With its smooth, contoured sheet metal and attractive proportions, the CX-5’s designers hit the bullseye. This is one of the prettiest small SUVs around, far more appealing than the robotic Honda CR-V, overly faceted Hyundai Tucson or blocky Toyota RAV4. The Ford Escape’s bodywork is similarly smooth, though it’s still not as eye-catching as this Mazda, especially when dressed in optional Soul Red Crystal Metallic paint ($595), the Japanese automaker’s signature hue.
No matter the trim level, the CX-5 comes standard with all-wheel drive, a new perk for 2022. Amenities like Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and LED headlamps with automatic high beams are all included at no extra charge. This means the CX-5 isn’t just a pretty face, it’s a good value, too. The big reason to pay for a higher trim level, however, is because of what’s under the hood.
A torquetonic shift
A familiar and amenable 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine provides the hustle in the CX-5 Turbo and Signature models, delivering either 227 horsepower if you fill the tank with 87-octane regular gasoline or 256 hp if you spring for 93-octane premium. Whether you’re a skinflint or spendy at the gas pump, you get nearly the same amount of torque, 310 pound-feet with regular or 320 when burning premium.
Performance is never an issue in the turbocharged CX-5, which can hit 60 mph in the low-to-mid 6-second range. Unfortunately, as potent as the engine may be, it sounds and feels noticeably rougher than I remember in other Mazdas. Also, despite this SUV’s sprinting abilities, it’s not particularly capable. The CX-5 Turbo can only tow 2,000 pounds, the same as a Ford Maverick hybrid, which produces way less power.
Despite an antiquated design with just six forward gears, this smooth, responsive automatic transmission still helps deliver admirable fuel economy. According to the EPA, this CX-5 stickers at 22 mpg city, 27 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined. In mixed, mostly interstate driving, I’m averaging 27 mpg on the nose, which isn’t too bad for an all-wheel-drive SUV with this much scoot.
The rest of the CX-5’s driving dynamics are mostly great. The steering is nicely dialed in, neither too light nor artificially heavy. As you navigate corners, this SUV feels like it’s pivoting about an axis somewhere near its center, feeling light on its feet and unusually precise for a family vehicle. The brake pedal is nicely weighted as well, and the ride is smooth without ever feeling sloppy. The luxury-like experience continues even at highway speeds, where the interior stays nice and quiet.
Premium and proud of it
The CX-5’s biggest claim to fame is its luxury car-rivaling interior. The cabin of this mass-market SUV is tastefully designed and beautifully built, with plenty of upscale materials and high-quality controls. The dashboard is elegantly simple, although the instrument cluster may take that a bit too far, looking plain rather than premium. Other upscale appointments include soft plastics on the rear door panels, a rarity in this class of vehicle, as well as a lovely woven headliner. The climate controls are mounted at the bottom of the center stack, and they’re immediately intuitive. The traditional mechanical shifter is reassuring thanks to its placement and slick action.
Higher-end versions of the CX-5 feature a 10.3-inch screen, which is wide, narrow and set far back on the dashboard. As in other Mazdas, the infotainment system that lives in there is a hateful affair, among the most unintuitive you will find in any vehicle today. The system is so bad, in fact, I haven’t even bothered setting any radio presets because the process is so frustrating. With myriad menus to rifle through, nothing is easy to get at, plus there’s no touchscreen, so you’re forced to use the control knob for everything, and it’s set a bit too far back on the center console to make room for the shifter.
Thankfully, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are both standard, though you’ll still need a cable if you want to use either smartphone-mirroring system, so plan accordingly. At least a wireless charging pad is included in Turbo and Signature models, though you can’t use CarPlay or Android Auto while charging, of course.
This SUV’s front seats are comfortable enough, though the bottom cushion doesn’t angle sufficiently to properly support taller drivers’ thighs. Easing the sting, both front chairs are heated and ventilated, and the outboard rear positions also feature butt warmers. Passengers in the back have enough headroom and leg space, but rival SUVs are noticeably more spacious. Annoyingly, this Mazda’s rear door openings are on the tight side, which makes it difficult to get in and out of the vehicle.
The CX-5 is a good cargo hauler, just not as good as some of its main rivals. With the rear backrests folded down, there’s nearly 60 cubic feet of cargo space. The cavernous Honda CR-V offers nearly 76 cubes’ worth of room, while the non-hybrid Ford Escape provides 65 and change. The Toyota RAV4 falls between those two models, clocking in at a whisker less than 70.
High quality at a low price
This 2022 Mazda CX-5 Turbo checks out for $38,670 including $1,225 in destination fees, making it quite reasonable, at least by 2022 standards where everything is expensive. For a little context, the entry-level S model checks out for about $27,500 and the range-topping Signature trim goes for about $41,000. On both ends of the spectrum, these prices are comparable to other compact SUVs, though the RAV4 and Escape can both be pushed a couple grand beyond the most expensive CX-5, despite not feeling nearly as special.
Overall, this Mazda utility vehicle is stylish, pleasant to drive and comes with a lovely interior. If you can live with the exasperating infotainment system and don’t mind sacrificing a little cargo space compared to competing SUVs, this is a lovely option. If Mazda were aiming to deliver a premium yet affordable vehicle, it certainly hit the target.