The Mazda CX-5 has been a favorite of auto writers since it was first introduced in 2011. The compact crossover combined sharp styling, crisp handling, high quality interior materials and decent mileage in an affordable small SUV that was sportier and more refined than its rivals.
But time doesn't stand still and, six years later, the completely-redesigned 2107 CX-5 is facing stiffer competition. The bread-and-butter Honda CV-R is now aggressively styled. A new hybrid version of the Nissan Rogue boosts its mileage. The formerly basic Kia Sportage offers a hot turbo engine. And the all-new Jeep Compass can be outfitted for serious off-road driving.
Mazda has responded by improving all of the features that made the CX-5 stand out in the first place. The exterior has been punched up with a larger grill and narrower headlights and tail lights. The interior looks more upscale with chrome-accented air ducts and a better-integrated 7-inch touch screen. And additional sound insulation reduces noise and makes it seem even more refined.
Company engineers also addressed the few small complaints. The rear seats now fold completely flat and the rear hatch can be opened automatically on the top trim levels.
As a result, the 2017 Mazda CX-5 is still fun but feels more grown up. Perhaps that explains why the company changed the slogan on the license plate frame from Zoom-Zoom to Driving Matters. The emphasis is still on driving, but now it's about more than being a boy racer.
Despite the other changes, Mazda offers only one engine in the CX-5 — a normally aspirated 2.5-liter inline four cylinder. It employs Mazda's SKYACTIV technology to reduce weight and get all the components to work together as best as possible. But, although well balanced between economy and performance, the engine is not as thrifty or powerful as the turbocharged 1.5-liter inline four in the CR-V. Mazda is planning to counter with a turbodiesel engine, if it can get certified.
In the meantime, the six-speed automatic transmission in the CX-5 is among the best available in any compact crossover. It is a true automatic — not a Continuously Variable Transmission — and has a Sport mode that holds it in gear longer for increased acceleration.
The new CX-5 also offers G-Vectoring, an advanced form of weight transfer on the road that improves handling and ride quality.
The 2017 CX-5 is available in three trim levels. Sport comes with such features as 17-inch wheels, LED headlights, cloth upholstery, a four-speaker sound system, Bluetooth and two USB ports. Touring adds popular comfort and safety items, such as keyless entry and ignition, simulated leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. Two option packages are also available. Grand Touring is the most luxurious, with 19-inch wheels, leather upholstery, a power liftgate, a Bose audio system and even more safety features.
Competition in the affordable compact crossover SUV market will undoubtedly heat up in years to come. The combination of increased ride height, generous interior and cargo space, decent mileage and available all-wheel-drive has hit the sweet spot for many consumers. Mazda has redesigned the CX-5 enough to keep it in the top ranks for now, the next one may need to be more radical.
2017 Mazda CX-5
Base price: $24,052
Price as tested: $33,785
Type: Compact crossover SUV
Engine: 2.5-liter inline 4 (187 hp, 185 lbs-ft)
Transmission: 6-speed automatic with Sport mode
EPA estimated mileage: 23/29
Overall length: 179.1 inches
Curb weight: 3,655 pounds
Final assembly: Hiroshima, Japan