Normally, a car like the CX-5 wouldn’t make the cut for a review on GT Spirit, but after spending a few days with the Signature AWD version, we felt inclined to share it with you. Despite it’s comparatively mediocre stats to many of the SUVs on GT Spirit’s site, it turns out that it’s much more than the sum of it’s parts and specs don’t tell the whole story. It’s probably the least expensive SUV we’ve ever reviewed as well, but then Mazda is more known for building inexpensive cars that tickle the pure driver in each of us. Their engineers and designers seem to be driving enthusiasts too.
The CX-5 is a sharp looking little SUV. The design isn’t particularly complex but it has a certain “flow’ to it, as if the designers set out to capture the flow of the slipstream while in motion. Most people I discussed the design with really liked it. About the only dislike was the size of the enormous grille but most felt it didn’t detract from the design. The wheels are sharp looking and add to the design, and the chrome tying the front headlights together and the rear tail lights together are a nice touch too. The Soul Red paint was complimented repeatedly. “That shade of red…..” Yes, that shade of red really is magnificent.
Inside, deep red leather and chrome brightwork set the scene. The leather is soft and comfortable. The majority of the design lines inside are straight or angled, offsetting the natural flow feeling of the exterior. All the controls are well laid out and easy to understand and use. Radio and SatNav controls are found on the digital screen jutting up from the dashboard. Controls for navigating it are found on the center console and are easy to use. HVAC controls are low in the center stack ahead of the shifter and are also simple to use. The steering wheel is wrapped in a nice soft leather and has radio, cruise controls, and other driver information toggles on it. It’s got a nice thickness to it, without being excessive. The front seats are electrically adjustable and on the Signature model all four seats are heated while the front ones are ventilated as well.
Under the hood lies Mazda’s direct-injected and turbocharged 2.5L four cylinder engine. It provides 227 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque, which is enough to propel the smallish CX-5 along a good clip. There’s a 6-speed automatic hooked to it, but no paddle shifters attached to the steering wheel unfortunately. The drive system is Mazda’s i-Active AWD system which works invisibly in the background directing power to whichever wheels need it most. The engine note is a little on the droning side, but it’s not unpleasant – just not inspiring either.
The brakes are a basic rotor and caliper setup both front and back. There’s nothing special about them but they do a great job of stopping the car quickly and efficiently with great control and modulation. The brake pedal feels solid, without any sponginess or grabbiness.
The suspension is a four-wheel independent setup. It feels soft and absorbing initially but firms up quickly in a turn giving a good sense of confidence when cornering. It provides a pleasant ride – a nice balance between sporting and coddling.
The ride is quiet and the cabin isolated from most wind and wheel noise. Rough pavement comes through as dull thumping but the cabin does an excellent job of keeping most of the tire and wind noise outside the car where it belongs. In fact, we found the interior to be quieter than most Lexus models we’ve driven as of late.
As you can see from the specs, it’s nothing to write home about and you could be forgiven for overlooking it. It’ll run from 0-60 mph in about 5 seconds flat. You won’t set any records at the drag strip. And you won’t impress many people at the track either. But after spending a few days running errands all over town on city streets and freeways, I found that the way Mazda has tuned the powertrain and suspension invests it with remarkable driving characteristics and I found that I was really having a great time flinging it through corners and prodding it down the freeway. Had this been a 15-minute test drive at a Mazda dealer, I probably would have said, “Yeah, nice little SUV,” but I probably wouldn’t have noticed how good it really is. But running all over town, experiencing just about every conceivable traffic situation, really brought out the car’s abilities.
Frankly, it just loves to be pushed. Drive it hard and it not only does what you ask but it encourages you to push harder. The engine makes most of its power in the mid- and upper-rev range so as long as you’re moving along already, the power is thick and available. Passing slower cars is a snap. Dive into a freeway off-ramp and the brakes slow the car down immediately with excellent control, the suspension carries the car around the cloverleaf in an elegant glide, then nail the throttle and it rockets off the cloverleaf out into faster traffic with ease.
Stay on the throttle and take advantage of openings in freeway traffic. Slip into the empty right lane, pass several slower cars, then dive back into the left lane to get around a slow semi. This is where the CX-5 excels. It carves through traffic with ease, encouraging you to enjoy the driving. Forget about work and deadlines and bills and just focus on driving for a few minutes. And you bond with it. You learn you can trust it to see you through, even when you may have carried too much speed into a corner. It’s cool – the CX-5 has you. It’ll make sure you come out of it okay and live to fight another day. I found myself surprised and delighted by it.
What would make it better? Frankly, paddle shifters behind the steering wheel might have been fun. Maybe not. I certainly enjoyed it without them but wonder what more fun could be had with more control over the transmission. Any other suggestions would just be my subconscious trying to turn it into a Miata so I’ll stop. It’s a pretty great little SUV.
The CX-5 Signature Edition, which is essentially the nicest CX-5 available, starts at nearly $37,000. As tested, our test car added up to nearly $39,500. Not unreasonable for all the nice interior appointments in this day and age. There are certainly faster, more luxurious, and more impressive SUV’s on the market but that’s the delight of the CX-5: it’s not prohibitively expensive but it provides a wonderfully competent and engaging driving experience.