There are certain brands that we’re always excited to test, and Mazda is one of them. Lately many of our test vehicles from the carmaker including the – CX-30, CX-50 – have had the powerful 2.5-liter, turbo engine.
So many, that we kind of forgot about the nice, non-turbo engines that are in the more affordable models. So, we jumped at the chance test a Mazda CX-5 with the normally aspirated engine, and we were shocked! Stay tuned.
Well, no matter which CX-5 model you like, you’re going to get a work of art.
Mazda talks about its “Kodo” design philosophy, and we like the subtle sophistication that feels very European. Up front there’s a prominent grille that manages to avoid the monstrous look you find in the latest BMW and Lexus models. The lower signature front signature wing is blacked out for extra badness. Sleek rectangular LED headlights give an aggressive looking frown, but the lack of bling makes for a tasteful start.
The profile will be familiar to any who have seen a CX-5, with a sporty swept-back windshield, muscular fender blisters with blacked out fender trim, and a scooped-out line below the doors. Giving our Carbon Edition some added oomph were meaty black 19-inch alloy wheels and rear privacy glass.
The rear echoes the front’s simple lines, with rectangular LED taillights that warp around, a scooped-in rear hatch panel, spoiler on top, and dual round tailpipes poking out from the rear fascia. We really loved our Carbon Edition’s Polymetal Gray Metallic, a gray-green that shimmers in the right light and looks like a million bucks.
Filled it with Premium
One of the great joys of Mazda interiors are the level-above design and quality of materials.
Open the door, and one of the first things you’ll notice are the rich red leather seats that are part of the Carbon Edition, and not only do they pop, but they add interest to Mazda’s otherwise reserved interior.
Reserved doesn’t mean boring – there’s a horizontal dash that creates a sense of width, and all the plastics have nice graining and a softness that feel expensive to the touch. Along with the leather-wrapped seats, there’s a nice fat leather-wrapped steering wheel and perfectly placed shift lever. It may be a crossover, but the “Zoom-Zoom” company knows a thing about creating an environment that feels driver focused!
One thing you’ll be focusing on is the gauge package. Unlike the Turbo models that have a digital speedo display in the middle of the cluster, our tester was analog through and through, but with a nicely sized 8,000 rpm tach, 160-mph speedo and useful combo gauge it’s handsome, legible and sporty. No complaints, then.
Info-tainment is handled by a 10.25-inch display that sits big and beautiful on top of the center dashboard. You’ve got all the goods like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus Mazda Connected Services and in-car Wi-Fi hot spot.
Like Audi, you access the goods through a large, center rotary controller with a smaller volume knob next to it. It works very well, but to be honest, that big screen is nice and close to the driver, and we often found ourselves trying to use it as a touchscreen, but no dice. You get used to it, but we’d love it more as touchscreen.
Otherwise, there’s plenty to love, especially since our Carbon Edition gives you the full luxe treatment, with pushbutton ignition, power heated front seats for both driver and passenger – a power passenger seat is a rarity in most lower cost vehicles – a power sunroof and more. Rear seats are comfy for adults, and the rear cargo space is useful, and folding rear seats give added space.
The CX-5 seems a little smaller than the competition in cargo carrying sweepstakes, so if this is of major importance, take some measurements. One place you’ll see the cost savings is in the manual rear hatch – no power opener here. Being part of a delete rebate, you might see that power hatch come back at some point. In any case, it’s not very heavy, so not a problem to be honest.
The Mazda Difference
Well, yeah, there are a lot of small SUVs out there, but the thing that really sways us is the excellent driving dynamics Mazda brings to the game.
And under the hood was our biggest surprise. Lately Mazda has been spreading the joy by giving us press vehicles with the powerful 2.5-liter, turbo motor that kicks out an impressive 250 horsepower, and a stout 320 lb.-ft of torque. It’s tuned for refinement and makes the CX-5 swift and smooth. But we always felt it lost some of the fizzy fun with that added power.
Well, our tester was equipped with the non-turbo SkyactiveG 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, and while it serves up a lesser 187 hp and 186 torques, surprise! We like it better. This is a wonderful engine with a throaty burble, rev-happy manners, and a hard pull to the redline. The 6-speed auto keeps things on the boil, and this is a joy to raaaaaaap, raaaaaap through the gears.
Objectively the turbo is faster, but subjectively, our tester felt more responsive, zingy and it just made you smile and want to drive enthusiastically. You’ll even eke out a little bit better mpg – expect 30 or so on the highway – and stepping into a Turbo CX-5 can be as much as $10k more.
The Miata company isn’t going to stop at an exhilarating straight line. The handling is exceptional too, with great precise steering feel, and a perfect blend between smooth ride and responsive handling. The AWD system is great in the slick stuff, and with G-vectoring imparts an added feel of confidence in the day-to-day and twisties as well. Braking is linear, and controllable as well. We were always looking for a reason to go out for a drive in our CX-5. ‘Nuff said!
Like all vehicle that transport families, Mazda makes sure you’re well protected, and our tester included standard Blind Spot Monitoring, Lane Departure and Lane Keep Assist, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Adaptive Cruise Control.
While higher end models have the 360-degree around view style monitor, ours had just the standard rear display, but frankly with that big 10.25-inch screen and excellent outward visibility, we never missed it.
Should I Zoom-Zoom to the Mazda Showroom?
Yes. (OK, we realize that Mazda’s new campaign is “Feel Alive”, but we love “Zoom-Zoom” so there.) You can get into a CX-5 2.5 S for just $26,700 and for the style, the luxe interior, great drive and standard AWD, the bargain lights are going off!
Our Carbon Edition tester is the luxury-without-turbo model, and started at $31,100. Navigation ($450), plus a couple accessories, plus a $600 credit for Bose & Liftgate (maybe the chip shortage?), $1,075 for Destination, and we rang the bell at $32,360.
Competitors would include the all-new Honda CR-V, at $35,260. Sure to be a nice product, but we’ll bet the CX-5 is the better drive. Look for our road test soon.
Probably the closest competitor is the all-new Mazda CX-50 – the slightly, bigger, better model that will probably replace the CX-5 at some point. Comparably equipped at $35,150, you pay more, but you get more. Both have great driving chops – you just have to see which makes sense to you.
Great looks, a luxury interior, a wonderful driving experience (even without turbo!) and exceptional value keeps the 2023 Mazda CX-5 at the top of the class!
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.