In the 2018 Mazda CX-5, you’ll find a competent small SUV loaded with style, features and functionality. While this statement is probably true for a good many compact crossovers, the Mazda CX-5 rises above them all with its impressive handling, excellent fuel economy, available diesel engine and clean yet elegant interior. Completely remade last year, the CX-5 ups its premium look and feel with a lower stance, clean lines and one of the most luscious red paint jobs we’ve ever seen. Despite a taut suspension and responsive handling, the CX-5’s ride isn’t harsh or jarring, giving it a leg up overt competitors like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.
On the flip side, the CX-5 lacks the turbocharged power found on the Ford Escape, Subaru Forester and Kia Sportage. The CX-5 is also missing some high-tech audio features such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, though Mazda says it might be able to add both via a simple software upgrade. We’ll keep an eye on that one. The CX-5 may have the last laugh, however, when later in the model year Mazda plans to offer a diesel engine option, a unique attribute in this class that will improve both performance and fuel economy.
What’s New for 2018?
For 2018 the CX-5 gains cylinder deactivation on its 2.5-liter gasoline engine. The Sport trim adds blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, while the i-ACTIVSENSE suite of driver-assist features is made standard on the Touring and optional on the Sport. The Touring trim also gains automatic on/off headlights, while the Grand Touring picks up a 6-way power passenger seat. See the 2018 Mazda CX-5 models for sale near you
What We Like
Beautiful interior; smooth ride; quiet cabin; excellent handling; sophisticated AWD setup; good fuel economy; future diesel engine offering; reasonably priced
What We Don’t
Dash-mounted touchscreen only operates when the car is stopped; no high-output turbo or V6 engine option; Grand Touring’s 19-inch wheels create a firm ride; no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto; heated side mirrors only offered on most expensive trim
Standard on the 2018 Mazda CX-5 is Mazda’s 2.5-liter SKYACTIV direct-injection gasoline inline 4-cylinder engine with cylinder deactivation, mated with a 6-speed automatic transmission. Horsepower is a respectable 187, with 186 lb-ft of torque. For front-drive models, the EPA gives the CX-5 a rating of 25 miles per gallon in the city and 31 mpg on the highway. Models equipped with all-wheel drive (AWD) earn a slightly lower 24 mpg city/30 mpg hwy.
Later in the model year, Mazda is expected to introduce a diesel engine option. No specs or EPA info has been given, however.
Standard Features & Options
Mazda’s CX-5 for 2018 is offered in three trims: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. All-wheel drive is an option for all three trims.
The CX-5 Sport ($25,125 FWD; $26,425 AWD) includes power windows, power locks, power mirrors, remote keyless entry with push-button start, 17-in alloy wheels, cloth seating, cruise control, a leather-wrapped tilt-telescopic steering column, manual air conditioning, variable wipers, LED headlights, Smart City Brake Support, a 6-way manual driver’s seat, an electronic parking brake, a 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat, a 7-in color touchscreen with 4-speaker audio, Mazda Connect with voice activation, a rear backup camera, Bluetooth hands-free cell phone connectivity and two front USB ports. Standard safety features include blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. Optional on the Sport is the i-ACTIVSENSE package, which includes auto high-beam control, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control and Smart Brake Support emergency braking.
The CX-5 Touring ($27,190 FWD; $28,490 AWD) adds a 6-way power driver’s seat, leatherette seating with suede inserts, automatic on/off headlights, heated front seats, rear privacy glass, auto-leveling headlights, dual-zone automatic climate control, an additional two speakers for the audio, Mazda Advanced Key proximity keyless entry, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, rear-seat vents, a rear-seat center armrest, reclining rear seats and rear-seat USB ports. The i-ACTIVSENSE suite is also standard. Optional on the Touring is the Preferred Equipment package, which includes a 10-speaker Bose CenterPoint 2 audio system, a power moonroof, a power lift gate, navigation and an auto-dimming mirror with Homelink.
The CX-5 Grand Touring ($30,620 FWD; $31,920 AWD) adds the Touring’s optional packages plus leather seating surfaces, 19-in alloy wheels, an 8-way power driver’s seat with power lumbar support, a 6-way power passenger seat, rain-sensing wipers, heated exterior mirrors, adaptive headlights and LED fog lights and taillights.
The optional Grand Touring Premium Package adds a head-up display with traffic-sign recognition, driver’s-seat memory, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel and a windshield-wiper de-icer.
The 2018 CX-5 comes with the standard complement of safety features, including antilock brakes, electronic traction and stability control and six airbags, including front-seat side-impact and front and rear side-curtain airbags. Standard Smart City Brake Support can sense an impending collision (at speeds of up to 19 mph) and prepare the brakes for faster activation. The system emits an audible alert and will even apply the brakes if the driver fails to take action. A number of active safety features are offered, including autonomous emergency braking, forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, rear cross-traffic alert and blind spot monitoring.
In crash tests, both the government and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety give the CX-5 excellent scores, with a 4-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and a Top Safety Pick award from the IIHS.
Behind the Wheel
We always enter a Mazda vehicle expecting a superior driving experience, and the 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 automatic transmission keeps the engine in the power band without droning (as we sometimes complain about with continuously variable automatic transmissions), and the CX-5 cruises comfortably at freeway speeds.
The CX-5 has always been one of the best-handling crossovers in its class, and the 2018 model offers subtle improvement. The front suspension is handled by independent MacPherson struts, while the rear suspension is an independent multilink setup. Stabilizer bars are fitted to both the front and rear assemblies. All-wheel-drive vehicles benefit from Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control, a sophisticated system that sends power to the outside rear wheel during cornering, which has the effect of sharpening response. The well-tuned electric power steering has good feel, pleasantly heavy at speed and light in parking lots. Mazda claims chassis rigidity has been improved by 15 percent over the first-generation car, which translates to a quieter ride and less body roll. The CX-5’s low 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.
Other Cars to Consider
2018 Kia Sportage — The Sportage offers equally handsome styling, features and safety equipment, plus the options of a turbocharged engine, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The CX-5, however, offers a bit more room and superior ride and handling.
2018 Honda CR-V –The CR-V has more interior room, a larger cargo hold and gets better gas mileage. But the CX-5 can tow more weight (2,000 lbs. vs 1,500), has a more upscale interior and more luxury options.
2018 Ford Escape –The Escape is slightly smaller inside but offers better audio and infotainment features, more features on its lower trim models and a choice of three engines, including two turbocharged units.
Used Subaru Outback — A 2015-2017 Subaru Outback will give you more room, superior off-road ability, better ground clearance and a number of driver assists, including the excellent EyeSight system. The Outback also gets slightly better fuel economy.
We think the best value is the Touring trim with the optional Preferred Equipment package. This version gives you everything you’ll need for both comfort and safety. We also feel the CX-5’s ride is much better with the 17-in wheels. As the CX-5’s low ground clearance and prominent front chin spoiler preclude it from tackling most off-road adventures, we’d suggest opting for AWD only if you live in a place where snow is a regular occurrence.