Our 2019 Mazda CX-5 Turbo Was Easy to Love

Alexander Stoklosa, Austin Irwin
·21 min read
Photo credit: Andi Hedrick - Car and Driver
Photo credit: Andi Hedrick - Car and Driver

From Car and Driver

40,000-Mile Wrap-Up

You don't have to say "compact crossover" three times in a row to make one appear; the parking lot is already full of them. They've scared away most their car counterparts, but it's crossovers like the Mazda CX-5 that make us think maybe the future isn't so spooky after all.

Our CX-5 arrived in the top Signature trim with flashy Soul Red Crystal Metallic paint and 19-inch dark-silver aluminum wheels. The leather-wrapped steering wheel and wood trim gave it a luxury feel despite its less than exorbitant price. The Caturra Brown interior combined good-quality dark dash materials with brown ventilated leather seats brought a very upscale finish to the cabin. A few accessories were added; all-weather floor mats went to good use, a rear bumper guard probably saved the CX-5 from a few blemishes, and a roof rack went largely unused.

Photo credit: Andi Hedrick - Car and Driver
Photo credit: Andi Hedrick - Car and Driver

A 250-hp turbocharged 2.5-liter four-banger and all-wheel drive come standard in Signature trims, but it's the 310 pound-feet of torque that gives the CX-5 an almost diesel-like power delivery. Print director Eric Tingwall pointed out, "This engine is tuned for a strong low-end tug from zero to 30 mph at about 50-percent throttle. When you floor the accelerator and ride it out through the relatively low redline, the engine feels a bit coarse and reluctant. I remember Mazda saying something about zoom-zoom, but this engine doesn't have any of that spirit." At 40,000 miles, however, the 2.5 did show a little more enthusiasm, delivering better acceleration times across the board.

But that tuning makes sense for the small-crossover use case, which doesn't typically involve regular trips to redline. It does involve regular trips, however, and on that front the CX-5 was often passed over in favor of more capacious competitors. We found the CX-5 stylish inside and out and a pleasure to drive, but its tight cargo space and lack of towing capability explains why it was overlooked for family trips. There were several staffers who asked about it having a trailer hitch—no, it didn't—but even if it did, the CX-5 maxes out at a 2000-pound tow rating. Other long-termers with more cargo space, like the Honda Passport, were often selected ahead of the Mazda despite the CX-5 delivering a more upscale driving experience.

Photo credit: Andi Hedrick - Car and Driver
Photo credit: Andi Hedrick - Car and Driver

The CX-5 completed its test without any hiccups or gaffes, despite being rummaged through by a would-be car thief. We took it to Mazda for six scheduled maintenance visits throughout its long-term test, regular 7500-mile services, and an additional stop right at 40,000 miles to replace the spark plugs. That cost $293, although at the same time the dealer noticed that we were wearing thin of rear brake pad and that those rotors were also warped. Add $574 to the normal-wear column. In terms of reliability, the CX-5 couldn't have been more consistent if it had taken a fiber pill every morning.

The most frequent gripes concerned the Mazda's tiny and slow infotainment system. Sometimes the menu would just freeze after startup or get stuck in a loading cycle when switching between menus. This system has since been upgraded for 2020 models, solving its lagginess. We've been in a new CX-5, and the larger 8.0-inch touchscreen is also a big improvement.

Photo credit: Andi Hedrick - Car and Driver
Photo credit: Andi Hedrick - Car and Driver

How much we like driving this 10Best-winning vehicle should not be diminished by how long it took us to reach 40,000 miles. We took delivery in March 2019 and only made it to 30,000 miles a year later, before quarantine started. It took another six months to knock out the last 10,000 miles. In contrast, our long-term Kia Telluride reached 10,000 miles in only its first three months, but its three rows and usable tow rating makes it far more friendly for a road trip with four or more people.

The CX-5 took us plenty of places, just nowhere very far from home. Most trips were local. It did a lot of commuter work (back when we were still commuting to work), and it ran a lot of errands. Assistant technical editor Maxwell Mortimer was the long-distance champ, venturing as far south as Tellico Plains, Tennessee, and driving 200 miles north of the office to Harrisville, Michigan for a camping trip. We averaged 24 mpg, matching the combined EPA-estimated mileage. We achieved 30 mpg during our 200-mile highway fuel-economy test near the 40,000 mile mark, which also matches the EPA's estimate, but it's still behind the all-wheel-drive Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue, and Honda CR-V. But we'd rather burn fuel in the CX-5.

Photo credit: Andi Hedrick - Car and Driver
Photo credit: Andi Hedrick - Car and Driver

After 40,000 miles we still appreciate the luxurious look and feel of the CX-5's comfortable leather seats, as well as its six-speed automatic transmission in a field rife with continuously variable automatics (CVTs). We wish its competition could step it up and offer the same effortless steering and controlled suspension as the CX-5—or that the Mazda could provide the cargo space of a Honda CR-V or Nissan Rogue. The perfect crossover doesn't exist, but we respect the CX-5's prioritization of the driving experience. Better to be really good at one thing rather than mediocre at everything.

Months in Fleet: 18 months Current Mileage: 40,206 miles
Average Fuel Economy:
24 mpg
Fuel Tank Size:
15.3 gal Observed Fuel Range: 360 miles
Service:
$971 Normal Wear: $574 Repair: $0
Damage and Destruction:
$0

View Specs

30,000-Mile Update

Photo credit: Michael Simari - Car and Driver
Photo credit: Michael Simari - Car and Driver

The past 30,000 miles of our long-term test with the turbocharged Mazda CX-5 have been trouble-free, uneventful bliss. It’s been the type of ownership experience you’d hope for with any vehicle. There hasn’t even been a single unscheduled maintenance visit or factory recall yet.

The CX-5 has drawn some unwanted attention, though. One night, while parked at a C/D staffer’s apartment complex, someone got into the presumably unlocked CX-5 and rummaged through the glove compartment and center console but left without stealing anything—and we had a bag of tools and a USB cord in there. It’s possible the would-be thief was scared off by something, but it makes us think that this CX-5 is a lucky one.

Photo credit: Brad Fick - Car and Driver
Photo credit: Brad Fick - Car and Driver

The 250-hp turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-four under the hood remains a staff favorite. That said, there are a few entries in the logbook that criticize the moment of turbo lag that exists at low rpm. And some staff members complain that this engine lacks power when you twist the tach past 5000 rpm. Quipped deputy reviews editor Tony Quiroga, “This engine makes low-end power and runs out of enthusiasm at high revs like a Fox-body Mustang ‘5.0’ V-8. The quotes are there of course because that engine is actually a 4.9-liter.”

We continue to be grateful that Mazda employs a six-speed automatic instead of a CVT. Shifts are crisp and quick, and the CX-5 never suffers from the dreaded droning sound that CVTs utter under acceleration. We do enjoy the faint sighs of the turbocharger’s pressure relief valve recirculating air on most shifts.

Photo credit: Brad Fick - Car and Driver
Photo credit: Brad Fick - Car and Driver

To celebrate his completion of a two-week quarantine after returning from a press trip in Italy, assistant technical editor Maxwell Mortimer took a 1400-mile road trip to the Tennessee–North Carolina border just before Michigan’s shelter-at-home decree hit. He writes that “the CX-5 is awesome. I can’t help but keep comparing its level of entertainment with a Volkswagen GTI's.”

Senior editor Joey Capparella also took it on a trip to Tennessee, where he noted the CX-5’s unexceptional highway fuel economy: “I had to fill up about every 350 miles or so. Out of boredom, I tried to get the low-fuel warning light to show zero, but I chickened out at 17 miles.”

The CX-5 appears to have a very conservative fuel gauge, though, because when Capparella compared the tank size with the quantity he pumped, the Mazda had over two gallons left in the tank. During Capparella's trip, his average fuel economy registered 29 mpg, or 1 mpg short of what an identical CX-5 managed during our 200-mile highway fuel-economy test. Had he wanted to, Capparella could have likely pushed it beyond 400 miles before having to seriously start looking for a gas station.

Photo credit: Brad Fick - Car and Driver
Photo credit: Brad Fick - Car and Driver

Since our last update, we’ve maintained a steady 24 mpg in combined driving. Currently, the CX-5 is driving on Nokian Hakkapeliita R3 SUV winter tires, which have taken the worst the winter could throw at them. Now that spring is here, we’ll be swapping to the original equipment: Toyo A36 all-season rubber.

Inside, the nappa-leather-trimmed driver’s seat is beginning to become a bit glossy as more and more butts slide in and out of it. Small creases and wrinkles are appearing, too. Left alone and in the warmest setting, the heated seats reach uncomfortably hot temperatures. Within minutes, you end up turning them off for fear of searing yourself. The 7.0-inch touchscreen is a bit frustrating, as it often lags and takes a long time to boot up when you turn on the CX-5. You find yourself waiting for it to load, stuck watching a gear icon spin on the screen for about 20 seconds. It’s one of the few gripes we have, though, as the rest of the interior has an upmarket design and feel.

We still have 10,000 miles to go before our loan ends. We'll see if the CX-5 can maintain its perfect reliability record. We look forward to the day when we can take it for another road trip. Right now, we’ll have to settle for quick runs to the grocery store.

Months in Fleet: 13 months Current Mileage: 30,375 miles
Average Fuel Economy: 24 mpg
Fuel Tank Size: 15.3 gal Observed Fuel Range: 360 miles
Service: $574 Normal Wear: $0 Repair: $0
Damage and Destruction: $0

20,000-Mile Update

Photo credit: Michael Simari - Car and Driver
Photo credit: Michael Simari - Car and Driver

It has taken nearly a year for our long-term Mazda CX-5 to cross the halfway point in its 40,000-mile stay with us. But that gradual mile accumulation is not for the Mazda's lack of goodness as a compact SUV. While we're not petty enough to shy away from the CX-5's handsome styling, excellent driving character, and trouble-free reliability because of its irksome infotainment system, that aging interface is about the only thing we have been able to consistently criticize.

Indeed, our Mazda is so agreeable that most of the very few entries in its logbook center on the small 7.0-inch infotainment display and both its slow response and less than seamless operation. "It's irritating to have to navigate into menu structures just to browse radio stations," wrote print director Eric Tingwall. "A dedicated seek or tuning control is desperately needed. I normally like these control-knob-based systems, but if it's going to be this clumsy, I'd rather just use the touchscreen." While Mazda has enlarged that touchscreen to 8.0 inches in higher trim levels as part of its updates to the CX-5 for the 2020 model year, this operating system still feels clunky and dated compared to the brand's newer setup found in its Mazda 3 and CX-30 models.

Photo credit: Michael Simari - Car and Driver
Photo credit: Michael Simari - Car and Driver

Still, after more than 20,000 miles and no shortage of fresher competitors to sample, the CX-5 continues to impress with its optional 250-hp turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-four. While that engine gains an additional 10 lb-ft of torque to 320 lb-ft for 2020, we don’t miss it on our 2019 model. It might not be the quickest in the compact-crossover segment—that would be the new Ford Escape with its optional turbo 2.0-liter four—but the CX-5 turbo's smooth, responsive power delivery impart to it a little of the MX-5 Miata's spunky personality. We're also pleased with the Mazda's average fuel economy of 24 mpg, spot on with its EPA combined estimate.

Additional satisfaction comes from the CX-5's six-speed automatic transmission, which shuffles gears smartly and effectively enough, especially in Sport mode, that we never feel shorted by the lack of paddle shifters on its steering wheel. Compared to the often mushy and droning continuously variable automatic transmissions found in many of the CX-5's peers, this six-speed 'box is refreshingly well tuned for both lazy and spirited driving. Staffers continue to levy similar praise on the precise and direct steering, the sorted body control that resists disturbances from Michigan's shoddy roads, and the pleasantly upscale interior of our top-spec Signature model.

The CX-5 also has been wholly reliable. Unlike many of our other current long-termers, not even a flat tire or a cracked windshield has interrupted the Mazda's clean streak. Our only visit to the dealer since our last checkup was for scheduled maintenance at around 21,000 miles, which amounted to $162 for an oil and filter change, cabin air filter replacement, and tire rotation.

Photo credit: Michael Simari - Car and Driver
Photo credit: Michael Simari - Car and Driver

Employed as a utility vehicle, the CX-5 is as capable as it is enjoyable to drive. Road warrior Scott Olman was able to fit a dining room table and six chairs in the back of the Mazda with both of its rear seats folded, which is pretty respectable in any compact ute. The colder temperatures of winter in Michigan also have helped us appreciate the effectiveness of the CX-5 Signature's standard heated front seats and steering wheel, although a shortage of snow thus far has meant we've had little opportunity to test out the excellent foul-weather traction of the Nokian Hakkapeliitta winter tires we've installed. There is still plenty of time for more of the white stuff to fall, though, and for us to put many more miles on the CX-5.

Months in Fleet: 11 months Current Mileage: 22,636 miles
Average Fuel Economy: 24 mpg
Fuel Tank Size: 15.3 gal Observed Fuel Range: 360 miles
Service: $427 Normal Wear: $0 Repair: $0
Damage and Destruction: $0

10,000-Mile Update

Photo credit: Brad Fick - Car and Driver
Photo credit: Brad Fick - Car and Driver

So far, the road to 40,000 miles in our Mazda CX-5 has been smooth, even as winter descends on these Michigan roads. There's nothing shocking about compact crossovers, other than the rate at which consumers keep buying them. So far, the CX-5 has performed as expected, with a few minor annoyances sprinkled on top.

As part of our current 17-car long-term test fleet, the Mazda CX-5 conceals its handsome face behind our more interesting, and sometimes problematic, vehicles. It's easy to be overshadowed by, say, our 362-hp twin-turbo Mercedes wagon, or a long-termer that shall go nameless but is tethered to the future of driverless cars and also has a fart button. (Yes, it's our Tesla Model 3.) The CX-5 is like a comfortable knee brace: you don't want to wear it, but when you do it's not so bad, because it's good at what it's supposed to do.

Photo credit: Brad Fick - Car and Driver
Photo credit: Brad Fick - Car and Driver

Our long-termer has the new-for-2019 250-hp turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-four. This engine is only available with all-wheel-drive models. Just after we ordered ours, Mazda added a 2.0-liter diesel engine option. The price of our all-wheel-drive Signature trim CX-5 is $39,850, which got us a Bose sound system, adaptive headlights, a heated steering wheel, heated front and rear seats (ventilated in front), and a 360-degree parking camera. The options on ours put it far from the $25,395 CX-5's base price and closer in price to the Jeep Cherokee or the GMC Terrain Denali.

Our experience with the turbocharged engine has generated few comments, which is a good thing. If engineers can create something to keep automotive journalists from complaining, they should box it and sell it to the masses. Mazda appears to have done just that. The new turbo engine emits a noticeable moan. The noise is somewhat expected for an engine that can send the CX-5 from zero to 60 mph in only 6.1 seconds. We've found the CX-5's 187-hp base engine feels underpowered—or, in other words, boring. Which is an adjective we would use to describe most patients in the hospital wing of compact crossovers. Our CX-5 wishes them a full recovery.

Photo credit: Brad Fick - Car and Driver
Photo credit: Brad Fick - Car and Driver

That isn't to say our romance with the CX-5 has been perfect. An overwhelming number of entries in the CX-5's logbook cry over slow infotainment loading times. After startup, several staffers were terrorized with the inability to change the SiriusXM channel from E Street to Fly FM fast enough. The 7.0-inch touchscreen loads at the same rate that old hips dance to Springsteen. On occasion, SiriusXM suffered from repetitive lost-signal errors, a problem annoying enough that one of us said it would prevent them from buying a CX-5.

Another common bruise in the logbook was the low-res camera. The 7.0-inch touchscreen is already barely larger than phones tagged XL, but the camera quality was deemed poor by three staffers who had driven the vehicle long distances. The longest trip was an 800-mile weekend journey by testing director Dave VanderWerp, who was unimpressed by the CX-5's driver-assist technology. The absence of lane centering means that when the CX-5 begins to wander from its lane, it doesn't automatically correct and nudge the car back to safety. The CX-5 just buzzes, which isn't much help compared to some of its cheaper rivals with similar assistance tech.

Photo credit: Brad Fick - Car and Driver
Photo credit: Brad Fick - Car and Driver

A fresh set of Nokian Hakkapeliitta R3 winter tires came in handy earlier this week, when the first major snowfall hit the Midwest. Senior editor Joey Capparella wrote: "These Nokian winter tires feel pretty unstoppable. The heated seats and steering wheel get nice and toasty." Meaning staffers looking forward to working from home on snow days should not take the CX-5 the night before.

The CX-5 has been back to the dealership twice, but only for routine maintenance to change engine oil, rotate the tires, and for inspections at the 7500- and 15,000-mile marks. The cabin air filter was also changed, but other than that, our CX-5 has been trouble-free.

Through its first 10,000 miles, the CX-5 has not been the first pick by staffers rushing to lunch on Taco Tuesday. Not because it's bad, but because it's just fine. Now that we've entered snow season here in the mitten state, we'll be monitoring its competence in dealing with Siberian conditions and its ability to whisk us to warmer, sunnier climes.

Months in Fleet: 8 months Current Mileage: 16,331 miles
Average Fuel Economy: 24 mpg
Fuel Tank Size: 15.3 gal Observed Fuel Range: 360 miles
Service: $265 Normal Wear: $0 Repair: $0
Damage and Destruction: $0

Introduction

Photo credit: Car and Driver
Photo credit: Car and Driver

Mazda has few obvious problems, but if prodded to highlight some, we'd cite weak brand recognition in the United States and a shortage of fun paint colors, particularly for the MX-5 Miata. If that sounds as if we're reaching, well, we are. The automaker's products are so uniformly likable that finding things to gripe about takes some pedantic effort. Mazda is also pushing hurriedly upmarket, a development that is as easily seen through the lens of the CX-5 crossover as it is in any of Mazda's recent products.

Like the recently updated Mazda 6 sedan, CX-9 SUV, and all-new Mazda 3 sedan and hatchback, the CX-5 stands a head or two above similarly priced mainstream competitors, in this case, the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and Chevrolet Equinox. The brand enjoys an enviable quirk: More than half of its sales mix, model for model, consists of the higher trim levels. Mazda has taken this to mean that buyers can and want to pay more for their vehicles, which has spurred it to add ever more deluxe Grand Touring Reserve and Signature trims above the previously top-dog Grand Touring spec on some models, the CX-5 included. We've taken the same development as license to sign up for a 40,000-mile long-term test in a loaded 2019 CX-5 in range-topping Signature trim. We for sure wanted to get the newly available turbo 2.5-liter inline-four in our long-termer, and the only way to do that is with the Grand Touring Reserve or Signature trim level. The lesser Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring trims make do with a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter. And we're not above spoiling ourselves with a top-spec example.

Photo credit: Brad Fick - Car and Driver
Photo credit: Brad Fick - Car and Driver

So what does a compact Mazda crossover costing BMW money deliver? For starters, the impression that it should cost BMW money. The CX-5 looks, inside and out, like something that belongs in the compact-luxury-SUV segment. It's mostly true, even at the CX-5's $25,395 starting price, and particularly so on the $37,935 Signature trim. Adding our test car's gorgeous $595 Soul Red paint, $70 cargo mat, $125 floor mats, $400 backlit doorsill accents, $125 rear bumper guard, $250 retractable cargo cover, and $400 roof rack rails brings the final tally to just $39,900. This, we should point out, is for the gas-powered Signature; after we took delivery of our test car, Mazda introduced a diesel engine option available only on the Signature trim. Pricing with that engine starts at $42,045.

Mazda includes a number of features that push competitors' nicer trim levels toward the same $40,000 mark, though none of those vehicles does as good an impression of a near-luxury product. (We're looking specifically at the GMC Terrain Denali and Jeep Cherokee, which cost $42,670 and $43,150 when equipped similarly to our CX-5 Signature.) The Signature brings as standard equipment some active-safety gear that's optional on several competitors, including automated emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and lane-departure warning.

Also standard on the Signature: lovely Caturra Brown nappa leather seating, real wood trim, a Bose audio system, dual-zone automatic climate control, power-folding door mirrors, adaptive headlights that point into corners, a power liftgate, power-operated and heated front and rear seats (ventilated in front), a heated steering wheel, a 7.0-inch touchscreen that can also be controlled via a central control knob, navigation, a 360-degree parking camera, front and rear parking sensors, and that aforementioned turbo four, which cranks out 250 horsepower. There are no major options offered beyond a few accessories.

Photo credit: Brad Fick - Car and Driver
Photo credit: Brad Fick - Car and Driver

The 2.5-liter in lesser CX-5s makes 187 horsepower, and all-wheel drive is a $1400 upcharge on Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring models. The turbocharged CX-5s are sold only with all-wheel drive. Like every modern, automatic-transmission Mazda, the CX-5 uses the brand's slick-shifting six-speed unit.

The combination of a turbo gasoline engine and all-wheel drive delivers a 6.1-second zero-to-60-mph time and punchy acceleration at most speeds (certainly stronger than with the base gas engine). More of a huffer than a screamer, the turbo four shoves the Mazda along on a wave of low-end torque. It might not be thrilling in the "zoom-zoom" sense, but Mazda doesn't lean on that phrase for marketing anymore, so let's not dwell on the idea that a compact crossover's engine needs to feel racy in order to be wholly effective. For now, we're calling the power delivery a possible hang-up when set in the Mazda brand's predominantly sporty context; we'll deliberate further over the next 40,000 miles. So, stay tuned as we live with our luxurious Mazda day in and day out and see whether our early positive impressions of its smooth ride, quiet interior, and fine road manners are affirmed or challenged.

Months in Fleet: 1 month Current Mileage: 2429 miles
Average Fuel Economy: 23 mpg
Fuel Tank Size: 15.3 gal Observed Fuel Range: 350 miles
Service: $0 Normal Wear: $0 Repair: $0
Damage and Destruction: $0

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