Oh, what a joy it is to drive a well-sorted car like the 2019 Mazda CX-5.
Battling in the immensely competitive compact SUV niche, the CX-5 is a top-3 pick because it blends athletic handling with a near-luxury ride, is quieter than most, and makes top-drawer safety gear standard.
Introduced in 2017, the latest iteration of Mazda's compact sports utility was the first model to fully adopt the company's Skyactiv technology and KODO—Soul of Motion design language. To that, Mazda added G-Vectoring control, which does for the driver everything a professional would do when navigating curves and gives passengers a surprisingly smooth ride.
Mazda engineers are never satisfied with their work. They continuously seek to attain the unattainable—perfection—called Jinba Ittai, "horse and rider as one."
The concept comes from ancient Japanese philosophy, but its pursuit often puts Mazda on the cutting edge. Using a method Mazda calls "SKYACTIV," the engineers reap big steps forward by way of the sum of marginal improvements to each element of an automotive component. Engines, transmissions, the body, the chassis, suspension, braking, and body become subjects of piece-by-piece reviews and tweaks to make them lighter, more efficient, and to increase responsiveness.
Like a gently flowing stream
One result of that process is a software package called G-Vectoring that works with the braking system and engine control module to improve both ride and handling.
Equestrians know the joy found when a horse understands their intentions. The CX-5 offers that sense through G-Vectoring, which enhances ride and drive dynamics on a minute level to give the driver a better feeling of control, confidence, and exhilaration. It also insulates passengers from some of the forces of cornering.
First introduce a couple of years ago, the system has been improved and is now called G-Vectoring Plus. It comes standard on all MX-5s.
Similar to the way a race driver uses the nose-down force of hard braking to help turn the wheels, when a CX-5 driver begins to turn into a curve, G-Vectoring reduces engine torque and lightly taps the brakes to shift the load onto the front wheels. The actions are subtle and, thus, undetectable inside the cabin.
Similar to the way a competition driver finds optimal torque to maintain a line through a constant-radius curve, in the middle of the curve, G-vectoring detects the driver's steering inputs and then calculates optimal engine torque and sends that information to the engine. A slight tap on the outside wheels' brakes controls yaw, which reduces vehicle lean and shields passengers from the forces of cornering.
Similar to the way a racer finds the apex of the curve in order to accelerate through the exit path, in the middle of the curve, G-Vectoring helps maintain steering position by recovering torque and shifting the load to the rear wheels. It gently helps the driver straighten the wheels with a light tap to the outside wheels.
Boil that down and you have compact SUV that rides and handles like something bigger and more expensive. It's as smooth as the flight of a dream.
Two 2.5-L, four-cylinder engines are available. The base engine is a SKYACTIV tour de force that was the only four-cylinder engine in North America to offer cylinder deactivation. This year Chevy is offering it in its new Silverado four-banger.
The system shuts down the two outside cylinders when under light load at 20-50 mph. With front-wheel drive and a standard 6-speed automatic transmission, the power train delivers an EPA estimated 25 mpg city, 31 highway and 28 combined. Subtract one from each of those numbers for AWD.
That's good, not great, for the class. Mazda, after all, is willing to sacrifice a small slice of efficiency for performance. The line on a FWD Honda CR-V is 26 city/ 32 highway. The Subaru Forester delivers 26 city/ 33 highway. All Subarus are AWD.
The base CX-5 engine puts out a respectable 184 hp, and 185 lb-ft of torque.
A dynamic pressure turbocharged 2.5-L puts out 227 hp with standard unleaded and 250 hp with premium unleaded. With either fuel in the tank, it puts out a head-snapping 310 lb. ft. torque. Both power trains can two up to 2,000 lbs.
The CX-5 comes in five models, Sport, Touring, Grand Touring, Grand Touring Reserve and Signature. The first three come with the non-turbo engine and 2WD, though AWD is a $1,400 option. The top two come with the turbo and AWD.
Our tester, a top-of-line Signature, was more than peppy. We had to learn to use a light touch on the throttle at stop lights to avoid squealing the tires. On a weekend jaunt to Jefferson, it had more than enough power to zip past log trucks.
Mazda positions itself as a near-luxury entrant and competes more on value than on price. An entry-level Sport starts at $24,350. That's dead center in a price comparison with top competitors like Honda, Toyota RAV4, and Subaru.
Climb the model tree, however, and a MAZDA CUV starts to cost up to $2,000 more than the competitors, a difference Mazda compensates for with a longer list of luxury features. That includes power folding door mirrors and ventilated front seats to go along with goodies such as a windshield-projected Active Driving Display with Traffic Sign Recognition, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel windshield wiper de-icer.
One place where Mazda clearly does not scrimp is on seating. Front and rear seats are generously padded and have more than ample side restraints. We found them especially comfortable on a road trip.
Overall, we found the cabin a comfortable, near-luxury place to hang out. Materials and fit-and-finish are superior.
We think the ergonomics could use some freshening up. We liked a center-console control wheel but found drilling into on-screen menus distracting.
Our tester came with a 360-degree monitor, which means we can back into a close parking spot on the first try. The toggle for it, however, is placed on the lower left side of the dash, hidden from the driver's view by the steering wheel. Clearly, that needs to be somewhere near the shifter.
Safety nearly first
Some manufacturers hold back state-of-art, life-saving, driver-assist technologies for only top models and, even then, interlaced into pricey option packages. That can add $5,000 to $7,000 for technology that other companies like Toyota offer as standard on nearly everything.
Mazda nearly gets there. The base model, the Sport, comes with blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alerts, and smart city braking.
The good stuff, the life-saving stuff, like lane-keep assist, radar cruise control, and advanced smart city brake support with pedestrian detection, is standard on the four higher models. To that, Signature models get 360-degree view monitor and front and rear parking sensors. That CX-5 will set you back about $39,000.
For its driveability, high-quality materials and craftsmanship, and emphasis on safety, we give the Mazda CX-5 an unqualified thumbs up.