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Homeward Bound to Chicago in Our Four Seasons 2017 Mazda CX-5

The crossover’s first cross-country road trip

Jonathon Kleinwriter, photographer

Three years have passed since my wife, our two dogs, and I packed up our house and moved from the wintery hellscape that is Chicago to Los Angeles and its 300 days annually of blissful, sun-drenched beaches. But during those three years, my wife and I had been far too busy acclimating to our new home to return and see our family, something that had been weighing on both our shoulders. When the opportunity to grab the keys and put some initial miles on our Four Seasons Mazda CX-5 Touring for the Fourth of July weekend came up, we packed a couple overnight bags, grabbed the dogs, and headed back to the Windy City.

The CX-5 immediately proved a capable and comfortable cross-country tourer. Mazda's seat design imparts ample comfort for driver and passenger, as well as the two fuzzy passengers in the back seats. Usually it takes three to four hours before I get uncomfortable and start fidgeting on long road trips—I'll move my weight around, shift my legs, and try anything I can to get comfortable so I don't need to stop as I positively hate stopping unless absolutely necessary. In the Mazda's seats, however, I stayed comfortable for quite a bit longer, only needing a shift every six or seven hours.

Our dogs occupied the rear seats. They're very good road trippers and were content to sleep most of the way. Through some of the more aromatic sections of our trip, however, like the pine forests in the Rocky Mountains and golden wheat fields of Nebraska, they enjoyed the CX-5's retractable moonroof, through which our Husky would stick his muzzle through, turning the Mazda into his own personal Popemobile.

After we made our speedy way through the boring fiery flatness of the Mojave desert, we entered the more scenic and picturesque landscapes of Arizona and Utah. In the latter, I encountered an even lovelier sight than the terrain, however: signs indicating 80-mph speed limits.

Speeds limits this high are a rarity in the U.S., with only a few states adopting such lofty legal maximums. It was a lovely reprieve from the 65-mph speed limits of our short stint through the northwest corner of Arizona. The higher limit had me expecting Utah to feel as if it zipped by. It did not.

Instead, our trip ground to a screeching halt as my right foot got a bit too heavy for Utah's law enforcement officers. I wasn't going too fast—just 5 mph over—but the 80-mph limit is new and the state is still making sure it's safe, so enforcement is a priority.

Our brief encounter with the law included some pleading with the officer to be lenient. He did, and I managed to scrape by with just a warning. As Utah passed slightly slower, we saw over 20 other cars pulled over for the same reason. My warning for others looking to travel through Utah: go up to the speed limit but not a single digit over or prepare yourself for a hefty ticket.

Slowing down to a more reasonable 80 mph let us both take in the grand beauty of Utah's pristine countryside—from high desert to pine forests—and the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. It also allowed me to become more in tune with Mazda's pint-sized engine.

The naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder is great for puttering around town or getting around Los Angeles' disparate neighborhoods. On long trips such as this, however, its 187 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque just aren't enough. Passing required a calculated decision and there were times when the little engine felt as if it would run out of steam.

As we plowed through the Rockies under the cover of darkness, the CX-5 groaned. With the engine sapped of power by elevations as high as the Eisenhower Tunnel's 11,158 ft, the lower gears of its six-speed automatic put in service to keep the CUV moving forward at a respectable pace. Mazda doesn't need to give the CX-5 500 horsepower, but somewhere between 250 and 300 would be sufficient for moving around the 3,655-lb crossover, as well as cargo and passengers, with the right amount of zoom-zoom.

As the rising sun seared our tired eyes and pelted the little CUV, the Rockies made way for flat expanse of the Great Plains. Ahead were 800 miles of seemingly endless stretches of corn and wheat fields, stale humid air, and bugs splattering the windshield.

By the middle of Iowa, my wife Alli, the dogs, and I were all ready to drive the CX-5 into a tractor-trailer just to alleviate boredom. But we persevered and were rewarded with the highway ramp for Illinois a short time later.

We drove for three hours after crossing the torrential waters of the mighty Mississippi, falling out of the CX-5 at Alli's parents' house near the Illinois/Wisconsin border. The air was heavy and wet, but it felt damn good to be out of the CX-5's cabin. Sweaty dogs and people don't make for a happy smell.

Though we were happy extricate ourselves from the Mazda, the joy had nothing to do with the CX-5, which performed admirably throughout our trip. Most importantly, the Parchment white interior, which we've been quite nervous about since the start of our test, remained perfectly intact and didn't yellow or otherwise become ruined by our two pups.

As for our family reunion, both Alli and I were grateful for the opportunity to reconnect with much of our extended family—and for the Mazda for getting us there safely. While another trip back home isn't in the cards just yet, we'd be more than happy to hop back into our little red Mazda and zoom-zoom back to Chicago. Although, when we finally made it back to Los Angeles 7 days later, both of us were ready to maybe ask our parents to fly out next time or take a few more days to relax along the way and not just blitz through 2,000 miles.

Our 2017 Mazda CX-5 Touring

PRICE $34,435
ENGINE 2.5L DOHC 16-vavle I-4/187 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 185 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine AWD SUV
EPA MILEAGE 23/29 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 191.1 x 72.5 x 65.3 in
WHEELBASE 106.2 in
WEIGHT 3,655 lb
0-60 MPH 8.6 sec