Compact SUV Comparison: 2016 Mazda CX-5

By Matt Degen on May 8, 2015 8:58 AM

Mention a Mazda CX-5 and you're bound to hear words like "dynamic," "fun" and "agile." All are fitting descriptors. In our latest matchup of compact SUVs, it came as no surprise that Mazda's small sport utility vehicle clung to its status as the athlete of the class. What was unexpected, however, was its overall well-rounded nature. The CX-5 is no one-trick pony.

In our internal evaluation categories, which ranged from driving in various environments to interior appeal and infotainment technology, the Mazda CX-5 placed in the top two in four out of the six segments (not surprisingly, it was first in Sporty Driving). Moreover, it never fell below third in the others, a stat no other rival in our 2015 Small SUV comparison can boast. If you're looking for a small SUV that's adept at just about everything, the Mazda CX-5 is hard to beat.

Much of the reason for this is baked into the CX-5's DNA and results in impressive automotive synergies. For example, the Mazda's efficient yet free-revving engine, excellent 6-speed automatic transmission, light weight and rigid platform -- all collectively part of its Skyactiv master plan -- are the foundation for a compact SUV that is a blast to drive yet is also highly economical. With a highway rating of 33 mpg, our front-wheel-drive CX-5 trailed only the CR-V in fuel economy, with the Honda good for 34 mpg. (Opt for a base Mazda CX-5 with its excellent 6-speed manual transmission, and you're looking at a class-leading 35 mpg highway rating along with its tempting $22,625 base price.)

2016 Mazda CX-5 at a Glance
2016 Mazda CXx-5 Bar Graph

With an as-tested price of $27,585, the CX-5 was the least-expensive model in this group, undercutting the next lowest-priced competitor (the Toyota RAV4) by over $500. Yet this Mazda CX-5 in Touring trim never felt cheap. Just the opposite: It has a premium feel and brought some surprising features for the money. Chief among them are 7-inch touch-screen display with rear-view camera, power driver's seat, blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert and 17-inch alloy wheels. This test model was further upfitted with a moonroof and Bose premium audio system. For buyers seeking additional premium amenities and safety features on a mainstream budget, the CX-5 crossover SUV can be had with leather seating, radar cruise control, lane-departure warning, automatic emergency braking and LED headlamps. All in all, the CX-5 offers a lot for the money, and its track record of high resale value is another feather in this 5-passenger SUV's cap.

As the only 2016 model in our test, the CX-5 is also technically the newest. The 2016 CX-5 brings relevant enhancements over the past model, including a larger touch-screen display, slick new center console controls that lend a premium cabin feel and an electronic parking brake. Further, all 2016 CX-5s except the base version with manual transmission come with the more powerful 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that used to be optional. In addition to its fun-to-drive manners on twisty roads, the CX-5 proved a pleasure on the highway, with more than enough gusto for passing. When added verve is required, the Mazda's new Sport mode supplied it by way of altering the powertrain for more responsiveness. And here again, the CX-5's well-rounded nature made it an engaging and highly attractive small SUV.

Here's how the Mazda CX-5 stacks up against the competition:

Mazda CX-5 vs. Honda CR-V

Pitted against what has been the benchmark among small SUVs, the Mazda CX-5 more than holds its own. The Honda still has the edge in cargo capacity, rear-seat room and comfort, but as the CX-5 continues to mature that gap is decreasing. Along with being dynamically superior (read: more fun to drive), the Mazda handily trumps the Honda in the tech department with an easier-to-use and fresher-looking infotainment system. Both are available with advanced safety systems that include collision-mitigation braking. However, the Honda's low load floor and available power tailgate make it easier to load and unload cargo. More 2015 Honda CR-V

Mazda CX-5 vs. Jeep Cherokee

If you ever needed proof that horsepower is just a number, drive these two SUVs back to back. While the Mazda and Jeep have identical pony counts -- 184 -- the Mazda feels far fleeter than the Jeep. Part of this is due to physics, part is from engineering. The Mazda is over 500 pounds lighter than the Jeep, and its 6-speed automatic transmission is crisper, quicker and just plain better than the hesitant 9-speed in the Jeep. The Jeep, however, trumps the Mazda with its well-upholstered driver's seat, slick Uconnect infotainment system and quiet ride. And were this to be an off-road contest, the 4-wheel-drive Jeep would leave the Mazda in its literal dust. As with the Mazda, the Jeep offers safety features like blind-spot monitoring and forward-collision mitigation, and even a system to help you parallel park. More 2015 Jeep Cherokee

Mazda CX-5 vs. Kia Sportage

In driving dynamics these two actually felt the most alike, despite the Sportage's upper hand in the Department of Horsepower. Both are spry, and if this were solely a straight-line contest the turbocharged Kia would be the victor. But it isn't, and unless you're a boy racer neither is the daily commute. And that's where some of the Sportage's shine fades. Its steering wheel doesn't relay the precise feel as in the Mazda, and as with almost all turbo engines there can be lag. Both have interiors that would do justice in an entry-level luxury SUV, but this top-line Kia boasts extra niceties like climate-controlled front seats and panoramic moonroof. The Kia's low tailgate handle also was more frustrating to use. More 2015 Kia Sportage

Mazda CX-5 vs. Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

In every evaluation category, the Mitsubishi was outmatched by the Mazda. Whereas the Mazda didn't dip below a No. 3 spot in any of our tests, the little Mitsu never climbed past 4, and several times was relegated to last place. So it's no surprise that the CX-5 drives better, boasts better amenities, and even average higher fuel economy than the smaller Outlander Sport. In technology and safety functions, too, the Mitsubishi just can't compete. While rap fans may appreciate the Outlander Sport's thumping Rockford Fosgate sound system, the rest of us are better served by the CX-5's blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. More 2015 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

Mazda CX-5 vs. Toyota RAV4

As with the Honda CR-V, the Mazda CX-5 trails the Toyota RAV4 in rear-seat roominess and cargo space -- but not by much. If judged merely on the utility of these compact sport utility vehicles, the RAV4 has the edge. But that isn't the case for everyone, nor should it be. In the more subjective but no-less-important aspects of driving pleasure, the CX-5 bests the RAV4 like a well-seasoned entrée beats a plain one. The Mazda furthers its case against the Toyota with a more polished interior and snazzier infotainment system, and safety features like an automatic emergency braking system unavailable in the RAV4. But as with the CR-V, we appreciate the RAV4's optional power tailgate, a feature not available in the CX-5. More 2015 Toyota RAV4

More Compact SUVs

Build and price your own 2016 Mazda CX-5, read our full review or check out our Compact SUV Buyer's Guide to see even more options in the segment.

 

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