I was not present when Mazda launched its then-new CX-5 compact crossover at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the 2013 model year. In fact, it’s taken until now to get behind the wheel of one to see what all the fuss is about. And while I’m not able to comment of this little ute’s track worthiness (or unworthiness), it’s not something I would have contemplated before (or after) my week-long test. That said, the Soul Mica Red 2016 CX-5 GT AWD you see here did impress in its main role as a no-nonsense daily driver.
It has the look and stance of a jacked-up Mazda3, which I like, and a 2.5L Skyactiv four-cylinder that makes a respectable 184 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque, which I also like. Mazda rates fuel economy at 9.8 L/100 km in the city and 7.9 highway, and I managed 9.3 L/100 km after 300 kilometres of combined real-world driving. I like that too.
Driving dynamics and overall feel is also good, but the thing I like most about this vehicle is that it doesn’t come with a continuously variable transmission or a dual-clutch DSG like so many of its competitors do now. Instead, Mazda has chosen to stick with the traditional six-speed automatic and manual trannies, and have redesigned units that are more to their liking – ours too – with quick shifts at speed and smooth low-speed operation.
The manual is only available on the FWD models (GS and GX), which get a 2.0L four making 155 hp and 150 torque. You can, however, can get this engine in the AWD models (standard on the GT, optional on GS and GX), if you’re not power hungry. For me, the bigger, more powerful choice is the right one.
The more I look at the CX-5, the more I like its size and shape, and that is typical of Mazda’s current Kodo design language, what with its dynamic, expressive lines that convey motion, balance and allure? The 2016 model boasts updates to the front bumper and grille, and a host of new LED lighting upgrades (adaptive headlights, fog and taillights) that are now standard on the GT increase both visibility and style.
Inside, the black leather upholstery and intuitive touch points make it feel like you’re driving or riding along in a vehicle that’s a class above. It isn’t whisper quiet inside, but the ambiance is warm and inviting. There are no paddle shifters for performance junkies like me, but you can take off the traction controls and use the tiptronic auto stick to hold gears for longer. Steering is pretty solid, with good feedback and tiny dead zones. The fully-independent suspension is solid, too. Body roll is minimal, and the all-wheel drive system provides good wet and dry traction.
The multimedia/infotainment system is easy to use and, unlike in the Mazda3, the seven-inch colour touchscreen display is more integrated into the dash, which I prefer. Like the company’s flagship compact, however, the system can be interfaced with via a rotary-style knob and buttons on the centre console. And that is also preferable.
The Mazda CX-5 competes in a hotly-contested segment against the likes of the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Nissan Rogue, Hyundai Santa Fe, Subaru XV Outback to name a few, and it pulls no punches with any of them. It won’t to be mistaken for a high-performance Mazdaspeed product (the 2016 CX-5 GT doesn’t pretend to be), but its ride is composed and confidence-inspiring with just enough sportiness to appease the average driver. It’s also got a pretty functional 966-litre cargo space that almost doubles (increases to 1,852 litres) when the 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats make way for more of your stuff.