Small crossover SUVs are the runaway favorite segment for today's car buyers, displacing even the ubiquitous four-door family sedan as America's car of choice. There's just one problem with most of them: They really aren't that fun to drive.
Practical, yes. Sensible, sure. Comfortable, certainly. But fun? Engaging? Exciting? Not so much. Perhaps it's asking too much for these new-era family shuttles to convey us where we need to go in safety and spacious comfort yet also provide an occasional boost of adrenaline.
There are exceptions, though. Among today's mainstream compact SUVs, the 2018 Ford Escape and the 2018 Mazda CX-5 most notably infuse their workaday responsibilities with a measure of performance and spirit. If you value driving excitement but still require room for passengers and stuff, these two are among your best bets.
We just wrapped up a yearlong long-term test of an Escape. And this is our second time around with the CX-5. We were near unanimous in our praise for a first-generation 2014 model we tested. It came up a bit short in overall utility, but many of us felt the trade-off for the CX-5's more spirited handling and performance was worth it. It was a crossover that didn't resign itself to solely being a mule. Years later, we want to see how this new CX-5 has evolved.
What Did We Buy?
This second-generation CX-5 debuted for 2017. It isn't a wholesale overhaul from its predecessor, but it does feature significant improvements to chassis strength and suspension tuning. Mazda says these changes yield even sharper handling and provide a more absorbent ride quality.
Mazda also enhanced the CX-5's interior quality, adding more sound insulation to better keep road and wind noise at bay, as well as upgraded upholstery, controls and interior trim accent pieces. The overall effect is of a more grown-up, more refined SUV, befitting a class of car that has itself evolved with more sophisticated buyers.
Finally, today's CX-5 adds a host of driver safety and assistance technologies, many of them newly standard, including blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. Available tech includes adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist and turn-swiveling LED headlights.
We wanted to experience the full nuance of these updates, so we opted for a model very similar to our last long-term CX-5, a Grand Touring with all-wheel drive. Even the color, Soul Red Crystal Metallic, is nearly spot-on.
What Options Does It Have?
The CX-5 is available in three trim levels: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. The Grand Touring comes standard with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine (187 horsepower, 186 pound-feet of torque), a six-speed automatic transmission, 19-inch wheels, swiveling LED headlights, a sunroof, a power liftgate, keyless entry, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment display, a navigation system, and a Bose premium 10-speaker audio system. Also standard is a full complement of driver assistance features, including low-speed automatic braking, lane departure warning and lane keeping assist. The base MSRP for a Grand Touring AWD is $30,945.
We did opt for the Grand Touring's lone option package, the Premium package. It bundles heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, a windshield wiper de-icer, and a head-up display with traffic sign recognition. Our CX-5 also came with an optional cargo mat ($70), illuminated doorsill plates ($400) and a rear bumper guard ($125). These options plus a $595 charge for the paint and destination fees brought our CX-5's total MSRP to $34,505. But we didn't buy this specific CX-5. Mazda lent it to us for the duration of the test.
Why We Got It
The 2018 Mazda CX-5 should be enjoyable to drive, livening up both daily commutes and long road trips. But will that matter enough over a year? What about the new CX-5's utility or its performance and fuel economy? Will it be reliable? How crisply does Mazda's latest infotainment system work? For questions like these, we have a year to find out.
Follow its progress on our long-term road test for our latest impressions of this 2018 Mazda CX-5.
The manufacturer provided this vehicle for the purpose of evaluation.
Dan Frio, staff writer @ 643 miles