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2018 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring Rocky Mountain Review

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2018 Mazda CX-5

By Dan Poler
Senior Editor and Bureau Chief
Rocky Mountain Bureau

With so many choices available in the tightly-packed compact-to-midsize crossover market, a manufacturer really has to be good; it’s not an easy segment in which to stand out. Mazda always brings their “A” game and we had high hopes for their 2018 CX-5 crossover. And while it’s great in a number of areas, bringing unique features and design at this price point, we found that it fell short in a few critical ways. 

Ours came to us in a deep red called Soul Red Crystal Metallic. There’s no doubt the color is simply gorgeous on this vehicle, really making it stand out in a parking lot - a candy apple red that stays shiny and reflects its pearl coat in all different lighting. 2017’s exterior redesign exudes luxury, with a front badge and grille reminiscent of Mercedes-Benz or Lexus, and gentle curves and slopes leading to a back end feeling somewhat like that of Range Rover’s Evoque. Simply put, it’s a pretty vehicle, beautifully and thoughtfully designed.

Inside, similarly we find elegant design using premium materials. Ours came to us with a light gray leather interior called Parchment by Mazda. Soft to the touch and a beautiful color, but possibly too light to be practical for those among us carting around tiny humans on a day-to-day basis. There’s quite a fair amount of storage for a vehicle of this class, including a generous front tray for holding small odds and ends beneath the climate controls. 

The technology is impressive, too. Fairly unique for this class and price point, our CX-5 in the Grand Touring trim included Mazda’s Active Driving Display technology, a heads-up display projected onto the windshield in the driver’s view, supplying not only basic information like speed, but also more advanced information like blind spot sensor readout, cruise control information, and lane keeping status. This is in addition to an already well-equipped vehicle sporting such high-tech features as radar cruise control, automatic high beams, blind spot detection, and lane-departure warning and assistance. 

So where did the CX-5 fall short? Some of that technology is a down side too - because it just doesn’t work that well. Yes, the HUD is cool, and useful. But some of the features it implements are not as useful. Take, for example, it’s sign-reading technology - Mazda employs cameras to read road signs and project facsimiles of those signs into the driver’s vision via the Active Driving Display HUD. Does the driver really need a second stop sign projected as a small symbol in the HUD when they should be minding the big one on the road? In addition, we observed numerous instances throughout our time with the vehicle whereby the sign-reading technology got basic details like speed limits incorrect. For example, when driving on a frontage road the system would consistently pick up speed limit signs from the main highway and display a speed limit 20 MPH higher than actual. 

It’s not just the HUD that feels like it could use some improvement. Mazda has used the same infotainment setup for years, consisting of a non-retractable display stuck atop the center console with no effort made to integrate it into the design of the console itself. While the setup felt relatively modern and responsive when it first debuted some years ago, it’s come to feel slow and clunky. Every operation - even efforts as simple as tuning to a radio preset - take multiple turns and clicks of the control knob between the front seats, and the screen, being on the smaller side, is hard to read, requiring a great deal of attention and distracting from time spent watching the road. Yes, it’s a touch screen as well, but touch input is disabled when the vehicle is in motion, somewhat limiting its usefulness. Other little things cropped up: The sensitivity of the blind spot warning system is far too great, alerting the driver to cars multiple car lengths behind. Also some non-electronic little complaints: The armrest is positioned too far back, and blocked by a cup in the cup holder, making longer drives a bit uncomfortable. 

Then there’s the driving experience. It’s a Mazda, and no doubt it feels like one. The CX-5 feels solid, and planted; Colorado’s weather cooperated in giving us a day of fearsome ice on the roads, and the CX-5 handled it like a champ - with other cars sliding down hills the CX-5 felt composed and predictable. But once out on the highway, the CX-5 feels decidedly un-Mazda. This is where simple physics comes into play: A nearly-3,700 pound vehicle with 187 horsepower translates to almost 20 pounds per horsepower put out by the engine, and that’s a lot. The CX-5 handles well and confidently but feels sluggish and noisy under acceleration, gasping for air, ungainly. 

Taken individually, none of these shortcomings are a big deal, but when viewed together it gives us pause in considering the total package. Compare, for example, to the Kia Sportage, another leader at this price point and size. Similar in size and weight, the Kia can be configured with a 237 HP turbocharged engine - an additional 50 HP over the CX-5 - at the same price point. Yes, you lose the cool toys like the HUD, along with about 15% fuel economy, but what you lose in cool toys is made up by confidence in driving. While we like the Mazda overall and feel it’s a solid choice, in this crowded space it’s going to take more than a pretty face and neat toys to make it work. 

Engine: SKYACTIV-G 2.5L
Transmission: SKYACTIV-DRIVE 6-Speed with Sport Mode
Horsepower: 187 @ 6,000 RPM
Torque (ft-lbs): 186 @ 4,000 RPM
Wheelbase / Length (in): 106.2 / 179.1 
Curb Weight (lbs): 3,693
Pounds per HP: 19.75
Fuel Capacity (gal): 15.3
Fuel Requirement: Regular unleaded
Tires: Toyo A56; P225/55R19 99V
Drivetrain: ALL WHEEL DRIVE (as tested)
EPA Fuel Economy - city/highway/combined/observed: 24/30/26/28
Base Trim Price: $30,945
Price as Tested: $34,685 (includes delivery, illuminated door sill plates, soul red crystal paint, rear bumper guard, retractable cargo cover, and premium package: active driving display with traffic sign recognition, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, windshield wiper de-icer)

LEARN MORE: The Most In-Depth Independent Mazda Consumer Research - Anywhere!