In a recent comparison of nine compact crossover SUVs, the Mazda CX-5 worked its way into the top half of the hotly competitive class – largely by virtue of its spirited driving dynamics and impressive fuel economy.
A test drive indicated, though, that several competitors have mastered qualities at which the Mazda earns merely a passing grade: a sense of luxury; user-friendly comfort and versatility; and enticing value for the money.
A loaded 2014 CX-5 Grand Touring, with a sticker price of $31,890, subsequently spent a week with the Cars Examiner to see if those impressions hold up.
By and large, they do.
Some cars are simply fun to drive in whatever condition you end up in. Some feel just right in routine driving but lose their poise near the limits. And others need to be pushed a little before they start to impress.
The CX-5 is in the third camp. There's not much zest to the steering when you're just puttering around town – a pity, considering the typical home of the average compact crossover. That's not to say the car feels lifeless. Not at all, especially not by the standards of the class, even if a few competitors are more fun to drive at low speeds.
But this Mazda comes to life when you're hustling it. It has its limitations, as any somewhat tall and heavy vehicle will. But throw the CX-5 around a tight corner, and the steering tightens up respectably in effort and response, and communicates naturally what the car is doing. And what it's doing is holding the road commendably, and changing directions as needed without fuss and drama.
The tested all-wheel-drive CX-5 also has a lively 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. It delivers smooth, strong acceleration along with excellent fuel economy for the class: EPA ratings of 24 miles per gallon in the city, 30 mpg on the highway and 26 mpg in mixed driving. (Front-wheel-drive is good for 1 mpg more in the city and 2 mpg more on the highway.) This reviewer's weeklong test, with a mix of city, highway and suburban driving, returned an impressive 27.9 miles per gallon.
The 2.5-liter engine is new to the CX-5 for 2014 after it was introduced to the market last year with an adequate but less than zippy 2.0-liter, shared with the Mazda3 economy car. That engine remains in place for the base Sport model, and is offered with either a manual or automatic transmission, but Touring and Grand Touring models give up 2 mpg in EPA testing in exchange for a lot more zip. (A 2013 CX-5 Sport manual returned 30.6 mpg in a weeklong test last year, but this reviewer does not conduct a standardized evaluation.)
The CX-5 is fun to drive, but it doesn't have the smooth, quiet ride you'll find in some competitors. It's a little jittery even on smooth pavement, and doesn't really smother bumps. Ride quality isn't a weak point, but especially with the Grand Touring's large 19-inch wheels, it's not a strength to this Mazda.
Interior design, too, doesn't have the polish you'd find in a more luxury-oriented competitor. Quality is solid, with nice materials and assembly aside from some misaligned trim pieces near driver's right knee on the tested car. But the design is simple rather than flashy, with little about the CX-5 interior calling attention to itself for better or for worse.
Dashboard ergonomics are largely sound, though the 5.8-inch touchscreen for the audio controls and navigation system – despite attractive graphics – reacted slowly to inputs. Furthermore, the Garmin-based nav regularly took a minute to acquire a signal, and the road the driver is traveling on was overlaid with other markings on the map, often rendering both illegible.
The CX-5's front seats have aggressive bolsters worthy of the car's sporting intentions, and they hold the occupants in place well when you go around a corner. The seats are unexceptional otherwise, though, simply feeling hard and flat when you're moving in a straight line. The rear is nicely padded and mounted high – comfortable for two adults but narrow for three.
Cargo volume is class-competitive but unexceptional. The CX-5 does well on its specs, especially for its 34 cubic feet behind the rear seat, but the cargo floor is high and the rear of the car slopes inward for styling reasons that aren't conducive to maximizing interior space. The rear seat folds in a handy and unusual 40-20-40 split, which increases the number of ways you can balance passengers and cargo. The front seats may need to be un-reclined or slid forward to make room for the folding rear seats, but otherwise a tug of a handle within the cargo area is enough to drop them down.
The 2014 CX-5 earned a top five-star score in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash testing, following updates over the four-star 2013. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave it a score of Marginal, the second-lowest of four, in its demanding new small-overlap offset crash test – a score that is, however, competitive in a class where just three crossovers have done better and six failed with the lowest rating of Poor. (Like most of the competition, the CX-5 earned the top Good rating in other IIHS tests.)
The CX-5 Grand Touring also includes a host of safety features that include a blind-spot monitoring system, which glows a light on your outside mirrors when a car is lurking out of view and which beeps if you put on that side's turn signal regardless; and a “smart city brake support” system that can detect an impending low-speed collision and automatically slow or stop the car.
The CX-5 has an enticing $21,195 base price, which undercuts most competitors. However, unless you want a manual transmission, the price advantage wanes to the tune of $1,400. (The CX-5 is a rare crossover choice available for someone who wants to shift their own gears, but the manual is only available in the base front-wheel-drive Sport model.) Standard features include the typical power windows, locks and mirrors, along with 17-inch alloy wheels.
Step up to the $24,615 Touring model for the 2.5-liter engine instead of the base 2.0-liter, along with a power driver's seat, touch-screen radio and Bluetooth connectivity, upgraded cloth upholstery, an upgraded sound system, a three-section folding rear seat (instead of two sections on the Sport), fog lights, a blind-spot monitoring system, and leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter. It can also call 911 in the event of an accident using a paired cellphone. A $1,500 Technology Package buys a navigation system and rain-sensing windshield wipers; for $1,100, another package brings a moonroof and Bose-brand audio system.
The tested model is the line-topping Grand Touring, which starts at $27,620. It adds heated leather seats, automatic climate control, rain-sensing wipers, a moonroof, the Bose audio system, and 19-inch alloy wheels.
All-wheel-drive adds $1,250 to all but the manual-transmission Sport, which doesn't offer the system. It's included on the tested car, which also has the $1,625 technology package (navigation, HID headlights with automatic leveling, the automatic braking system, and a proximity key system; a $200 retractable cargo cover; a $100 rear bumper guard; and a $300 coat of Soul Red paint, for a total of $31,890. Truecar.com estimates that you can't haggle much more than $1,000 off the CX-5's MSRP.
Factor in the lack of discounting, and the CX-5 is about $1,500 dearer than most comparably equipped competitors, with the gap widening compared to the class's value leaders. The CX-5 also doesn't offer such features as a panoramic sunroof or power liftgate, found in a growing number of competitors.
Worth it for some
The 2014 Mazda CX-5 isn't for everyone. If you're looking for a pleasant, comfortable, versatile vehicle, you won't necessarily be disappointed in this Mazda – it's not unpleasant, uncomfortable or impractical. Far from it. But if those are your priorities, you can do better still.
If you are looking, though, for a decently pleasant, comfortable and versatile crossover that has a dose of sport, and you're willing to pay a bit more for it, the CX-5 is the strongest vehicle in its class.
More photos of the 2014 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring
Comparison review: Nine compact crossovers
Review: 2013 Mazda CX-5 Sport
Review: 2013 Mazda3 i Grand Touring
Review: 2014 Mazda6 Grand Touring
Review: 2012 Mazda5 Touring
Review: 2012 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring
Review: 2011 Mazda MX-5 Miata
Vehicle tested: 2014 Mazda CX-5
Vehicle base price (MSRP): $21,195
Version reviewed: Grand Touring AWD
Version base price (MSRP): $28,870
Vehicle price as tested (MSRP): $31,890
Estimated transaction price as tested*: $30,828
Test vehicle provided by: Mazda North America
Length: 178.7 inches
Width: 72.4 inches
Height: 65.7 inches
Wheelbase: 106.3 inches
Weight: 3,532 pounds
Cargo volume behind rear seat: 34.1 cubic feet
Cargo volume with rear seat folded: 65.4 cubic feet
Turning circle: 36.6 feet
Engine (as tested): 2.5-liter I4 with 184 horsepower
Transmission (as tested): 6-speed automatic
EPA city mileage: 24 miles per gallon
EPA highway mileage: 30 miles per gallon
EPA combined mileage: 26 miles per gallon
Observed mileage during test: 27.9 miles per gallon
Assembly location: Japan
For more information: Mazda website
*Estimated transaction prices are based on data from Truecar.com and dealer quotes.