We absolutely loved the new Mazda CX-9 and even chose it as our vehicle of the year for 2016. The sporty handling and strong power from the 2.5T engine were enough to push it ahead of the competition. But the smaller Mazda CX-3 was a bit too compact for our taste, with less room than most compact sedans. Enter the 2018 Mazda CX-5. The CX-5 is Mazda’s best selling vehicle and an extremely important vehicle to be updated, especially with the flood of new crossovers in the market. We borrowed a 2018 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD for a week to see if it has enough to keep leading the charge for the Mazda family.
This new generation of Mazda CX-5 brings a much-anticipated external update to match the CX-9’s styling cues. Thus, the large grille stretches into the headlights and creates a rather sporty, fittingly “zoom-zoom” face. Mazda doesn’t offer much in terms for various paint colors — with the typical red, blue, white, and black gray — but the Soul Red paint on our CX-5 is so deep that you could almost drown in it, with dynamic tones of red depending on the lighting. The CX-5 was always one of the more aggressive-looking SUVs in the segment and this refresh maintains sings the same tune. A quick stroll around the outside reveals that this Mazda simply doesn’t have a bad angle. Something that the CX-9 cannot boast due to its “unique” grille.
Moving inside, the Parchment leather seats and contrasting black trim and carpeting is simple, yet stunning. The aluminum door handles and accents, combined with the faux-wood trim, combine to further create a modern and handsome cabin. Seating is comfortable and roomy for both front and rear passengers. The typical Mazda “infotainment” center makes an appearance and remains one of the worst qualities of any new Mazda vehicle. It simply has no place in a newer car and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto cannot come soon enough. Although, the audio controls on the center stack, near the shifter, are extremely useful and much easier to reach than controls up near the screen in other cars.
On the road, the Mazda driving characteristics are instantly recognizable. The steering feel is weighted perfectly and the CX-5 handles better than any SUV in its price range. At $32k, our Grand Touring model was at the top of the range. Features like heated seats were very welcome, but we found the letterbox of a sunroof to be a bit disappointing. Budget crossovers like the new Kia Sportage offer a nice panoramic sunroof and Mazda could really benefit from an upgrade here. The 2.5L 4-cylinder motor offers 187-horsepower and 186lb-ft of torque. These numbers may sound rather reasonable but when channeled through the Mazda’s AWD system, the car is incredibly slow. Our tester didn’t reach 60MPH from a stand-still until just beyond 9 seconds. All of the speed and driving excitement we found in the CX-9 is completely gone.
Tragically, the Mazda CX-5 is nearly perfect in every other way. Complaints about the sunroof and audio system are small when the fit, finish, and handling are well beyond other competitors. The lack of power is simply surprising when compared to the latest Mazda offerings. However, it seems like Mazda is planning the fantastic 2.5 turbo motor from the CX-9 and further improved handling characteristics as options in 2019. This should be a night-and-day difference and combine to create the ultimate sporty crossover that the CX-5 was meant to be all along.