Quick Summary The 2015 Mazda CX-5 is currently one of Edmunds' highest-rated compact crossovers. Refined suspension tuning, a new infotainment interface and modest styling changes for 2016 give it an even stronger foothold. Its value is combined with excellent fuel economy and noticeably better performance, keeping it among the best offerings in the class.
What Is It? The 2016 Mazda CX-5 is a compact crossover SUV with seating for five. We tested the Touring trim, which slots in between the base Sport and range-topping Grand Touring models. The Sport trim starts at $22,675 and comes with a 155-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, a six-speed manual transmission and front-wheel drive. A more powerful 2.5-liter 184-hp engine, paired with a six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive can be added for $2,650.
Our front-wheel-drive CX-5 Touring test vehicle came standard with the bigger engine, the automatic transmission and a price tag of $26,095. Along with the drivetrain enhancements, the Touring also adds items like blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alert systems, 40/20/40-split folding rear seats and upgraded interior materials and audio. With the optional moonroof and Bose Premium Audio package, along with a few cargo-related items, the as-tested price came to $27,585.
Starting at $29,100, the Grand Touring adds features like 19-inch wheels, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats and leather upholstery. Higher-trimmed CX-5s are eligible for options like a navigation system and adaptive LED headlights. Additional advanced safety features can be added to the Grand Touring trim. The entire CX-5 range is priced comparably to its chief competitors.
How Does It Drive? The 2016 Mazda CX-5 is an anomaly among compact SUVs, most of which are narrowly focused on comfort and convenience. The CX-5 certainly satisfies those very important requirements, but it's also satisfying to drive. In Touring trim with the larger 2.5-liter engine, the Mazda can accelerate to 60 mph in 7.9 seconds, which is a full second quicker than the average set by direct competitors (7.6 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip). That means it merges onto highways and passes slower traffic more easily. Stopping from 60 mph requires 125 feet, which is typical for this class.
For drivers seeking a hint of performance, that alone may be enough to sway them toward the CX-5. It's definitely not sports-carlike, as the physics of a crossover's elevated ride height limits cornering ability, but it handily outperforms all others in this class. It tracks through turns like a much smaller vehicle and encourages performance-minded drivers to push harder. For the average driver, this translates to more confidence that the CX-5 can avoid unforeseen hazards.
Fortunately, this athleticism doesn't come at the expense of ride quality. The CX-5 does ride slightly more stiffly than other SUVs, but ruts and bumps are shrugged off as capably as its softer-riding rivals. The subtle ride stiffness also quells some of the residual jostling over undulations in the road. All of these traits combine to make the Mazda CX-5 the best-driving compact SUV we've tested.
What Is It Like on the Inside? For 2016, the CX-5 receives the same praise-worthy infotainment system that has been implemented in other Mazda vehicles. It's a standout among competing systems for its ease of use and dial controller that is typically found in premium-branded cars. There's also more sound insulation than before. Road and wind noise are at barely detectable levels.
The interior design is tastefully executed, with just enough style to keep it from being boring. The quality of materials used, though also improved for 2016, is merely average for the class, with some hard plastics standing out from otherwise attractive surfaces.
The front seats provide plenty of head- and legroom for taller adults, but the telescoping steering wheel doesn't extend quite far enough for lanky drivers. The Touring trim's cloth seats are adequately padded for hours of long-distance comfort and aren't stifling in hot climates. The rear seats also offer enough headroom for adults, but they'll likely find the cushions are a little low and lacking in thigh support. Unlike in some rivals, the rear seats neither recline nor slide, but overall, the CX-5 offers more passenger space than many other compact crossovers.
With 34 cubic feet of storage behind the rear seats, the CX-5 lags behind the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V. Folding the seats flat increases that space to 65 cubic feet, and the 40/20/40-split folding seats provide some added passenger and cargo flexibility. Small bins and pockets easily accommodate personal items up front.
What Kind of Fuel Economy Does It Get? The EPA estimates fuel economy for the front-drive CX-5 at 29 mpg combined (26 city/33 highway), which ties with the Honda CR-V for the top spot in the class. Our highway-heavy evaluation loop confirmed these estimates with a 32.6-mpg result, though our overall average of 23.6 mpg may have been affected by dense urban traffic.
Opting for all-wheel drive drops fuel economy to 26 mpg combined. Considering that the weaker and smaller base 2.0-liter engine virtually matches the larger 2.5-liter unit for fuel economy, the lower purchase price may be the only reason to choose the smaller engine.
What Safety Features Are Available? In addition to the typical safety features included in all new vehicles, higher-trimmed 2016 Mazda CX-5s also come with automatic crash notification, a blind spot monitor and rear cross-traffic warnings. Optional on these models is a frontal collision warning system with automatic braking at lower speeds and rear parking sensors. The Grand Touring can also be optioned with a lane departure warning system.
What Does It Compete Against? The Honda CR-V represents the only other alternative to receive an Edmunds "A" rating and matches the CX-5 for price and fuel economy. The CR-V beats the Mazda for cargo capacity but can't compete in overall performance.
The same can be said for the Ford Escape and Toyota RAV4, both of which received "B" ratings. The RAV4 benefits from Toyota's reputation for reliability and really doesn't put a foot wrong elsewhere, but doesn't stand out, either. The Escape scores points for good performance and the new Sync 3 infotainment system, which is a faster, fully redesigned interface.
Why Should You Consider This Car? It has better driving dynamics than rivals and even if performance isn't a priority, the average driver should appreciate its on-road manners. It's also priced appropriately and can handle the day-to-day family duties of shuttling people and cargo with similar ease to its competitors.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car? If you need to maximize every cubic foot of cargo space, this is one of the few areas where the CX-5 comes up short. The other possible shortcoming may be its busier ride, but we're confident most drivers won't object.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.