2017 Mazda CX-5 First Drive

Mazda Sets Its Sights on Entry-Level Luxury


When the CX-5 compact crossover debuted as a 2013 model, Mazda was still trying to figure out its place in the crossover segment. Now, five years later, the company is flush with success and aiming its sights higher with the redesigned 2017 Mazda CX-5. It's still a five-passenger compact SUV, and it's basically the same size as the outgoing CX-5, but the new model has received a host of refinements that make for a more premium experience.

2017 Mazda CX-5 First Drive

An All-New Vehicle From Top to Bottom
For 2017, the CX-5's sheet metal is new as is the cabin and much of what resides under the skin. Its 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine receives only minor tweaks that boost output ever so slightly to 187 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque. The six-speed automatic transmission's mechanical guts are carried over, though a revised calibration makes for crisper departures from a standstill.

The outgoing CX-5's 2.0-liter engine is no longer available, nor is the manual gearbox that was available with it. The new CX-5 is, however, still available with front- or all-wheel drive. Either layout is available on all three trims: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. New goodies — adaptive headlights, lane departure warning, a power liftgate, full-range adaptive cruise and automatic high beams — are standard in the top trim, and many of them are optional in Touring models.

2017 Mazda CX-5 First Drive

Best-in-Class Cabin
In step with the more dramatic exterior styling, the CX-5's cabin is a cut above what you'll find in, say, a Toyota RAV4 or a Honda CR-V. Its materials look and feel are richer than those of the outgoing model, and the design elements lend a more upscale, near-luxury vibe. It turns out that sales of the CX-5 increasingly leaned toward higher-spec Grand Touring trim levels over the past four years, so the company embraced this sensibility with the new model. To that end, many of the CX-5's revisions were specifically targeted at reducing noise. This wasn't simply a case of adding sound-deadening material; Mazda's approach also included more elaborate door and tailgate seals and front side acoustic glass among other things. Weightwise, the new CX-5 gains between 20 and 100 pounds, depending on equipment.

Few areas escaped scrutiny in the new CX-5. The steering wheel's spokes are slimmer for an easier grasp, and the front roof pillars have been moved aft nearly an inch and a half to aid outward visibility. The cargo floor is flatter when the backseats are stowed, and when they're in place, the backseats are less upright and can now recline. The rear doors open wider and wear reshaped panels for easier access, and the passengers back there now have vents and available heated seats. Meanwhile, the suspension has been updated with slightly softer springs, a rack that's mounted directly to the subframe to improve response, plus new control arm bushings and lower-friction struts. The idea is to eke out better ride comfort without sacrificing agility.

2017 Mazda CX-5 First Drive

Still Drives Like a Mazda
We drove the new CX-5 in a dense urban environment, on the freeway and on winding rural roads. The attention paid to noise reduction seems to have paid off. Though we didn't have an outgoing version to compare it to, the new CX-5 does its business with civility. Voices need not be raised even at freeway speeds, and although there's noticeable engine noise during hard acceleration, it's never intrusive.

It steers and handles like a Mazda, which is to say at the top of its class. The carmaker had so much confidence in the CX-5's real-world driving dynamics that it brought along five significantly more expensive compact crossovers for comparison. The CX-5 acquitted itself well, executing everyday driving maneuvers at least as intuitively as the rest. Part of the new CX-5's repertoire is what Mazda calls G-Vectoring Control, which is a clever way of using imperceptible modulations of engine torque to help the car turn in more sure-footedly. You never notice it, other than having robust confidence in the car's manners. It simply steers and corners deftly, and it does so without also having a punishing ride — the CX-5's suspension snubs road imperfections quickly and without upsetting its occupants.

2017 Mazda CX-5 First Drive

Though its EPA fuel economy numbers are a hair lower than those of the outgoing model, the new CX-5 is no less fuel-frugal. The discrepancy is down to a change in EPA's methodology for 2017. Measured against the same fuel economy-measuring yardstick as the outgoing CX-5, the 2017 model is on par (and AWD variants gain 1 mpg highway). A diesel engine joins the CX-5 fold this autumn for those who crave additional low-end torque and improved fuel economy.

The 2017 Mazda CX-5 is a more grown-up compact crossover than its predecessor, yet it doesn't cede any ground in its hallmark driver-centric nature. If you're looking for a small, affordable crossover that feels as if it should cost considerably more, the 2017 Mazda CX-5 is a good first stop.


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