In the years since conquering the hearts of enthusiasts everywhere with its sporty MX-5 coupe, Mazda’s designers have turned their formidable talents toward giving the company’s entire line a premium feel. And to say the results have been impressive would be an understatement. But even as it ventured into crossovers and SUVs, the company has retained its laser focus — see the “Zoom-Zoom” campaign — on driving dynamics. Today, its customers are reaping the rewards.
When we drove the Mazda CX-9 late last year, we came away impressed, so we were happy to get our hands on its smaller sibling, the CX-5. There’s little room for mistakes in the red-hot compact crossover segment, and after a week with the 2018 Mazda CX-5, we’re convinced buyers will find lots to love about this fun, practical people mover. We sure did.
2018 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring Exterior
The family resemblance between the CX-5 and the rest of the CX line is clear — and that’s a great thing. From the more-compact CX-3, to the seven-passenger CX-9, we happen to think these are some of the most attractive vehicles in the segment, at any price range. Our personal favorite element of the CX-5’s exterior design is unquestionably the stellar front clip. We absolutely love the crisp creases along the sides of the hood, and the knife-edge extension above the wide front grille. Now, we don’t want to take anything away from Mazda’s design team here, but we don’t think anyone would blink an eye if they were to see Maserati’s famous trident in place of the Mazda badge, as there’s a upmarket, almost Italian feel at work here.
That attention to detail and proportion is evident everywhere on the CX-5’s exterior, from the steep, sporty rake of the A-pillar, to the sharp punctuation of the rear windows, to the delicately sculpted lines along the sides, to the pronounced rear hips. And as good as it looks in these pictures? Trust us when we say they do not do this car justice. There just isn’t a bad — or even middling — view of this vehicle. You could throw a camera up in the air and get a good shot of the CX-5, and we think the Soul Red Crystal paint made each facet of the design pop beautifully.
Even the black body cladding above the 19-inch alloy wheels and below the doors looks great — which isn’t an easy trick to pull off. If you wanted to reduce its emphasis, you could always opt for a darker color, but regardless of which hue you choose, this crossover is going to look fantastic.
2018 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring Interior
Many years back, there were plans to launch an upscale Mazda brand, akin to what Toyota did with Lexus, Nissan with Infiniti, and Honda with Acura. Ultimately, the plan was scrapped in favor of giving Mazda’s entire line a premium feel, and the results of the strategy are on display everywhere in the CX-5’s cabin. The eight-way adjustable power driver seat proved extremely comfortable, and our test model was even equipped with heated rear seats, so that comfort translated everywhere. Supple leather and soft-touch materials abound, and all the controls have a high-quality feel.
Infotainment systems are always rightly scrutinized, and we found the Mazda Connect software to be refreshingly intuitive. The attractive seven-inch touchscreen was responsive and rendered everything crisply, while the ten-speaker Bose sound system provided great audio. Along with Bluetooth and an auxiliary plug, there are also four integrated USB ports, so there’s plenty of charging capacity for anyone on board. For long jaunts, there’s also radar cruise control, a feature that we honestly wish we had more opportunity to explore, as out commute is of the stop and go variety — with the emphasis being on stop. Cargo capacity was also impressive, allowing for 30.9 cubic feet of storage with the 60/40 split rear seats in place, and a whopping 59.6 with them folded. So owners should feel no spatial pressure when tackling a massive Costco run.
2018 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring Performance
One of Mazda’s hallmarks is the ability to make everything in its lineup fun to drive — and the CX-5 is no exception. The engineers have obviously learned a lot fine tuning the company’s stellar little MX-5 sports coupe, and all that knowledge has been put to good use here, resulting in a crossover that handles with an alacrity which belies its roughly 3,500-pound curb weight.
Power comes from a Skyactiv 2.5-liter engine, which is good for 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque, and is mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox. Now, in an era when 500 horsepower engines are becoming almost commonplace, we understand 187 might not sound like a lot of poke. But we found the CX-5 to have plenty of get up and go, while still delivering a respectable 26 mpg in EPA testing*. Just how well the little Skyactive motor motivates this Mazda is actually testament to the fact that numbers seldom tell the whole story, as everything about the driving experience feels impressively refined. The steering from the electrically assisted rack felt perfectly weighted, for example, and was communicative and inspired confidence when cornering.
The sure-footed feel was undoubtedly helped along by the I-Activ all-wheel-drive system, torque vectoring, and sway bars at both ends, and the combination made us look forward to tackling all the twisty roads we encountered. In a segment where manufacturers love to tout car-like handling, we can attest that the CX-5 sparkles.
2018 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring Safety
In tests from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the 2018 Mazda CX-5 earned four out of a possible five stars overall. That includes a five-star score for driver and passengers in a frontal collision, a five-star rating for front-seat occupants in a side crash, a four-star rating for rear-seat passengers in a side crash, and a four-star assessment for safety in a rollover accident. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, has named the compact sport utility a Top Safety Pick for 2018, as it earned the top rating of Good on the group’s battery of tests. Along with a host of safety technology like anti-lock brakes, traction control, and front and rear side-curtain airbags, our test vehicle was equipped with a rear cross traffic alert system, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, and Mazda’s Smart Brake Support, which will apply the brakes if it appears a collision is imminent.
2018 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring Overall
The compact crossover market is the most hotly contested segment in the automotive market today, and in the CX-5, Mazda has a serious competitor. With its stylish exterior, comfortable cabin, and excellent driving dynamics, there’s little to find fault with — especially when you consider its reasonable as-tested price of $34, 685**. That said? We wouldn’t be disappointed if the company decided to offer a Mazdaspeed version with another 100 or so horsepower, as the chassis and suspension are clearly ready to handle it.
*MSRP excludes tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.
**Based on 2018 EPA mileage ratings. Your mileage will vary depending specific vehicle trim, how you drive and maintain your vehicle, driving conditions, and other factors.