2019 Mazda CX-5 Skyactiv-D Diesel Review

Once upon a time, a good notion.

Todd LassawriterThe Manufacturerphotographer

For years, German car company execs lobbied American automotive journalists to tout the virtues of diesel-powered luxury cars to our readers, and for a while, especially after spending a lot of time behind the wheel of our long-term 2012 Volkswagen Passat diesel with a manual transmission, I was convinced. Now, like European consumers after incentives to buy diesel passenger cars have been phased out, I'm over these engines. Keep that in mind as you read this review of the diesel-powered Mazda CX-5 Signature Skyactiv-D with all-wheel-drive.

Mazda's formula begins with the CX-5, one of the top compact SUV choices for any driver who needs a vehicle like this much more than he or she wants one. It doesn't drive like a dull, quotidian compact SUV, nor does it drive like a compact SUV whose manufacturer is trying to pass off it off as a sort of tall sport sedan.

It's worth noting that the diesel's extra 209 pounds—as compared with a CX-5 Signature with the 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gas engine—does make itself felt in the steering, which seems a bit heavier than the standard model's. It's probably enough to make itself felt in corners, though I can't say for sure. Southeast Michigan's one fun cloverleaf on-/offramp has been under construction for what seems like years now, and the only kind of fast cornering in my month with the diesel Mazda was either around 45-degree city grid turns, or on a couple of very mild sweepers Up North.

Even those sorts of corners are hampered in the CX-5 by the diesel's turbo lag. After VW got caught in Dieselgate, turbodiesel dynamics reverted to their natural state, which means a good deal of lag before the impeller winds up and pushes the driver back in the seat. Make a turn from a side street into heavy traffic—onto Woodward Avenue, for instance—and you have to recalibrate your response to various size gaps. Be patient. This is not specific to Mazda's diesel, with its 290 lb-ft of torque. In fact, the CX-5's throttle tip-in feels about as responsive as the 443-lb-ft 3.0-liter diesel V-6 in the 4,916-pound Land Rover Discovery.

Instrumented testing backs that up. As published by our friends at MotorTrend, the CX-5 diesel's zero-to-60-mph time was 9.0 seconds, compared with 8.3 seconds when equipped with the naturally aspirated 2.5-liter gas four and 6.4 seconds with the turbo 2.5 gas engine. Its quarter-mile time of 16.8 seconds at 81 mph compares with 16.4 seconds at 84 mph, and 14.9 seconds at 94 mph.

The Mazda diesel's payoff does not come from massive fuel savings, though. This example is EPA-rated for 27 mpg city and 30 mpg highway, 3 mpg better in the city and none better on the highway than the base 2.5 AWD. Compared to the turbo AWD model, the diesel is up 5 mpg in the city and 3 on the highway. I'm used to turbodiesels that have a strong highway number, which means fewer refueling stops on road trips, a nice advantage in the middle of winter in the Great Lakes region.

I did manage the best fuel mileage for a tankful when I drove the CX-5 diesel to our cabin about 180 miles from home. The Mazda made it there and back for the weekend on a single tank, managing 32 mpg, 0.6 mpg better than the trip computer indicated and a full 2.0 mpg better than the EPA estimate. Nevertheless, road warriors yearning for a pre-Dieselgate Big Number might want to keep an eye on such models as the Honda CR-V hybrid going on sale early next year. Our average (I shared the CX-5 Skyactiv-D with MotorTrend colleagues Alisa Priddle and Frank Markus for the month) fuel efficiency was 28.5 mpg. Not bad for a compact AWD SUV, but nothing overwhelming.

The Mazda's payoff does come in its 75-percent increase in towing capacity. It goes from 2,000 pounds in any of the gas-powered versions of the CX-5 to 3,500 pounds, which is enough capacity to pull the MotorTrend Network's Detroit Bureau party trailer. I did not test the CX-5 Skyactiv-D with this trailer attached to the Mazda's factory hitch, but MT editor Frank Markus did. In addition, the diesel's extra towing capacity is enough to tug one of those cool new tiny, aerodynamic camper trailers, or even to flat-tow an MX-5 Miata, so that's something.

The saga of the Mazda diesel for the U.S. has me perplexed, though. Why didn't Mazda use Volkswagen's Dieselgate as an excuse to cancel the long-promised program? It has become legend that Mazda engineers scratched their collective heads over the way VW was able to achieve the combo of good performance and high—often best-in-segment—fuel efficiency out of its diesels, all while meeting stringent U.S. emissions standards. Mazda wanted its diesel to hit the market with all the Zoom Zoom of its other models, and it would only do so honestly.

The official answer is that the 2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Skyactiv-D AWD is a low-volume, high-profit-margin SUV that will help push the brand upmarket, somewhere between mainstream commodity marques and premium brands like Acura. Available only in the top-spec Signature trim, which by the way is quite nice, the Skyactiv-D's base price is $4,110 north of the Signature with the gas turbo four.

I know which I would choose, even though I've got nothing to tow on a regular basis. If you are an enthusiast of those aforementioned tiny trailers and you don't want to pull yours with an SUV four times the size of the camper, the Mazda CX-5 diesel might be worth a look.

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Mazda expects to sell 1,000 of the diesel CX-5s in the U.S., and after those are gone, who knows? Its compression-ignition gasoline Skyactiv-X engines due to roll out soon in the 3 compact car are designed to provide Zoom Zoom performance with turbodiesel fuel efficiency. I can't guess what kind of towing capacity a CX-5 with the Skyactiv gas engine might provide, though I'm willing to bet that for most enthusiasts, it will be worth the wait.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature AWD Skyactiv-D Diesel Specifications
ON SALE Currently
PRICE $42,045/$44,040 (base/as-tested)
ENGINE 2.2L DOHC 16-valve I-4 turbodiesel; 168 hp @ 4,000 rpm, 290 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV
EPA MILEAGE 27/30 mpg
L x W x H 179.1 x 72.5 x 65.3 in
WHEELBASE 106.2 in
WEIGHT 4,000 lb
0-60 MPH 9.0 sec
TOP SPEED N/A
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