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A driving delight

 

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Starting price: $24,985 | Price yours

Above Average: Styling, handling, charm  

Below Average: Cargo space, infotainment 

Consensus: A good looking, great handling SUV 

Mazda’s current best-selling model and a hearty perennial on our 10 Best SUVs Under $25,000 list, the popular CX-5 model received a comprehensive revamp for 2017 that encompassed over 250 individual improvements. While its basic dimensions remain the same, the CX-5 now boasts even sharper looks, a more sophisticated interior treatment and an upgraded suspension along with a selection of new tech features that enhance its desirability in an ultracompetitive segment. 

Available in front-drive and all-wheel-drive configuration and offering Sport, Touring and the range-topping Grand Touring trim we drove, all members of the CX-5 lineup still share the same 2.5-liter naturally aspirated 4-cylinder engine. However, the 2017 recasting process saw it gain three horsepower -- bringing total pony count to 187 – and even quicker throttle response. This year, the engine is exclusively backed by a 6-speed automatic transmission, as the 6-speed manual previously available only on the front-drive CX-5 Sport has departed the scene.

Arguably one of the best-looking SUVs of any size, the CX-5 added even more elegant edge for 2017, complementing its completely redrawn sheetmetal with full LED headlamps across the lineup and offering the new Soul Red Crystal paint. Mazda also upped the CX-5’s inner beauty quotient with a core structure that’s 15 percent stiffer and a retuned chassis that retains this Mazda’s signature poise and ride quality but adds the automaker’s new G-Vectoring Control that helps the CX-5 respond even more effortlessly to steering inputs during cornering.  

One thing that hasn’t changed with this affable travel mate is its basic value proposition. Although the 2017 CX-5 Sport opens at a slightly higher $24,985 largely as the result of the now-mandatory autoshifter, even this entry-level variant boasts a full range of power assists, air conditioning, a Mazda Connect infotainment system with 7.0-inch color touchscreen display and Multifunction Commander control, Bluetooth connectivity, HD Radio, dual USB ports and alloy wheels as well as the aforementioned LED lights and G-Vectoring Control. Our leather-lined and fully loaded CX-5 Grand Touring FWD stickered at a highly competitive $33,080, a figure that made it second most-affordable player in this mix. And even fitted with Mazda’s $1,300 i-Active AWD system, it would have stayed roughly in the middle of its competitive set. 

2017 Mazda CX-5

2017 Mazda CX-5 Ratings

 

Highway Driving 

The latest iteration of the CX-5 remains a comfortable and capable freeway cruiser, with a solid feel, confident character and sufficient power to easily keep pace with traffic and also tow up to 2,000 pounds should the need arise. Overall consensus is that the CX-5 offers “the best driving dynamics of the bunch,” with great body control and steering feel. However, while the new G-Vectoring Control certainly does no harm, we found its impact is subtle to say the least. Notably less nuanced, the CX-5’s automatic transmission responds quickly to manual downshift requests and flicking the console-mounted rocker into “Sport” mode can enhance throttle response and invoke a more aggressive shifting program that provides a bit more kick during passing maneuvers. Although standard only on the top-line Grand Touring, the CX-5’s adaptive cruise control and projection-style head-up display also earned praise -- albeit the latter item coming with a caveat that it does not play well with polarized sunglasses. 

City Driving 

The CX-5 is equally adroit at dealing with the rigors of close-quarters urban maneuvering. Despite its comparatively long 106.2-inch wheelbase, this Mazda has a fairly compact 36.0-foot turning circle, which is second only to the Kia Sportage in our test group. As part of the 2017 redesign, the CX-5’s A-pillars were moved rearward nearly 1.4 inches to improve the driver’s forward view. And while the side sightlines are average, both the Touring and Grand Touring come standard with Blind Spot Monitoring and Rear Cross Traffic Alert while all models get Smart City Brake Support that can automatically apply the brakes to help prevent a low-speed impact. On the downside, the CX-5 does not offer a 360-degree camera system in any trim grade and the rearview camera in all lacks dynamic guidelines that bend as you turn the steering wheel. The Grand Touring model includes an impressive array of other driver assists that are optional on the Touring, highlighted by Lane-Departure Warning and Lane Keep Assist as well as Smart Brake Support that functions at speeds up to 90 mph.

Interior Appeal

Embodying the same kind of “Mazda Premium” character the automaker introduced on its 3-row CX-9, the 2017 CX-5’s passenger compartment has a genuine class-above look and feel. This elevated wow factor is particularly evident in the Touring and leather-lined Grand Touring variants. Beyond additional soft-touch surfaces, the general level of fit and finish has been improved across the board as have the overall instrument/control layouts and features selection. Unseen but equally commendable, an extra helping of sound deadener and enhanced sealing efforts reduce ambient noise levels under all operating conditions. While the scale of the CX-5’s covered center console is only mid-pack, Mazda did improve the supplemental stow spaces for bottles, juice boxes and other stuff in the doors. This Mazda’s well-formed front buckets earned kudos for their solid mix of comfort and cossetting, although some wished they offered a bit more lumbar support. One other point of contention involves the sun visors, which flip down just fine but don’t extend like those in several of the CX-5’s rivals. 

Infotainment 

The infotainment system in the new CX-5 is somewhat of a mixed bag. All trim grades feature a Mazda Connect package that includes a new 7.0-inch color display screen with higher resolution that’s been repositioned higher in the center of the dash for 2017 to ensure easier viewing. While Mazda’s multifunction rotary Commander Control serves as the primary input device, the system also responds to voice commands as well as touch, although the latter is only functional when the vehicle is stopped. HD radio and dual front USB audio ports are shared by all CX-5 models but stepping up to Grand Touring spec adds several welcome enhancements including a 10-speaker Bose Surround Sound premium audio system and SiriusXM Satellite Radio with a 4-month complimentary subscription. However, one significant shortcoming remains: The CX-5 still doesn’t offer support for either Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. 

Rear Seat

The CX-5 can’t lay claim to having the absolute largest rear seat area in this mix, but to the person, our evaluators deemed it the most visually enticing with a richer look and better styling relative to the bigger Equinox, CR-V and RAV4. A well-padded 40/20/40 split bench boasts sufficient headroom and legroom to easily carry a pair of average-size adults with space for a kid in the admittedly cramped center spot. The seatbacks offer two levels of rake adjustability for added comfort on all trim grades while the Premium Package available for the Grand Touring adds heating to the outboard perches. Both the Touring and Grand Touring now come with new rear A/C vents plus a pair of 2.1-amp USB charging ports. Mazda even revamped the hinge mechanism on the rear doors to allow an 80-degree opening arc making it easier to pop kids and their kid seats in and out. 

Cargo Area

While there’s no denying that buyers who prioritize maximum space should be looking at a CR-V or RAV4, the CX-5 does offer plenty of usable cargo capacity coupled with easy configurability. There’s a healthy 30.9 cubic feet of basic room in 5-passenger mode that rises to 59.6 cubic feet when the rear seatbacks are folded flat -- a chore made even more convenient thanks to individual release levers in the rear bay for each seat element. The CX-5’s well-scaled tailgate also has a decently user-friendly liftover height and a new power up/down feature for 2017 that’s standard on the Grand Touring but available on the Touring as part of the i-Activesense Package. 

Fuel Economy

Although the EPA fuel economy numbers for CX-5 dipped slightly for 2017, this Mazda hauler still rolls in with respectable 24 mpg city, 31 mpg highway and 27 mpg combined stats in front-drive form. Each of those figures gets trimmed by one mpg on models fitted with the i-Active AWD system. Our tester averaged 25.9 mpg during the course of our drive which slotted it behind the AWD Honda CR-V that led the pack with a 26.4 mpg best and the FWD Toyota RAV4 that turned in a 26.0 mpg performance.   

Resale Value

Retained value hasn’t been Mazda’s strongest suit historically, but the CX-5 continues to be a solid player and its extensive 2017 upgrades should help the cause even further. While the CR-V and RAV4 are expected to maintain their advantage in the long run, the CX-5 is projected to come within a percentage point or two of the others in this mix over time. That’s a tradeoff at least some owners are likely to find worth considering given the Mazda’s advantage in style, character and driving dynamics. 

 

Inside and Out Photo Gallery: 2017 Mazda CX-5

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