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Mazda CX-5: Budget Makeover

I test drive and review a wide range of cars, SUVs, trucks, and motorcycles, and the majority are upper trim levels. As a result, I’ve developed caviar taste. But when it came time to replace my personal car, I was confronted with my canned tuna budget. I was determined to reconcile my taste with my budget with a minimum of compromise.

I decided to purchase a Mazda CX-5 crossover SUV. I’ve reviewed the CX-5 a few times, and it stands out for me as one of the best-looking and best-handling compact SUVs available.

“Must-Haves” vs. “No-Thanks”

I had a list of my “must-have” features: leather seats, rear view camera, blind-spot monitoring, alloy wheels, bluetooth hands-free and audio streaming. I also had a list of “no-thanks” features: sunroof, navigation and premium audio. I’ve had vehicles with a sunroof, and I’ve discovered that I never use the feature, so I’d rather not pay for it. I carry a smartphone with me everywhere I go, so I consider a Bluetooth connection, an app and a good phone mount to be a better (cheaper) solution than factory navigation. And, while I love a good sound system, I mostly listen to podcasts when I drive, not music. So, a premium audio system is overkill, and I don’t want to pay for it. Are you sensing a theme? I’m thrifty.

I soon realized that I couldn’t find a new CX-5 that fit my requirements while still fitting my budget. For 2017, CX-5 comes in three trim levels: Sport (starting at $24,045), Touring (starting at $25,915) and Grand Touring (starting at $29,395). Add $940 to each of these for destination and handling fees, and another $1,300 for all-wheel drive (front-wheel drive is standard). None of the trim levels had the combination of all my “must-haves” and “no-thanks” features out of the box. In order to get leather seats, for instance, I had to choose Grand Touring, which brought with it all three of my “no-thanks” features — not to mention the $30K price tag.

I changed tacks, and asked my dealer about Certified Pre-Owned options. To my surprise, the manager pulled a rabbit out of his hat: A 2014 CX-5 Touring with 8,000 miles on the clock, currently in use as a service department loaner. I took it out for a test drive, and discovered a crossover that could pass for brand new. It had all of my “must-have” features except leather seats, and none of the features on my “no-thanks” list. Best of all, I could buy it for $18,800 plus tax and license. A few signatures, and I was soon driving home in my new (to me) CX-5. Now, my job was to turn my CX-5 Touring into my own version of the CX-5 Grand Touring without breaking the bank.


I started with the exterior. Grand Touring models have a little bit of extra chrome trim to distinguish the model. I went on the internet and found aftermarket fog lamp trim and rear exhaust outlet trim. A carbon-fiber adhesive strip took the place of the factory bumper sill protector. A powder-coated aluminum grille cover with a shiny black surface and thin horizontal fins bolted on right in front of the original. It’s a subtle, yet classy upgrade that sets my CX-5 apart from the crowd.


The interior was next. I went online to Katzkin Automotive Leather, and ordered up a custom leather interior to replace the cloth seats on my CX-5. Katzkin is based in Montebello, California. You find your make, model and year of vehicle, and then select the colors and features that you desire. Katzkin notified me when my interior was ready to install, and I made an appointment with a local shop from their network of approved installers. My CX-5 was now equipped with leather front and rear seats and door panels. The new seats look better than stock. They fit perfectly, feel like luxury seats, and have that distinctive leather smell. Best of all, they didn’t break the budget.

Finally, I addressed other appearance items in the interior. I added a few chromed plastic trim pieces to emulate the Grand Touring look. I found an aftermarket retractable cargo cover that fits and operates perfectly, and was a bargain compared to the factory unit. The final touch for my CX-5 was a set of Mazda all-weather floor mats and cargo mat, which I prefer over the included carpeted mats.


I’m thrilled with the results. I’ve now got a Mazda CX-5 with everything I want, and nothing that I don’t want. It took a bit of searching and planning, but once I collected the parts, installation was a snap — and it’s all reversible if I want to go back to pure stock later. Caviar taste on a canned tuna budget.

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Jason Fogelson
Jason Fogelson is a freelance automotive journalist and editor. He has covered cars, trucks, SUVs and motorcycles for a variety of print, web and broadcast mediaHis first book, “100 Things for Every Gearhead to Do Before They Die,” came out in 2015. He also writes music, theater and film criticism, in addition to the occasional screenplay. Jason lives near Detroit, Michigan, with his wife,... Read More about Jason Fogelson

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