The Mazda CX-5 Turbo Earns Five Stars—and Then Some

The excellent CX-5 crossover is even better under pressure.

Arthur St. Antoinewriter, photographerThe Manufacturerphotographer

I've driven the Mazda CX-5 crossover several times before—and thoroughly enjoyed it every time—but big news arrived for 2019 in the availability of a new turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, the first forced-induction mill in the model's history. Suddenly, there's up to 250 horsepower on tap. (That's when using premium fuel; on regular gas, output is 227 horsepower. Both are a big jump from the base engine's 187 horses.) Suddenly the CX-5 has moves it never had before.

You can get the turbo only on the top two CX-5 models, including the flagship Signature AWD edition I drove. Lavishly equipped, the Signature comes standard with everything from 19-inch wheels to ventilated and heated front seats; heated outboard rear seats; Nappa leather trim, keyless entry with pushbutton start, a power moonroof, and a 7.0-inch color multifunction display with navigation and a rearview camera. To this my test vehicle added only a few minor cosmetic extras, including roof-rack side rails ($400) and illuminated sill plates ($400). Fully loaded, the Signature checks in under $40K.

This is a highly engaging machine. The exterior may not push the design envelope very far, but it's clean and chiseled and, unlike some vehicles in this class, it doesn't look like a shoe. The cabin is flat-out beautiful, with an inviting driver interface with simple console controls; a big, legible primary gauge display; and the Signature's rich materials and brushed-metal accents. The leather-wrapped and heated steering wheel feels great. Large swaths of glass make the interior airy while aiding visibility all around. The rear seats offer good legroom, while the rear cargo area (accessible via a power liftgate) offers decent luggage space. Others offer more room back there, but on the plus side, the load floor is entirely flat.

As I began driving the CX-5, immediately I noticed the cockpit's abiding refinement. It's quiet inside, well isolated from wind and tire noise (though the engine does make its presence clearly felt under heavy throttle). Steering feel, as we've come to expect from most Mazdas, is excellent, with plenty of confidence-inspiring weight and a clear stream of road info trickling through to your fingertips. The infotainment system—including Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a 10-speaker Bose audio system—works intuitively, but the navigation maps are overly simplistic, the screen is on the small side, and the whole system is slow in response. It's simply not as seamless and snappy as better modern units. Moreover, while most subsystems can be accessed easily using the central rotary controller and the surrounding pushbutton tabs, some simple actions—such as changing SiriusXM radio stations—require too many clicks and jogs through various menu screens. Infotainment is the one and only facet of the CX-5 that merits a serious upgrade.

The advanced driver-assistance tech on board is quite well-executed, however, as effective as it is unobtrusive. For instance, traffic-sign recognition will indicate a stop sign on the head-up display whenever you're approaching one. For less than vigilant drivers, it's surely a welcome notification. Also effective is the radar-guided braking alert. I rolled toward a wall without braking and—well before crunch time—the system sounded an audible alarm and a visual "Get on the brakes right now, buster!" alert on the windshield. (Okay, that's not exactly what it said.) Radar cruise control with stop-start capability is also aboard.

Driving-wise, the CX-5 shines. This is very likely the most pilot-rewarding rig in its class. As mentioned, the electrically assisted steering is superb, and the handling balance is simply excellent, especially for a tallish vehicle, even if the electronics tend to step in early if you begin play too hard, well before you can fully exploit the suspension's prowess. Ride quality, too, is outstanding, mostly plush but always ready to dance and never unduly harsh. As on all Mazdas, standard G-Vectoring Control complements the spirited moves, very slightly reducing powertrain torque when you turn the steering wheel, which results in a small forward pitch in body motion, thereby increasing the contact patches of the front tires for improved front-end grip. As a driver, you feel nothing—except, of course, delightful responsiveness.

Which brings us to the big finale. No one would ever mistake the turbocharged CX-5 for a "fast" crossover, but the additional horsepower now on tap seriously upgrades the overall fun at the wheel. By just 2,000 rpm, 310 lb-ft of torque is flowing through all four wheels, giving the blown CX-5 a liveliness on its feet its naturally aspirated siblings simply don't have. You can scoot right along in this thing, passing easily, climbing steep grades without strain. The exhaust note grows a tad strident at full throttle, but there's enough torque on tap that you rarely need to plant your right foot so deeply. The standard six-speed automatic is perfectly adequate, although we did wish for slightly speedier shifts. (A Sport setting livens them up a bit.) And in a decision worthy of a huge round of applause, in manual mode, you move the CX-5's shift lever backward for upshifts and forward for downshifts, just like a proper sequential racing gearbox. Most automakers do it in reverse (forward for upshifts, back for downshifts), which is unintuitive. Mazda's corps of enthusiast engineers did it right.

The turbo-enhanced CX-5 is a standout, let down only slightly by its aging infotainment system and, for some, a tow rating of just 1,500 pounds. Otherwise, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better-looking, finer-driving, more sumptuously equipped crossover anywhere.

From me, the turbo CX-5 earns five stars.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature AWD Specifications

ON SALE Now
PRICE $37,885/$39,455 (base/as-tested)
ENGINE 2.5L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4; 250 hp @ 5,000 rpm, 310 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD hatchback
EPA MILEAGE 22/27 mpg (city/highway)
L x W x H 179.1 x 72.5 x 65.3 in
WHEELBASE 106.2 in
WEIGHT 3,800 lb (est)
0-60 MPH 6.4 sec (est)
TOP SPEED 130 mph (mfr)

 

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