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2017 Mazda CX-5: First Drive Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Jason Fogelson May 2017

When Mazda introduced the CX-5 compact crossover as a 2012 model, they had no idea how successful it would be. Demand outpaced predictions, and sales built with each successive year. In 2016, over 112,000 CX-5 crossovers were sold in the U.S. -- more than one-third of total Mazda sales. Bringing out an all-new 2017 Mazda CX-5, then, carries a lot of weight.

Move Toward Premium

It seems like every automaker wants to be perceived as "premium" these days, and Mazda is not immune to the trend (Question: If everything is premium, then is anything premium? Just asking...). As a smaller Japanese manufacturer, Mazda is positioned to make a case. Last year's all-new CX-9 was widely compared with premium offerings, and the company's halo vehicle, the MX-5 Miata two-seat roadster, has upscale leanings as well. So, what's to stop CX-5 from moving up a notch?

Refined Exterior

The all-new CX-5 is crafted in the mold of the outgoing vehicle. Dimensionally, the new crossover is nearly the same as the outgoing vehicle, within centimeters in each measurement. The only notable change is in minimum ground clearance, where the 2017 model gives up nearly an inch to the 2016.5 (7.6 inches vs. 8.5 inches). This subtle difference accentuates the CX-5's stance. The new vehicle also wears a more pronounced nose, a shorter grille and all-new standard LED headlights (a decidedly premium feature). Mazda designers work with a design language that they call "KODO: Soul of Motion." As it sounds, the body of the CX-5 captures the spirit of movement, managing to look like it is in motion while standing still. Upper trim levels and option packages include LED fog lamps and rear taillights. CX-5 hasn't been completely transformed in this makeover -- it's still recognizably the same vehicle. But it is sharper, more mature and more refined than before.

Interior Upgrades

Mazda's interiors have long been a strength of the brand, and CX-5's new interior is one of Mazda's best yet. The dash-mounted HVAC vents take an active role in defining the driver's and front-seat passenger's spaces -- a very nice touch with a feature that is often an afterthought. The 7-inch full-color touchscreen infotainment display (standard on all trims) is mounted in a pod at the top center of the dash, close to the driver's eye line. A windshield-projected Active Driving Display with Traffic Sign Recognition (part of the Grand Touring Package) puts a head-up display in clear sight. The instrument panel has been upgraded to include a 4.6-in full-color TFT screen to carry essential information.

The center console has been cleaned up with the switch from a lever-operated mechanical hand parking brake to a toggle-operated electronic parking brake, leaving more room for a multi-function Commander Control knob, and allowing Mazda to center the gear selector in the console. Heated leather driver and passenger seats are standard on Touring and above, and a heated steering wheel and heated outboard rear seats come with the Grand Touring Package. If the previous generation CX-5 was near-luxury, the 2017 model must be considered to have entered the luxury sphere, at least in top trim level examples.

Engine and Transmission

At launch, the CX-5 will be offered with one engine and transmission combination. Mazda's naturally aspirated (non-turbo) 2.5-liter SKYACTIV direct-injection gasoline inline 4-cylinder unit mated with a 6-speed automatic transmission, dispensing with the 2.0-liter/6-speed manual that was fitted to the base Sport model. The 2.5 is tuned to produce 187 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque, a 3-hp increase over the previous engine. Front-wheel drive is standard, and all-wheel drive is available on all trim levels ($1,300). A diesel-powered variant has been promised for later in the model year, but details have not been released yet.

Suspension and Handling

CX-5 has always been one of the best-handling crossovers in its class, and the new model offers subtle improvement. Front suspension is handled by independent MacPherson struts, while rear suspension is an independent multi-link setup. Stabilizer bars are fitted to both front and rear assemblies. The CX-5 also benefits from Mazda's G-Vectoring Control, a sophisticated system that marginally reduces engine torque to transfer weight to the front wheels thereby increasing the contact patches of the front tires when the steering wheel is turned.   The well-tuned electric power steering has good feel, pleasantly heavy at speed and light in parking lots. Mazda claims that chassis rigidity has been improved by 15 percent, which translates to a quieter ride and less body roll.

Driving Experience

We always enter a Mazda vehicle expecting a superior driving experience, and CX-5 does not disappoint. The moderate engine output feels balanced with the crossover's intended use. It's not a rocket ship off the line, but the CX-5 is sprightly and eager to romp. The traditional 6-speed transmission keeps the engine in the powerband without droning (as we sometimes complain about with continuously variable automatic transmissions), and the CX-5 cruises comfortably at freeway speeds. The lower stance and taut suspension show their stuff when the road twists, and it's a pleasure to drive around town. Great outward visibility in all directions and a higher-than-sedan driving position validate the crossover choice.

Technology and Safety

Another aspect that defines the premium automotive is technology, both in infotainment and in advanced safety features. CX-5 offers a standard rearview camera and Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio streaming, with optional navigation and premium 10-speaker Bose Surround Sound system with Centerpoint 2 and AudioPilot 2. Other technology options include the aforementioned Active Driving Display, Mazda Radar Cruise Control with proximity warning, Blind-Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane-Departure Warning with Lane-Keep Assist, High-Beam Control, Smart Brake Support, and Traffic-Sign Recognition -- all features that you'd expect to find in a premium crossover. The 2017 CX-5 has not yet been rated by the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration (NHTSA) or by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Fuel Economy, Weight and Cargo Space

If the CX-5 makeover disappoints in any areas, fuel economy, weight and cargo space are the minor concerns. Front-wheel-drive CX-5 models receive EPA ratings of 24 miles per gallon in the city/31 mpg on the highway, and all-wheel-drive examples are rated at 23 mpg city/29 mpg hwy -- marginally lower than the 2016 model. This decrease in fuel economy is probably due in part to an increase in curb weight to 3,527 pounds (FWD)/3,655 lbs (AWD), a gain of close to 100 lbs. In addition, a new methodology employed by the EPA in determining fuel economy ratings for 2017 vehicles could also be responsible for the slight decrease in mpg.  Cargo space has decreased from 35.1 cu ft. with the seats up/62.5 cu ft. with the second row folded to 30.9 cu ft. with the seats up/59.6 cu ft. with the second row folded.

The Competitive Set

The 2017 CX-5 starts at $24,045 for the base FWD Sport model, and goes up to $30,695 for the AWD Grand Touring model. A GT Premium Package ($1,830) adds Memory Driver's Seat, Power Passenger Seat, Active Driving Display, Heated Rear Outboard Seats, Heated Steering Wheel, and Windshield De-Icer.

Mazda would like you to compare the CX-5 with premium crossovers like the Audi Q3, BMW X1, Lexus NX200t, and Mercedes-Benz GLA250. You'll probably want to consider the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, Buick Encore, Ford Escape, Hyundai Tucson and other non-premium vehicles when making your decision. This is a very rich trove of vehicles.

The 2017 Mazda CX-5 represents an evolutionary improvement over the outgoing model, and makes a good case for Mazda's move up the automotive ladder.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle's manufacturer.

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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.
2017 Mazda CX-5: First Drive Review - Autotrader