Since its 2012 debut, the Mazda CX-5 has been praised widely and consistently for its inspiring steering and confident handling, peppy and efficient four-cylinder engine, engaging exterior, and handsome interior designs. Even at the end of its first generation, the Mazda CX-5 continued to win comparisons like our recent Big Test of 2016–2017 small crossovers. Three easy-to-navigate trim levels and short options lists have made buying decisions simple, so it’s no wonder it has surpassed the Mazda3 as the company’s best-seller at just over 112,000 units. For 2017, this excellence remains, yet myriad changes further improve the redesigned CX-5.
WORK SMARTER, NOT HARDER
Being a relatively modest-sized automaker compared to its competitors, Mazda’s way is to analyze every component and system in the vehicle, find a way to improve its performance, efficiency, or appearance, and then engineer parts and methods to achieve its goals. One would think such a strategy would be pervasive in the auto industry, but it’s not—at least not on the granular (one might say obsessive) level that exists within Mazda.
You want examples? Piston ring edges now have differing radii for oil-sweeping (down-) and smearing (up-) strokes. All displays have matching fonts. The door pulls’ contours better fit the profile of human fingers, rather than penguin flippers. Then there are the dozen-plus measures taken to ensure the quite noticeable reduction in interior noise levels: revisions to the floor pan, wipers tucked below the hoodline, a thicker windshield, recontoured (and thinner) A-pillars, acoustic front side glass, multitudes of additional door and window seals, a new headliner, carpeted sound-reflective surfaces in the cargo area, and a felt-lined aero under-tray. All this without cheating with active noise cancelation from the audio speakers. These are among the subtle, luxurious details that add up to a crossover punching well above its weight class.
For the 2017 CX-5, Mazda focused on four main areas: improving throttle response and linearity, reducing noise, vibration, and harshness, improving ride comfort, and maintaining its class-leading steering and handling. While they were at it, Mazda redesigned the already-classy exterior and interior to portray a more premium compact crossover, further distinguishing it among its many rivals. Did they succeed? Yes, on all counts.
SCALE & AESTHETIC
The still-evocative Kodo-themed exterior has matured in a restrained manner. It works. There’s a minimalist cohesiveness that doesn’t look like a motif painted onto a crossover’s two-box canvas. The larger, vertical grille floats atop standard LED headlamp assemblies, and these elements portray a face with more depth, sophistication, and presence. Mazda went to great lengths to ensure that the widening spear shape along the flanks from the beltline downward reflects light with subtle sculpting. Similarly, at the rear, taillights narrow, and attention was paid to simplifying the bumper and hatch.
You’d need micrometers to verify it, but the CX-5’s silhouette grows slightly in length (0.4 inch) and width (0.1 inch). Its roof is 0.4 inch lower. In terms of its footprint, wheelbase shrinks 0.1 inch, but the track width increases by almost 0.4 inch up front and 0.3 inch in the rear. The CX-5’s interior dimensions shrink by fractions of an inch, but rear-seat legroom grows 0.3 inch, and a feeling of roominess comes from seat backs that now recline from 24 to 28 degrees (rather than a fixed 22 degrees) for more comfort.
Flat-box shoppers will be pleased to learn that the cargo bay no longer has a slight step when the rear seats are folded forward, but the consequence is a slightly raised floor (2.2 inches) that reduces overall volume by 3.2 or 5.2 cubic feet with rear seats up or folded, respectively. Total measurements are still competitive at 30.9 cubic feet nominal and 59.6 cubic feet maximum. The rear hatch now has the option of power assist and programmable height.
Particularly in the Grand Touring trim with two-tone treatment, the revamped interior has an upscale design that evokes Audi’s clinical modernism. Although much of the switchgear is carryover, the new look emphasizes symmetry, simplicity, and intuitive operation. Visually, the dashboard looks less monolithic, and the pad is now sculpted and stitched. The standard 7.0-inch full-color touchscreen display is now freestanding like those in a Mercedes-Benz.
The optional GT Premium package we drove featured perforated leather seats, heated front and rear, with French double stitching plus an eight-way power driver’s seat with power lumbar support. This $1,830 package also includes a color head-up display (HUD) with traffic sign recognition, a driver’s memory seat that includes the HUD angle, a power front passenger’s seat, a heated steering wheel, and a windshield wiper deicer. If Mazda interior designers were aiming for a mainstream, premium vibe, they succeeded.
TRIM & EQUIPMENT
All 2017 CX-5s are powered by a revised 187-hp, 185-lb-ft 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine routed through a recalibrated six-speed automatic transmission. (Sport MT with its 2.0-liter engine went away.) There are still three trim packages: the base Sport starts at $24,985 with front drive, $26,285 with all-wheel drive. To either of these add $1,870 for the Touring package or $5,350 for the Grand Touring gear. All CX-5s feature Mazda’s engine-torque-regulated G-Vectoring, which effectively tidies up cornering behavior, seemingly with telepathy and without using the brakes.
Fuel economy remains effectively the same for the all-wheel-drive variant at 23/29/26 mpg city/highway/combined but dips to 24/31/27 in front-drive models. Standard equipment includes 17-inch alloy wheels, remote entry, push-button ignition, LED headlights, body-color power side mirrors, a roof spoiler, and variable-intermittent wipers. Inside, the intuitive infotainment system features HD radio and two USB ports. A CD player didn’t make the cut this year, and disappointingly neither Apple CarPlay nor Android Auto are available. Mazda assured us the latter feature could be a mere software update away should customers demand it. Consider us demanding it. Also, a new 4.6-inch color multipage display joins the speedometer and tachometer in the instrument panel. Six airbags, a rearview camera, and a low-speed automatic braking system round out standard safety features.
The touring trim adds self-leveling headlamps, rear HVAC vents, two rear USB ports (2A), and privacy glass. Seating surfaces change from cloth to leatherette with faux suede, the HVAC system from manual to dual-zone automatic, and remote entry to keyless. Safety gear expands to include blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
Nearly half of CX-5 shoppers end up going for the mainstream, premium vibe. As such, the Grand Touring trim further adds 19-inch wheels, curve-following automatic headlamps, LED foglights and taillights, heated/auto-dimming mirrors, automatic wipers, a power rear hatch, leather seating, a sunroof, an improved 10-speaker Bose audio system with satellite radio, and navigation. The safety net expands to radar-based adaptive cruise control with full stop-start capability, lane departure warning/assist, and automatic high-beams.
SO DRIVE ALREADY!
In the past generation’s tests, we raved about the CX-5’s class-leading confident handling, intuitive driveline response, and competitive acceleration. To be clear, the 2017 version is even better. The throttle and transmission are quick to react to the driver’s right foot. Mazda has chosen to keep the responsive six-speed transmission for this very reason—other automakers have added cogs and thus suffer triple-gear kickdowns when you squeeze, squeeze, and continue to squeeze the throttle down. Plus, the CX-5 neither jumps to top gear at part throttle nor wavers agonizingly, as do some CVT-equipped competitors. This immediacy is sharpened further with the sport button. Because old-to-new reported curb weights are just 66 pounds different and the engine output rose by only 3 horsepower, we’re going to predict Grand Touring AWD acceleration will be the same, a competitive 7.8-second dash to 60 mph.
Despite re-engineering its dampers to have less friction, thus resulting a more compliant ride, the CX-5 doesn’t float or wallow—ever. Indeed, Mazda kept the CX-5’s trademark confident handling (now with fluid-filled control-arm bushings) and enhanced steering directness (now with a rigid-mounted rack). The steering weight has become a little heavier this time around, but that’s a good thing. It really is a unique quality in this class to offer such an isolated, comfortable ride but retain class-leading handling.
Relentless analysis, tweaking, designing, and testing have improved the 2017 Mazda CX-5 from an already-standout model. In last year’s Big Test, the outgoing Mazda CX-5 was still good enough to win in a field of nine competitors—narrowly edging out a Honda CR-V that was also in the final year of its model cycle. With both the Mazda and Honda redesigned (and further improved) for 2017, it’s going to be a dogfight to determine which is the best compact crossover of the bunch.
|2017 Mazda CX-5|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD/AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||2.5L/187-hp/185-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,550-3,650 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||179.1 x 72.5 x 65.3 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.6-7.8 sec (MT est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||23-24/29-31/26-27 mpg|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||140-147/109-116 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.73-0.76 lb/mile|