KODO” design quickly became Mazda’s sales leader.

So how do you make a good thing better? You start by retaining your core strengths – solid platform and drivetrain. Then you take a fine-tooth-comb to literally every component and feature of the vehicle and upgrade where possible. Mazda claims 250 improvements were made to the all-new CX-5.

That starts with the reskinned body. Although nearly dimensionally identical to my 2015 CX-5, the new CX-5 looks longer, wider, and more streamlined thanks to styling cues copped directly from the top-of-the-line CX-9. The sharper, more chiseled nose features a concave, three-dimensional grille and slim LED headlights.

The A-pillars that have been pushed back 1.4 inches to reduce forward blind spots as well as emphasize the length of the CX-5’s hood and accentuate the “athletic, cab-rearward proportions” that Mazda design team calls “refined toughness.”

Inside the top-trim Grand Touring AWD model I tested it was all in for a premium CX-9 environment. Right away you appreciate the high-quality soft materials, leather seats with French stitching, top-notch fit and finish, and subtle dark wood and alloy trim. Clear white on black gauges and a heads up display in the windshield mean you never have to take your eyes off the road.

A 7-inch center screen and console-mounted controls are fairly easy to use, though, being old school, I still prefer the wonderfully simple and far less distracting  knobs and dials in my mid-trim 2015 Touring model.

Using what it calls a “human-centric approach,” Mazda paid considerable attention to creating an enthusiast level driving position. That is, the controls fall right into the hand of the driver. The driver’s layout is symmetrical, with the driver sitting directly behind the steering wheel. And the accelerator and dead pedals are positioned exactly at shoulder width.

Mazda says the seats were designed using NASA data to provide an ideal body position. This was definitely true in the Grand Touring trim that provides eight-way power adjustability and enough leg room for even tall drivers, which is a problem in my CX-5. Plus, the backseat gets an extra two degrees of rake and can now be reclined an extra four degrees.

The tradeoff for the swoopier lower roof design, however, is a loss of about five cubic feet of cargo capacity. At 31 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats up and a total 59.6 cubic feet with the rear seats down, the new CX-5 slightly trails the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and Subaru Forester in this category. I couldn’t tell the difference.

The first thing I noticed when I hit the road was, “Man, this thing is a lot quieter than my car.” Mazda engineers obsessed over sound-deadening, adding more insulation and carpeting, sound absorbing headliner material and double glazed acoustic glass to the front windows. With a reskinned exterior, engineers were able to add thicker and better-fitting seals and linings, plug air gaps, and redirect air flow.

To cut down on road roar and smooth out the suspension, they added sound dampers on new low-friction struts up front with unique springs on each side as well as a dynamic damper to the rear subframe. The result, according to my experience and other reviewers, is that the CX-5 has gone to the top of its class in refined quietude.

Another standout achievement is much sharper, more direct steering. Credit Mazda’s ingenious new G-Vectoring Control system. As you turn the wheel, it uses electronics to reduce just enough torque from the engine to subtly transfer weight to the front wheels, which improves both steering response and handling.

The biggest engine change is there is now only one. Gone is the previously entry-level 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and manual transmission in favor of the 2.5-liter four-cylinder mated to a six-speed automatic, which is standard across the line.

Mazda tweaked the pistons and rings, which reduced knock and friction but only added 3 horsepower, now 187 with 185 lb-ft of torque. But it feels quicker thanks to noticeably improved engine response and quicker shifts for the automatic. There is also a sport mode that drops you to fourth gear and holds the gear you need until you give it new input with your throttle foot.

Although you can get more horsepower in some turbocharged engines offered by the competition, I purchased a CX-5 in part because I liked the simplicity of its six-speed automatic and non-turbo, no-lag engine that never needs premium fuel, which is a deal breaker for this cheap skate.

Gas mileage, surprisingly, is actually down a tick. With the same engine and all-wheel-drive, the 2017 CX-5 is EPA-rated at 23 mpg city, 29 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined. My 2015 model numbers are 26/30/26. In real world driving both cars hit the 26 mpg average. For more fuel economy and torque, there is a 2.2-liter turbo-diesel engine coming this fall.

In addition to all the style and performance enhancements mentioned, I also lust after the multitude of comfort, entertainment and safety features loaded into my tested Grand Touring. I mean, damn, who wouldn’t like to have a heated steering wheel and seats, a 10-speaker Bose audio system, power moonroof, power liftgate, auto-dim rear view mirror and navigation (though my little $100 Garmin GPS works just fine).

My 2015 model has a rearview camera and blind spot monitoring, but, with the exception of adaptive cruise control, which I haven’t cottoned to, I would love to have all the additional new safety systems offered in the new CX-5. They include lane-departure-warning and lane-keeping-assist systems, rear cross traffic alert and low speed automatic braking, which I was able to put to the test in an emergency stop situation. 

There is much more I could talk about, but here’s where we get to the nitty-gritty – price.

The CX-5 comes in four different trim levels -- Sport, Touring, Grand Select, and Grand Touring – ranging in price from $24,045 (FWD) to $30, 695 AWD. The tested Grand Touring AWD stickered at $34,085, including and a $1,830 “premium package, handling charge and other minor options.

My 2015 CX-5 Touring carried a total sticker of $27,420, but friends at Mazda helped get me a much better deal. Already I have gotten emails from the dealer that I could get in a new CX-5 without upping my monthly payment. No mention on how many more months of payment.

So, no, even though I really love the new CX-5 and considered it at the top of a highly competitive compact crossovers class, I’ve fought off the temptation Devil and will continue to love the one I’m with.

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