Modern drivers often need a crossover, but commonly get stuck in a vehicle that looks and drives like a potato. Don’t make that mistake! The Mazda CX-5  is the upscale crossover with a lot of value for your buck, and it’s even attractive and fun to drive. Here is an in-depth look at one of the best crossovers on the market.
The CX-5 is Mazda’s competitive compact crossover available over two generations since 2012 (for the 2013 model year). There isn’t a huge external difference between the 2012 to 2016 first generation and the 2017 to present second gen, with the newer CX-5 offering slightly revised looks covering a thoroughly revised crossover. Both generations offer a choice of efficient four cylinder engines, front- or all-wheel drive, and excellent driving dynamics well above the class average. The Mazda CX-5 is the crossover for the buyer that refuses to be boring.
The Mazda CX-5 is a reviewer favorite, with most loving the interior and exterior appearance, sporty handling, and real-world practical design choices. Here’s what the pros say.
Car & Driver rated the Mazda CX-5 a perfect 5 out of 5, added it to their exclusive 10 Best List, and even selected it for an Editor’s Choice award. In short, they loved it. “Distinctive styling and engaging driving dynamics separate the 2019 Mazda CX-5 from the competition. Based strictly on the numbers, the 2019 CX-5 isn’t the best at anything. But it is the best-looking and best-driving compact crossover. That makes it a winner in our book.”
Consumer Reports likes the CX-5’s handling and steering, and overall upscale feel. They thought the first generation was too sporty of a ride, but noted the softer ride and increased sound deadening material in the 2017+ models. “The CX-5 provides a competitive and more entertaining small SUV alternative.”
MotorTrend likes the CX-5 for its sporty demeanor and everyday practicality. “Mazda’s CX-5 proves that you don’t have to sacrifice driving fun when owning a crossover thanks to its agile handling and responsive steering.” They note that the infotainment systems isn’t as advanced as the competition, and you can’t option it with a V6, but neither of those are real limiting factors. “If you must have a crossover but want one that’s great to drive, the CX-5 should be on your list.”
U.S. News & World Report ranked the CX-5 number one on its list of 15 compact SUVs. They liked the strong performance from the 2.5-liter, the athletic handling, classy interior and generous list of standard safety features. “As of this writing, the Mazda CX-5 is the top-scoring model in our compact SUV rankings as well as a finalist for our 2018 Best Compact SUV for the Money award.”
No matter the vehicle, you’re going to stop and read this section because every buyer cares about reliability. Fortunately, the Mazda CX-5 is unlikely to leave you stranded on the side of the road or stuck with a huge bill at the shop, and we can prove it.
Consumer Reports rates the CX-5’s predicted reliability at a perfect 5 out of 5, every year except for the 2014 model. The 2014 CX-5 received four recall notices that year, as new electronics found in the infotainment system caused failures like connectivity or display issues, and the rear lift gate could suddenly not stay open or would close on its own. Fairly simple fixes and not really related to vehicle safety, and so the 2015 CX-5 returned to a perfect 5/5 reliability score.
RepairPal rates the CX-5’s reliability at a 4.5 out of 5, earning their Excellent score and placing it first out of 26 midsize SUVs. High praise. A further look into RepairPal’s details shows an annual repair cost a third lower than the average for all vehicles, and $100 lower than your average SUV. When repairs do happen, they are 25% less often, and 33% less likely to be severe.
Lots of active safety features and a user-friendly infotainment system make the CX-5 a winner. Highly unusual for the class, there’s a diesel engine option for 2019.
Like Ford’s EcoBoost, Mazda’s Shyactiv is a collection of technologies wrapped under an umbrella name. Unlike Ford’s term, Mazda’s Skyactiv tag means far more than just engine technologies. Skyactiv is a ground-up build, encompassing the lightweight chassis design, aerodynamic efficiencies, revised suspension, efficient transmission, and of course the engine upgrades. Those include direct injection, raised compression ratios, and a unique exhaust manifold design that helps remove spent gasses from the combustion chamber. Skyactiv-D is a new 2.2-liter diesel engine borrowed from the Mazda CX-5 . It uses a two-stage turbocharger and reduced compression for reduced emissions and impressive mileage.
It’s been a few years since Mazda used that tagline (and associated awful music), but their vehicles still bring the fun. Too often driving ends up being just another chore you have to get through, but the CX-5 brings back a go-kart element to driving that makes you enjoy it for the sake of it. The steering feedback communicates what the wheels are doing, giving you confidence as you turn the perfectly weighted steering wheel, and the suspension responds with a minimum amount of body roll, giving you encouragement to push it just a bit faster through that long sweeping corner. No, it’s no MX-5 Miata , but the CX-5 is as close as you can get to one while comfortably seating five.
Mazda loads up the CX-5 with a ton of modern safety features. In addition to the usual seatbelts and front/side impact airbags, there’s: ABS brakes with brake force distribution (even braking front and rear) and brake assist (can automatically increase brake pressure). There’s two levels of stability control for emergency maneuvers, and blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert. Advanced smart city brake support can detect stopped or slowing vehicles in front of you, and alert you or automatically stop the vehicle. Radar cruise control helps you keep your distance on the highway, while hill launch assist helps you when visiting San Francisco or Seattle. The 360-degree monitor gives you a bird’s eye view when parallel parking, and the front and rear parking sensors will help you out there as well.
From the base Sport up through classy Signature, here’s how each trim differs. Note that you can get all-wheel drive in any trim level, but front-wheel drive is limited to the first three trim levels.
Sport is an appropriate name for the base CX-5, as it does offer some sporty characteristics. This trim level does offer a lot, including 17-inch painted silver wheels, LED headlights and turn signals in the mirrors, and dual exhaust tips. There’s keyless entry, remote start, a six-way manual driver’s seat, cloth trimmed seats, and a leather wrapped steering wheel and shifter. The tech side offers a 7-inch display with Mazda Connect, four-speaker audio system including HD radio, four USB ports, and a large list of standard safety features, including: stability control and traction control, hill start assist and blind spot monitoring, automatic braking, ABS, and a tire pressure monitoring system. The Sport should be your pick when you just want a great crossover without all the fuss.
Touring builds on the Sport trim and adds some nice comfort features. Look for this trim and you’ll get six-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats, and all seating surfaces are leather-ish with suede inserts. The audio system gains two additional speakers, there’s dual zone climate control, and on the safety side, Touring gains radar cruise control and smart brake assist. Touring is the budget friendly option to get a lot of good stuff for a low price.
Grand Touring sounds fancier, and no surprise here, it is. Building on the Touring trim, the GT gains: LED daytime running lights, fog lights, and tail lights. The rear liftgate goes powered, and the front gains rain-sensing wipers. Wheels jump to 19-inch painted aluminum, while the inside gets a one-touch sliding power moonroof. The driver’s seat is eight-way power adjustable with lumbar support and memory, and all seats get real leather. The audio system is a sweet Bose 10-speaker system. The GT trim is when you want it to look more upscale, and gain luxury features. This one is great for treating your family or ride share customers.
Grand Touring Reserve
All-wheel drive is standard for Grand Touring Reserve, as is the more powerful turbocharged 2.5-liter engine. The GTR trim gets exclusive colors like Soul Red Crystal Metallic, and adaptive lighting. The driver’s seat is the same as GT trim, but the front passenger gets six-way power adjustment. Both front seats are heated and ventilated, and the rear seats gain heating. The steering wheel feels the peer pressure and also is heated. Get the GTR trim if you love those seating options.
Signature builds on the Grand Touring Reserve equipment and adds an optional 2.2-liter Skyactiv D diesel engine. Signature gains a windshield wiper defroster, 19-inch wheels in dark silver, reclining rear seats, premium Caturra Brown Nappa leather-trimmed seating surfaces, unique stitching on the leather-wrapped steering wheel, genuine wood trim, and the safety specs increase with an overhead 360-degree view when parking. A Signature badge rounds out this classy package. Look for a Signature if you demand the best from your ride.
Sure, Signature is awesome and Sport is a good price, but when looking over the entire CX-5 lineup, there are two price points you should be looking at for the best value.
Touring – $14,000 to $19,000
The Touring is a great package, including all the base Sport trim stuff, and adds features valuable to a driver like the upgraded seat options, audio, and safety. It’s an upgrade you’ll appreciate over the base model, for almost no difference in price. The low end of this price delivers a CX-5 Touring around five years old with 70,000 miles, while the higher end is only a few years old with around 25,000 miles.
Grand Touring Reserve – $17,000 to $23,000
Why the jump to Grand Touring Reserve? Simple. This trim offers the higher-end drivetrain of the Signature, the turbo 2.5-liter and standard AWD, without the pricier badge. There’s plenty of options covering safety, tech, and comfort too, enough to please any driver or rider. The low end of this price buys a four-year old CX-5 GTR with around 60,000 miles, while the high end can find a model one or two years old, with around 40,000 miles.
Most compact crossover buyers care about fuel economy over towing power, and the CX-5 is a good choice here. You have a range of engine and transmission options, but all versions are fairly thrifty.
The early 2.0-liter lacks the horsepower, at only 155 hp, but makes up for it with 26 MPG city, and 34 MPG highway when paired to the rare six-speed manual. Opt for auto, and you’ll still get 26 city, 32 highway, with a 2 MPG penalty for AWD.
The newer 2.5-liter brings more standard power at 187 hp and is the economical choice for the second generation. It’s equivalent to older economy cars at 25 city and 31 highway in FWD trim, with a 1 MPG loss for AWD.
The optional 2.5-liter turbo engine piles on the firepower (250 horsepower) and fuel efficiency (23 city, 28 highway). Again, since AWD components weigh more than FWD, so there is a 1 MPG loss for the 2.5-liter turbo attached to all four wheels.
The 2.2-liter diesel returns 27 city, and 30 highway with AWD selected. You’ll gain 1 MPG if opting for FWD. Interestingly, the diesel isn’t a huge hauler. With a towing capacity of 1,500 lbs, it’s more about urban efficiency.
The first gen CX-5 has a 15.9-gallon tank, while the second gen shrinks slightly to 15.3-gallons. The owner’s manual says regular 87 octane is fine for any gas engine, but notes the turbo 2.5-liter will lose around 20 horsepower compared to running premium.
We’ve got all the deets on the CX-5’s seats. Officially, the CX-5 seats five, but that depends on who you’re carrying and for how long.
Front legroom is 41 inches (the same as a Chevrolet Traverse ), and rear legroom is 39.6 inches. Headroom is generous too, with 39.7 inches up front (equivalent to a mid-size Nissan Altima ), and 39 inches for rear passengers. That middle seat in back isn’t bad for adults, but is probably best for urban trips over road trips. The base Sport model gets cloth seats, while higher trims offer fake leather and suede or real leather depending on how much you want to pay. Want a third-row CX-5 with seating for seven? You’re looking for the CX-9 .
If your main priority is cargo hauling, you might want to look at the class-leading Honda CR-V . The CX-5’s cargo space is average for the class, with 30.9 cu-ft of space behind the rear seats. Fold those seats down and that figure jumps to 59.6 cu-ft. The spare tire and roadside toolkit eat into that cargo space. Manufacturers are going away from models carrying heavy spare tires so the vehicle is lighter, but it’s good to have in case of a flat.
You’re probably shopping crossovers because you’ll be hauling around family, co-workers, or friends. No matter who is in back, you have peace of mind that the CX-5 is one of the safest vehicles on the road.
The Feds at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) performed a crash test on every new or revised version of the CX-5. It varies by the year model, but you’re mostly looking at five stars, with some four-star years when new tests like small-offset impact test appeared. The NHTSA tests front impacts (driver & passenger), side impacts (barrier & pole), and rollover resistance during emergency maneuvers. The Mazda CX-5 scored a perfect five stars in all the tests. The Feds recommended you option a CX-5 with forward collision warning and lane departure warning, for optimum crash prevention.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is the non-government side of auto safety that conducts their own, slightly different crash testing. IIHS’s tests get an overall look at what they call Crashworthiness, divided into six categories. Those are: small overlap front, driver and passenger, moderate overlap front, side impact, roof strength, and head restraints and seats. The IIHS rated the CX-5 its highest Good score in every category. In addition, the new categories of crash avoidance and mitigation received a Superior rating, while the headlights rated Good. The end result is the Mazda CX-5 earned the IIHS’s highest rating, the coveted Top Safety Pick+ award.