Mazda is one of the few remaining car companies that hasn’t slurped up the EV Kool Aid. It is upping the IC ante in the new CX-5 – which gets a bigger and much stronger optional IC engine for the new model year.
Now you can get it in the smaller/lighter CX-5 – and the result is pretty much the same as it was back ’64, when Pontiac put the engine from a full-size car into a mid-sized car and created the GTO.
The CX-5 isn’t a muscle car, of course. But that doesn’t mean it’s not muscular.
It’s the family car that hauls a family.
What It Is
Prices start at $24,350 for the base Sport trim with a 2.5 liter engine and front-wheel-drive; all-wheel-drive can be added to the mix for $25,750.
A turbocharged version of the 2.5 liter engine is standard in GT Reserve ($34,780) and top-of-the-line Signature trims, both of which also come standard with AWD.
To set it apart from the dozen-plus crossovers in this class, Mazda decided to offer CX-5 buyers an optional engine that’s more powerful than the engines you can get in rivals – especially rivals like the popular but underpowered Nissan Rogue.
Last year, the CX-5 came with just one engine (the 2.5 liter four, no turbo) regardless of trim.
The new, turbocharged 250 hp version of the 2.5 liter engine lops two full seconds off this crossover’s 0-60 sprint.
It also now comes standard with both AppleCarPlay and AndroidAuto.
Acceleration lives up the handling – and the looks.
Uncluttered, Miata-like dashboard and controls.
Almost no MPG penalty for going with newly available 250 hp engine.
What’s Not So Good
250 hp engine only available in pricey GT and Signature trims.
You must use premium gas to get all 250 hp.
Mazda’s infotainment system controls take several steps/inputs to use.
There is a performance option now.
You can stick with the standard 2.5 liter four, which makes a class-competitive 187 horsepower (more horsepower than the Rogue’s standard 2.5 liter, 170 hp engine and its optionally available 2.0 liter hybrid engine, which makes 176 hp) or you can opt for the new turbocharged 2.5 liter engine – which makes 250 horsepower and a mighty 310 ft.lbs. of torque, too.
This is much more power than is offered in other compact crossovers, such as the Honda CR-V (190 horsepower) and Toyota RAV4 (203 hp for the updated 2020 model) and the handful of sporty compact crossovers such as the VW Tiguan (184 hp) and the just-updated Hyundai Sante Fe Sport (235 hp).
The massive horsepower and torque infusion transforms the CX-5 from a good-looking, good-handling crossover to one that also goes good. With the 2.5 liter turbo, it can get to 60 in just over six seconds vs more than eight with the 2.5 liter no-turbo engine.
And that makes it the speediest crossover in its class – with virtually no fuel-efficiency penalty, either. The CX-5 turbo gets 22 city, 27 highway vs. 24 city, 30 highway for the same CX-5 with the 2.5 liter engine.
Two of them, actually. Possibly, three -depending on your view of it.
The first is that to get the full 250 horsepower, you must use high-octane premium unleaded gas; if the engine’s ECU – the electronic brain which controls the engine – detects the cheap stuff, it will dial back the boost and the horsepower, which dips to 227.
That’s still more horsepower, though, than you get in other crossovers – with the exception of the Sante Fe, which isn’t any quicker regardless. And the 227 hp Mazda still easily outruns all the others.
But, you have to buy AWD – it’s a mandatory pairing. The standard 2.5 liter engine is available with – or without AWD. Which means, without the additional cost of AWD, if you don’t need it and prefer to save some money by skipping it.
The third catch is that Mazda doesn’t offer the hunky new engine in anything except the much-more-expensive GT Reserve and top-of-the-line signature trims. It is a mighty $9,030 bump up from the AWD-equipped Sport trim with the 2.5 liter no-turbo engine to the GT Reserve with the turbo 2.5 engine and AWD.
To be fair, you get more than just horsepower and a quicker ride to 60 by going with the GT Reserve and Signature versions of the CX-5. Both are fitted with a bevy of additional amenities and features (details follow) in addition to the amped-up engine.
However, the fact remains that unlike the idea behind the original 1964 GTO – the first muscle car – higher performance now comes with a much higher cost. Usually, this is due to CAFE compliance pressure; higher-powered engines usually use much more gas and so there is a perverse incentive to sell fewer of them – in order to up the CAFE “fleet average” that is the basis for determining compliance with the fatwas. The higher-powered engine is available – to tout the available higher-performance and so sex up the general run.
The idea being more or less the same as having a Corvette in your lineup so as to sell more Malibus.
But it’s a shame that Mazda isn’t offering the 250 hp engine as a stand-alone option for the more affordable Sport, Touring and Grand Touring trims – because it runs counter to Mazda’s tradition of offering really fun-to-drive vehicles at really affordable prices.
Oddly, the CX-5’s max tow rating remans the same: 2,000 lbs – even with the much more powerful 2.5 liter turbo engine.
The CX-5, like all Mazdas, is meant for more than meatsacking. This design emphasis is evident as soon as you close the driver’s door and look in front of you. Gauges – not displays – and they are focused on the engine, not other things.
There is also a six-speed automatic rather than an automatic with eight, nine or ten speeds – the top two or three of those speeds (gears, actually) being overdrive gears designed to cut engine revs as low as possible as soon as possible, for the sake of miles-per-gallon and CAFE fatwa compliance.
The eight-nine-and-ten-speed automatics tend to upshift too soon – and downshift too late. Think about jumping up (or down) a flight of ten stairs as opposed to six.
The CX-5’s automatic is also not a continuously variable (CVT) automatic, another gas-mileage-uber-alles type of automatic. CVTs have infinitely variable ratios rather than gears – which is great for gas mileage because the engine can be kept running at just the right spot in its powerband for given road conditions and loads. But, when you floor a CVT-equipped vehicle, the transmission will let the engine spin to very high RPM and hold it there as long as you hold your foot down. This increases drivetrain noise and makes the drivetrain seem like it’s really working hard, too.
Mazda decided in favor of a traditional six-speed automatic, which doesn’t need to hunt around as much for the right gear – and which doesn’t keep the engine screaming at 5,000-plus RPM when you floor it.
The new engine completes the package, which was always among the most fun-to-drive crossovers in this class – by making it one of the quickest crossovers you can buy, period. To get quicker, you’ll have to move up a price range into BMW X3 territory – and in comparison, the turbo’d Mazda is a bargain. (The otherwise similar 2020 X3 starts at $41,400.)
Nothing but praise for how the XC-5 drives – and handles. And steers. It doesn’t have that electric-novocaine-esque sensation; your hands feel connected to the road. There is weight; just enough drag to allow precise corrections without going too far (or not far enough).
Its weak point is how you change/adjust radio stations. This is done either by rotating and pushing the knob controller mounted on the center console or by tapping the touchscreen itself. If you use the knob, it take two inputs to do one thing. For example, to go up to the next station on the dial, you first have to rotate the knob to the >> or << position and then you push the controller to go up or down. To do something else, you have to select the function, then push – and so on.
You can skip the knob and access the various functions – radio/station, GPS, apps – directly, by touching the appropriate icon on the screen. The problem there is the screen is relatively small (remember, Mazda thinks you should by paying attention to your driving, not what’s on the boob toob) and so are the icons, which are arranged on the lower part of the screen.
Tapping while moving isn’t easy – or rather, isn’t easily done without concentrating on the screen.
The good news is there are better things to do. Like enjoy driving this thing!
Others have to depend on the apps and various “infotainment” stuff because the drive is as far from being entertaining as marriage therapy is from a honeymoon.
Looks are another CX-5 strong suit. This model shares the good looks of other Mazdas, such as the Mazda3 and Mazda6 sedans, both of which are standouts in their classes.
Similar long-nose treatment, a styling effect as pleasing to the eye on a Jaguar E-Type or Ferrari Daytona as here.
Well, almost as.
This is, after all, a practical vehicle.
The CX-5 hasn’t got quite as much total cargo capacity as rivals like the Nissan Rogue – which has 70 cubic feet vs. 59.6 for the Mazda.
However, the CX-5’s almost 60 cubic feet is pretty close – and more to the point, isn’t small. A same-footprint compact sedan will generally have about 13 cubic feet of trunk space. Any crossover that’s about the same overall length will have at least four times as much space, plus the superior access to the space.
Another area where the CX-5 is also pretty practical is ground clearance. It comes standard with 7.5 inches, whether you go FWD or AWD. This is a bit less than the class-highest clearance Subaru Crosstrek has and less than the just-redesigned 2020 CR-V has but both of them are more focused on snow-day driving than everyday (and fast-paced) driving. And 7.5 inches of clearance is enough clearance for all but the worst snow-day driving and ample for occasionally forays onto the grass and such.
Legroom in both CX-5 rows is generous – with the backseats especially so. The Mazda’s 39.6 inches of legroom in the rear is about an inch more than in the Rogue (37.9 inches) though a little less than in the class-best Hyundai Sante Fe (40.9 inches).
Mazda offers many driver “assists” – such as Lane Keep Assist and automated emergency braking – but they are not forced on you. Also the creepy Traffic Sign Assist – precursor to Intelligent Speed Assist (which isn’t here, yet).
There is nothing necessarily wrong with all these driver “assists” – if you want them. But there are still people who don’t feel the need to be “assisted” – nudged, countermanded, beeped and chirped at – who take the role of driving seriously.
Mazda still builds cars for such people.
Another thing that may make you smile is the absence of ASS – automated stop/start. The Mazda’s engine only shuts off when you shut it off. It doesn’t cycle on and off at every red light and pause in traffic. Instead, the 2.5 turbo engine has cylinder deactivation (during low-load driving) which you’ll never notice… as opposed to ASS, which is impossible not to notice.
All trims come standard with multiple USB power points, front and rear.
The Bottom Line
Making a sports car fun is easy; making a practical crossover genuinely sporty isn’t.
Mazda just did it.
. . .
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