2018 / 2019 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring – Best In Class, But Which Class?

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The Mazda CX-5 is easy to call “best in class,” but which class it is in is a matter for debate.

What is it? 

The Mazda CX-5 is a two-row crossover with great looks and a refined demeanor. Although all of the trims offer something for buyers, the top-trims are so good we wonder if Mazda has transcended the mainstream class and attained premium brand status. Here we review the 2018 CX-5 and preview the upcoming new trim additins for 2019.

Pricing and trims

For 2018 Mazda offered four trims plus a Premium Package that elevated the top Grand Touring Trim into what we consider the premium crossover class. Looking ahead to 2019, Mazda plans to go even further and introduce a Signature trim. Expect sticker prices including destination to range from about $27K to about $38K if you shop the CX-5 in the coming months.

We had a chance to fully test both the Grand Touring and Grand Touring Premium CX-5. A 2018 Grand Touring CX-5 has an MSRP of $30,945. A fully-loaded CX-5 Grand Touring Premium will cost $33,585. The all-new Signature Trim is priced at $37,885 including destination.

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Safety

The 2018 Mazda CX-5 earns the IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus rating. That rating is higher than both the 2018 Lexus NX’s and the 2018 Audi Q5’s. What we like most about the safety nannies on the CX-5 is that they are unintrusive. We didn’t experience any false positives and the lane keeping assist is smooth and helpful, not jarring and annoying.

Everything you expect is to be found in a CX-5. Rear cross traffic alerts, parking assist, automatic braking, and lane departure warning and assist.

Performance

Through 2018, the Mazda CX-5 has a 2.5-liter engine with 187 hp. It does the job admirably but is not as satisfying as some turbocharged engines in crossovers this size and the reason is the engine’s relatively low 186 lb-ft of torque. For 2019, the top two trims of the CX-5 will get Mazda’s fantastic 2.5-liter turbocharged engine with a meaty 310 lb-ft of torque. That is 67% more than the base engine offers and it is all available at basically idle. Torque is much more important than hp is and we have tested this great new engine in the larger CX-9 and also the Mazda6 sedan. This is where Mazda moves in on the Acura, Lexus, and Audi territory. Mazda was already competitive with them with regard to interior quality and refinement.

Unlike some competitors, Mazda has stuck to geared transmissions and avoided CVTs and DCTs thus far. The CX-5 uses a six-speed automatic transmission and we found that it is satisfying to drive and has no bad habits.

Ride and handling

The CX-5 Grand Touring and higher trims ride on 19-inch low profile all-season tires. Despite the lack of thick impact absorbing sidewalls, the CX-5 is comfortable over broken up roads. On smooth pavement and on the highway it shines. Around town, on twisty back roads, the CX-5 is fun to drive and handles with a sporty demeanor. In terms of handling, Mazda’s CX-5 offers the best of all worlds.

Seating

On its top trims for 2018, Mazda uses premium perforated leather. For 2019, the Signature trim will feature ventilated leather seats. We found the CX-5 seats comfortable, but they are a bit short in the thigh area. They are also not as wide as many of the better seats we test in premium crossovers.

Every compact crossover design is a compromise between second-row seat space and cargo volume. Mazda opts to make its rear seats relatively spacious. Top trims get heated seats with USB ports available.

Cargo

Mazda’s CX-5 has a cargo area that we would consider average for two-row crossovers. There is 30.9 cubic feet of cargo area behind the rear seats and 59.6 cu ft when they fold. By comparison, a Lexus NX 300 has 17.7 / 45.6 cu ft. A Honda CR-V has 39.3 / 75.8 cu ft.

Infotainment, Controls, Features

Mazda’s infotainment system defies an easy thumbs up or down conclusion. To begin with, Mazda opts to use a remote interface. A rotary knob with menu buttons and a small volume knob are located where a driver’s right hand might rest. If you prefer a remote interface, you will find that Mazda’s is as good as many premium bands’. We prefer simpler controls like those found in Subaru, Hyundai, and Nissan crossovers with a large touchscreen and menu buttons.

For 2018 Mazda made an interesting move. It did not equip its CX-5 with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay but told buyers it would later update their systems to include this important technology. Mazda recently made good on its promise. We called two Boston-area Mazda dealers and were given prices of $400 and $480 to have the update installed. For 2019, this technology is included on the top trims. Mazda’s screen size is a bit small to be considered premium and its native navigation does not have integrated real-time traffic. Instead, traffic is a separate app. We feel Mazda needs to up its game a bit in the infotainment arena if it wants to compete in the big leagues

There are two features that Mazda offers in the CX-5 for around $30K that most other premium crossover makers reserve for their trims costing up to 50% more. Those are a heated steering wheel and a multicolor, multi-informational, adjustable head-up display. These two features elevate the CX-5 trims costing from about $30K to about $38K beyond the feature packages of the Lexus NX and Acura RDX at these price points.

Overall

What the CX-5 offers is refinement, driving enjoyment, and fantastic styling. Add to that safety, and now premium-class torque and power and the CX-5 is a vehicle we find hard to place in the mainstream segment. Comparing the CX-5 to many of the mainstream crossovers its price seems unfair. It is just too good.  It would be easy to envision a head to head comparison of the Mazda CX-5 Signature to the Lexus NX 300 and Acura RDX. We feel that many shoppers might well choose the CX-5 in such a matchup.

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John Goreham

John Goreham