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2016 Mazda CX-5: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader June 2015

The 2016 Mazda CX-5 is one of our favorite compact crossovers. Why? Because by definition, it nails just about every requirement that owners demand of such a vehicle, then tosses in the added bonus of being a great driver's car. Because Mazda is still a somewhat small operation, the CX-5 doesn't sell as well as the mass-produced Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4, but in a world where people are seeking more exclusivity in their vehicles, this can also be an advantage. We love the CX-5's great fuel economy, expressive good looks and the fact that a manual transmission is still offered on the base Sport trim.

While we generally rave about the CX-5's styling, fuel economy and road manners, its standard 2.0-liter engine wouldn't be our first choice, although it's the only way to achieve the advertised fuel economy figure of 35 miles per gallon. Less anemic and only slightly less fuel efficient is Mazda's 2.5-liter SKYACTIV engine and 6-speed automatic transmission found in the Sport, Touring and Grand Touring trims. Supplying 29 more horsepower than the stock 2.0-liter, this engine is a much better fit and helps the CX-5 expand upon its zoom-zoom credentials.

What's New for 2016?

The CX-5 receives freshened front- and rear-end styling. Inside, a new dash and center console are home to an electronic parking brake, while Touring and Grand Touring trims receive a new audio unit with a 7-inch touchscreen and Mazda Connect infotainment. Bluetooth is made standard across the line, and new options include LED headlights, adaptive cruise control and lane-departure warning. Improvements have also been made to the car's suspension and front seats, with more sound insulation resulting in a 10 percent reduction in interior sound levels at highway speeds. The 2.0-liter engine is now only available on the front-wheel-drive Sport trim with the manual transmission.

What We Like

Affordable; fun to drive; good fuel economy; simple but elegant dash and instruments; supportive seats; Bose audio

What We Don't

Underpowered base engine; manual transmission only offered on the base model; heated seats and side mirrors only available on most expensive trim; rear backup camera is an extra cost option

How Much?

$22,675-$35,000

Fuel Economy

The CX-5 with the 2.0-liter engine and 6-speed manual transmission is rated by the Environmental Protection Agency at an already-high 26 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway, but in a week of testing, our CX-5 Sport with the manual transmission returned an average of 32 mpg city/38 mpg hwy. Those numbers would be considered good even for a front-wheel-drive compact car with a smaller engine.

Where the 2.0-liter engine sometimes strains and struggles to reach cruising speeds above 65 miles per hour, the 2.5-liter motor has no such trouble. With only a modest reduction in fuel economy (26 mpg city/33 mpg hwy with front-wheel drive and 24 mpg city/30 mpg hwy with all-wheel drive), we think this is definitely the right engine/transmission combo for the CX-5, especially if additional passengers or heavy equipment are a part of the car's regular driving routine.

Standard Features & Options

Mazda offers the CX-5 in three well-equipped trims: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. All three can be equipped with all-wheel drive (AWD), but only the front-wheel-drive (FWD) Sport trim can be had with a manual transmission.

The CX-5 Sport ($22,675 for FWD and $25,325 for AWD) includes a 6-speed manual transmission, a 2.0-liter SKYACTIV engine, 17-in alloy wheels, air conditioning, a 60/40-split folding rear seat, an AM/FM/CD stereo with four speakers and USB audio input, Bluetooth, cloth seating, auto-off headlights, intermittent wipers, an intermittent rear wiper/washer, keyless entry with push-button start, cruise control, a tilt-telescopic steering wheel with audio controls, a multi-information screen with a trip computer and power functions for the windows, door locks and mirrors. Adding the automatic transmission and/or AWD brings the larger 2.5-liter engine.

The Touring trim ($26,095 for FWD and $27,345 for AWD) adds a 2.5-liter SKYACTIV engine, a 6-speed automatic transmission with sport shift mode, advanced keyless entry and start, fog lights, a 6-way power driver's seat with manual lumbar support, a blind spot monitoring system, rear cross-traffic alert, a 7-in full-color touchscreen display with a rear backup camera and Mazda Connect, an AM/FM/CD stereo with HD Radio and six speakers, Pandora Internet Radio capability, SMS text message delivery and reply, a voice-activated menu, rear privacy glass, upgraded cloth seats, a 40/20/40-split folding rear seat, a manual passenger seat lift and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.

The Grand Touring trim ($29,100 for FWD and $30,350 for AWD) adds leather seating, heated front seats, 19-in alloy wheels, Bose Centerpoint surround-sound audio with nine speakers, a power glass moonroof, heated side mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone automatic climate control, an 8-way power driver's seat with power lumbar control, automatic headlights and SiriusXM radio.

Optional equipment for the Sport trim includes the Rear Camera package that adds a rear backup camera and the 7-in touchscreen radio with Mazda Connect and HD Radio. The Touring trim can be equipped with the Moonroof and Bose package, while both the Touring and Grand Touring trims offer a Technology package that adds navigation, Smart City Brake Support (SCBS), rain-sensing wipers (Touring), adaptive LED headlights, LED fog lights and an auto-dimming mirror with HomeLink. The Grand Touring offers a new i-ACTIVSENSE package that brings adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning and automatic high-beam control.

Safety

The 2016 Mazda CX-5's six airbags is a relatively low number compared with some current vehicles that carry as many as 10. Even so, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the CX-5 its highest rating of Good for frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests, roof strength and rear crash protection and named it a Top Safety Pick.

Although only the top GT trim offers the high-tech driver assist features, such as lane-departure warning and adaptive cruise control, the CX-5 does have today's standard assortment of traction control, dynamic stability control and an anti-lock braking system. Mazda's Smart City Brake Support, part of the Technology package, is designed to operate at low speeds between 3-19 mph and uses a laser sensor mounted at the top of the windshield to detect objects in the vehicle's path. The system can help prep the brakes for emergency stops, or if the driver fails to slow the vehicle in time to avoid a collision, SCBS will activate an automatic braking system.

Behind the Wheel

We found the CX-5 to be the best-handling small crossover currently on the market. The steering is light and direct but not too twitchy for everyday driving. It feels planted during hard cornering and seems to follow the driver's will accurately. The CX-5 is comparable to many smaller, more tuned sports cars in overall feel, which is quite an accomplishment for a vehicle of its size and stature. While the 2.0-liter engine was occasionally a bit underpowered, namely on steep uphills and while passing at highway speeds, it has plenty of low-end grunt to get up and go. The 2.5-liter showed a much more aggressive side, although it still doesn't have the punch found with many V6 and turbocharged SUVs.

For those CX-5 models equipped with a manual transmission, standard hill-launch assist ensures there will be no rolling backward while you search for first gear when accelerating from a stop on a hill. The available blind spot monitoring system and rearview camera help counteract the CX-5 model's somewhat significant blind spots.

Other Cars to Consider

2015 Ford Escape -- The Ford Escape has never been better. Its handling is close to that of the CX-5. With multiple engine choices and features such as a panoramic moonroof and a foot-activated power lift gate, it's the CX-5 model's strongest competitor.

2015 Honda CR-V -- As the small-crossover class leader, the CR-V certainly has its share of fans and is value-packaged, but it lacks fun and personality and doesn't handle nearly as well as the Mazda.

2015 Subaru Forester -- The Forester comes standard with AWD and a rear backup camera and has better fuel economy than the AWD CX-5, plus the Forester can be had with a turbocharged engine. You can also get a manual transmission on the AWD model.

Used Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class -- A 2010-2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class offers more interior room, more power and a premium name. Look for a certified pre-owned model, and get a full warranty plus multipoint inspection.

Autotrader's Advice

If you're looking to spend as little money as possible on a great-handling, incredibly fuel-efficient and functional small crossover, the base CX-5 Sport with manual transmission and FWD is the best value around. For those who want a fully upgraded AWD vehicle that still returns pretty amazing fuel economy, the CX-5 Grand Touring with the i-ACTIVSENSE package is also a relative bargain. While we like the Touring trim's smaller wheel size and cloth seats, its unfortunate buyers have to move to the Grand Touring to get such desirable features as heated seats and side mirrors.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2016 Mazda CX-5: New Car Review - Autotrader