Is there anything that a huge lump of horsepower cannot solve?! The 2019 Mazda CX-5 went from a top-5 crossover in our books to the best of the best. All thanks to a generous dollop of turbo horsepower – and especially torque!
Mazda’s goal for 2019 is to keep the CX-5 sales party going at full steam. They are achieving this via not one but two new engine options in addition to the base 2.5-liter with 187 horsepower.
There is a 2.2-liter turbodiesel offered in the USA for the first time and then this all-new turbo gas powerplant we so adore.
Two new top-line trim levels for 2019 bring the 2.5T motor as standard but the rest of the updates to this car are pretty subtle since it had a major redesign for the 2017 model year.
The crossover business is ruthlessly competitive, however. Is the CX-5 still on top of the world with this new powertrain, even among those people who don’t grin uncontrollably when the boost peaks?
The new RAV4 and CR-V are if anything even more fierce rivals than they were in 2017 so the CX-5 definitely has its work cut out for it to continue being so special and unique in the segment.
Let’s explore why CX-5 checks so many boxes and how this new turbo takes a great package and makes it a world-beater.
The speedy performance drive review video is a great place to start.
The exterior is the subtlest part of the 2019 refresh and introduction of the Grand Touring Reserve and Signature flagship trims. All trims wear new alloy wheels and these top models bump the size of the alloys up to 19s. This is a detail tweak for sure but helps the road-holding more than you might expect and also the style/stance of CX-5.
Huge wheels help eliminate some of the slightly-awkward angles that are hard for any crossover to ace.
A small “S-g” emblem below the CX-5 badge on the trunk is the only other tell-take sign that this is the turbo with 250HP.
This makes this new turbo CX-5 a true Q-car that no one expects to be this fast. It was extra hilarious to drive the CX-5 around town with foot on the floor because it definitely shocked a few other drivers. How? We smoked a 2000s Ford Mustang off the line and up to about 60-mph despite the big V8 shouting furiously as it tried to keep up. Hilarious.
The exterior is where a few wish list elements come into play. The first is for more visual punch for the turbo model. It would be incredible if the gloss-black grille from the new Mazda3 hatchback were available on the CX-5 Turbo. This detail tweak completely changes the nose design of the Mazda3 and would work wonders here on CX-5 too.
The other nit-picky thing is related to the LED lighting. Unlike the CX-5 and the Mazda6 sedan, the CX-5 cannot cruise around with just its DRLs lit up. Whenever CX-5 is moving, it has the LED low-beams engaged at about 80% brightness. There are some magic codes you can use to reprogram the CX-5 to enable you to disable the DRLs, but it is not clear that this would achieve the just-LED-accent lighting look we’re after. For clarity, the above look to the LEDs is not possible to use while driving, but is available while parked.
These are really detail elements though. Overall the design is a 9/10 for curb appeal and has lasting elegance in its proportions and details. Absolutely love how it looks in white!
Just a handful of interior tweaks for 2019 inside the CX-5. First the broad changes that help all CX-5 trims: Mazda has just leapfrogged a few of its bigger rivals with the addition of CarPlay and Android Auto on most trim levels of all their models for 2019. You can even get it retrofitted to 2017 and 2018 models equipped with nav!
Much has been written about the Mazda knob controller for infotainment, and there are some irritating quirks. Until you plug in your phone! Here the knob control is genius and much, much easier to use than touchscreens for CarPlay. It is surprising how much easier it is to twist and jump the cursor around from clickable spots versus trying to tap fairly small icons and boxes on a touchscreen. (We’re comparing it directly with the CarPlay in the Camry, btw.)
So the fact that CarPlay and Android Auto are here is amazing. But that the existing control setup makes them even easier to use? Double bonus.
For the GT Reserve and Signature flagship trims, things improve even further for 2019 with cooled seats, new leather options, layered genuine wood accents, silver metal details and button accents and a few other tweaks. They do a good job of helping CX-5 still feel like it is just a few clicks classier than RAV4 or CR-V and get close to the Audi Q3 and Q5 in tactile quality. All good, right? Yes, until you get in car on hot day and roll windows down as second nature. Beware: the window buttons now get VERY, Very hot in the sun.
Driving position and seat support is still outstanding in CX-5. The overall drive is still near-premium in every way. You can slightly sense the age of the platform in a few areas, though. The moonroof is just a small little one versus a panoramic glass roof. Not a big deal but even the Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross is rocking a huge all-glass roof on its top trims.
The only other area is specific to the Turbo model. And this is only an observation versus a real complaint. The sound insulation is overwhelmed by the new turbo motor. This goes from being one of the quietest crossovers on the market to one of the loudest when you choose this engine.
Granted, we absolutely loved the rorty and shorty growl. It honestly sounds like a boxer engine or something from the Subaru WRX lineup – in all the best ways.
But yes it does growl quite vocally from a stop in a way that the base motor does not.
Already regret griping about the engine noise change. It is impossible not to fall head over heels in love with this new motor in every other way. It makes CX-5 into a real rocketship versus nearly all rivals. Sprint pace to 60-mph drops from the high 8’s to the low 6’s. A full 2.5-seconds quicker. Very, very noticeable and always serious fun.
The Mazda turbo four makes 227HP on regular gas or 250 on 91 or higher (premium) gas. You can bet we filled it with premium to feel the sheer face-melting power!
Just kidding, this is no Trackhawk or Levante Trofeo. But it is quick and it is so much fun with this extra power. Most noticeably off the line but CX-5 Turbo also has tons of passing performance that was totally absent before.
The steering, handling and road feel were already to excellent that this new Turbo just feels like a godsend for correcting the previous power deficit. It makes the CX-5 more fun than most current WRXs – and we even compared its friskiness to the Focus RS on the video above. High praise.
Mazda used their traditional overengineering and cleverness to make their 2.5T motor extra special. They did this by pulling in cool air to cylinders on heavy throttle. In this instance many other turbos will keep engine temps under control by dumping in extra gasoline to cool things off. Mazda’s cool-air solution is very smart and makes a noticeablke difference in reducing lag. The CX-5 turbo has nearly no lag at any time and it has tons of in-gear power too. The promise of this tech is lag reduction but also better real-world fuel economy.
Fuel economy is at the very bottom of my cares list when car shopping, but if it is high up for you, then the diesel or base engine might be a better fit. This new 2.5T from Mazda dings the fuel economy ratings by about 2-mpg on all counts – and CR-V does noticeably better at highway speeds. CX-5 Turbo will struggle to crest 30-mpg, for example.
This also relates to the transmission. The sport-tuned, torque-converter autobox is much less frugal than dull, droning CVT automatics. But it also has frisky kickdown and a pretty entertaining sport mode. Lack of shift paddles irked me slightly on performance drives when a few downshifts or upshifts on twisty roads would be nice to have at your fingertips. As it is, the Sport mode basically stays in a lower gear or two than it otherwise would. You will probably wish it would upshift once it senses you being calmer on throttle… but it does not.
Overall performance is a 10/10 in our book despite these gripes. It is fast, balanced and genuinely fun.
The 2.5T is standard with AWD and comes as the default motor in the $34k+ GT Reserve and $36k Signature test model. The price bump is about $1600 versus the base engine and is money well spent. The Signature tester had a few options that brought its as-tested price to $39k with delivery.
We love the CX-5 Turbo for many reasons. But the Turbo engine takes a good car and makes it great. Imagine going from an Impreza to a WRX STi. That is the increase in speed and grins available to CX-5 buyers.
And even without a racy bodykit or the gloss-black grille, the CX-5 Turbo is a standout in the segment. A segment full of best-sellers that are all awful to drive fast, by the way.
CX-5 is the opposite. It is fun, fast, upscale and frisky like no other compact crossover available. Just expect some shocked faces as you fly by slower traffic in your grown-up rally rocket!
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.