The compact crossover segment has a ‘masculinity gap.’ There are more than a dozen of these cute utes on the market, but none of them really looks or drives manly. Yes, the Audi Q3 and Honda CR-V are good cars.
But do they increase or decrease their driver’s sex appeal?
Among the dudes of the world coming up from econoboxes and blah mid-size sedans, CUVs are theoretically perfect machines. A bit of all-weather ability here, a dash of extra practicality there.
Like it or not, people buy cars based on strange psychology. Men and women are usually both fine with ‘macho’ cars, but men tend to avoid overtly feminine cars. Nothing sexist about this characterization, hopefully. Just about confidence, really, with masculinity used as a shorthand.
To fill this man gap, Mazda has designed one of the coolest crossovers out there – and engineered it to be dude-approved as well. This means it handles corners well and never gives up with a puff of tire squeal like most RAV4s when pushing hard.
This CX-5 review is a love-fest, mostly, but does have a few places where it is less than class-best.
We have a performance drive video, a few dozen photos and section headings of Exterior, Interior, Performance and Pricing to find out if CX-5 is really the king of CUVs. Or at least a Prince!?
HD Drive Review Video
It’s weird to be this “into” a compact crossover’s exterior design, isn’t it? Really trying to dial back my passion for Mazda’s looks at the moment to have a bit of objectivity here.
Sure, this new 2017 CX-5 design is more all-new than a normal facelift: only the roof intact versus the previous model. And holy cow have they done nice things with the nose and tail.
Up front, the first notable element is CX-5’s sharpness. The sharp leading edge of the hood is drawn forward and made more horizontal than before. This makes its hood edge a bit shark-like and evokes some great sports cars of the past. No messy mix of hood metal and bumper plastic – the grille’s upper edge is this same hood piece.
The grille itself goes completely vertical and ditches the rounded, soft bottlenose of the previous CX-5 – and most other crossovers. Ultra slimline headlights with LED DRLs and LED low/highbeams draw the eye horizontally and into the tight front quarter panels.
Not done with the flash in front, though: LED dot projectors as foglights are a nice, and functional, touch for the CX-5’s chiseled face. No doubts on CX-5’s testosterone from any front angle.
Moving into profile, the CX-5 gets slightly friendlier and more approachable. The largest-available 19-inch alloys are on-trend with gloss black innards and polished spoke details. These tires and wheels somehow look slightly small in the wheel wells, and the wheel design itself is not a favorite of mine. But overall the big-ish wheels keep the CX-5 looking premium and even vaguely rear-drive.
A tight upper body wastes no space but also stays practical with a tall roof and chopped rear overhang. The door surfacing extends some of the muscularity of the hoodline and front fenders into the bodysides in a clean and elegant way.
Around back, more shrink-wrapped design aesthetic means the CX-5’s hatch, rear glass and bumper all seem clean and pure. Just simple, clean and cool. Another extremely compact set of slimline LED lamps mirrors the look up front – with a halo circle around the turn signal instead of the projector beam as in front.
In colors other than red, this design really seems quite futuristic from all sides. Especially so from the tail. Clean, premium, classy and furutistic.
Our only gripe besides the wheels comes from up front. The double slice of white LED accent light is not actually a DRL. CX-5 runs with its LED low-beams engaged at all times. Not a big deal but misses out on those DRL-only grey days where RAV4 SE or new CR-V LED DRLs really looks gorgeous.
We give the CX-5 a solid A on exterior design.
Cabin of CX-5 is a mixed bag. There is much to love in its updates for 2017. Notably, CX-5 is now one of the quietest SUVs on the market. Wind and tire noise are nearly completely absent – even on the highway. You do hear the engine when pushing it hard, but still less so than you would in its rivals like Jeep Renegade.
The Grand Touring Premium also scores a new heads-up display projection right onto the windshield. Traffic sign recognition is cool and one of the many content choices for the HUD system.
Leather wraps for the edge of the unusually-wide center console edges are great for splayed knee comfort on road trips. Same for the compact and feature-packed sport steering wheel that comes standard on all CX-5s. A Sport drive mode helps squeeze a bit more enthusiasm from Mazda’s SkyActiv four-cylinder, too, as standard on all trims.
In the back seats, there are now twin USB chargers in the armest of the GT premium, heated rear seats and dedicated rear airvents as new details for 2017.
CX-5 is a complete package that is thoughtful in all areas, decently roomy and very practical. Love the trunk-mounted fold controls for the back seats.
Is there a “but” coming? Yes, there is.
Driving CX-5 for a few days brought two issues to the surface. The first is the seating position. Like the CX-9 above it, the CX-5 has great seats that are comfy and supportive. But just as in the CX-9, the CX-5’s seats are always quite high off the floor. This is nice for shorter drivers and comfy on the knees for all. But for all Mazda’s sporting credentials… sitting so high up with no ability to go lower is a buzzkill. It should be said that almost all CUVs suffer from this trait. The CX-5 makes it quite pronounced and noticeable, however, especially from the tall-perch passenger seat that lacks any height adjustment at all.
Next is probably one you have read or heard before. Mazda’s infotainment system aims to be ultra simple with knob and button based controls instead of all touchscreen. The problem is that simple stuff, like radio presets or map zoom levels, are not easy. After more time there is logic to the system. But this is a weak spot versus rivals. Lacking (we believe) Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is also a competitive weakness in CX-5. We’d give CX-5 cabin a B grade.
We know Mazda loves to make normal cars sporty, and therefore has one of the best-handling lineups on the market. That definitely holds true for the CX-5. This year, CX-5 adds the G-Vectoring Control from the Mazda6 sedan to help plant the car better around corners. A momentary – and imperceptible – change in the engine power on corner entry rebalances the machine to eliminate understeer. Mostly.
It definitely works to make CX-5 more fun than most CUVs around corners. But CX-5 is no sports car, with low levels of overall grip and a pretty shrill engine note.
The engine and transmission are carryover and are class-competitive in speed and efficiency. This 2.5-liter is smooth as butter in normal traffic but seems to almost discourage high revs. It’s never thrashy.. but also never seems like it enjoys its redline, either.
Overall power felt pretty weak for a sport minded driver, particularly versus the VW Golf Alltrack’s 1.8T the other week.
We soft-roaded the CX-5!
Certainly something the car should be able to handle, even if few CUVs actually encounter dirt. The loose surface was a good proxy for snow or ice, however.
In this scenario, Mazda’s AWD system – with no modes or buttons to control it – did the job but also always sent most of its power to the front wheels. Mazda says that turning off TCS automatically makes the torque split front/rear more equal. But if more than 20-percent of power is going to the back, I’ll eat my hat.
The AWD is just keen enough to make it worthwhile around corners. For those who never have snow, however, the AWD is not worthwhile. Front-drive CX-5s are simply quicker – but a noticeable half second or so.
CX-5 starts from around $25k and is instantly one of the coolest, classiest and most sophsitciated vehicles available at that price. Our GT AWD stickered at about $31,500 before the Premium pack – to reach a grand total of $34,060.
Did we love CX-5? We really wanted to.
The design is certainly exciting to these eyes. The drive is far more rewarding than any CR-V or RAV4, too. But CX-5 likes to drive at a calmer pace (read: slower) pace than we’d like. The handling is indeed stellar at all times. Getting the 2.5-liter engine to play along and join the fun might make this CX-5 into the best CUV out there. As it is, it is still top two in our book – right behind the new Hyundai Tucson 1.6T DCT.
CX-5 is definitely worth a drive for all. It’s design and driving skills make it a great, sporting alternative to the usual army of Ford Escapes and baby Jeeps out there.
Tom Burkart is the founder and managing editor of Car-Revs-Daily.com, an innovative and rapidly-expanding automotive news magazine.
He holds a Journalism JBA degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Tom currently resides in Charleston, South Carolina with his two amazing dogs, Drake and Tank.
Mr. Burkart is available for all questions and concerns by email Tom(at)car-revs-daily.com.