Quirky little Mazda Motor is a rebellious, independent-minded and outspoken carmaker with a no-apologies love of cars in general and the driving experience in particular – and the CX-5 compact sport-utility is a perfect example of what this actually means.
You will not find a more entertaining little rig amongst its many, many, many competitors. The Mazda’s steering is sharp, the brakes strong. The grippers here are a lovely example of how to put feel and response into the stopping powers of a tall, functional rig whose apparent first purpose in life – for buyers — is to drag home do-it-yourself furniture from IKEA.
The 187-horsepower petrol engine in my GT tester ($38,495 as tested) is NOT turbocharged, yet it is lively and just what you’d expect from a car company skilled at squeezing performance out of small displacement mills, rotary or otherwise. The six-speed autobox delivers sharp shifts and encourages enthusiastic drivers to play with the paddle shifters – to control your own gear changes.
In short, if you want a small rig with some heart and soul, get the CX-5. If a simple, thoughtful, accessible infotainment interface will win your heart, this is your choice. If you insist on a tallish wagon with firm seats, an excellent driving position, admirable outward visibility and good-quality materials all-around, you must at least test drive the Mazda.
Indeed, if you remain skeptical about the much-hyped electrification of the car market, if you just want a fuel-efficient small/tall wagon, the CX-5 is an obvious selection. It’s not a hybrid or a plug-in of any sort and you will need to drive it yourself.
In a nutshell, if you enjoy the drive and remain dubious about the imminent arrival of all these much-hyped autonomous or “driverless” cars, then Mazda and its CX-5 should most certainly have a place in your heart.
Because, folks, Mazda has long been the champion of truth and honesty when it comes to automotive technology. It’s not that Mazda denies there is a future in the electrification of the automotive fleet; rather, Mazda is simply sanguine about the timeline for the wholesale, broad adoption of EVs (electric vehicles) and self-driving rides of all shapes and sizes.
Sure, these technologies are coming, but not immediately. In the meantime, what about normal, sensible people who retain an emotional connection to driving?
They will find a home in Mazda’s products, including the CX-5. This SUV is not the absolute winner in reliability and quality studies, but it does just fine. However, if you want a little truck-like runabout that trades on its unbreakable-ness, then the Toyota RAV4 or Honda CR-V are probably more up your alley.
If you want the latest in 4G LTE technology, the you might want to look at the Chevrolet Equinox or GMC Terrain. Kia’s Sorento and Hyundai’s Tucson are well-built, strong designs available with some very interesting engine technology at reasonable prices. However, the brands remain a tad weak and the road manners need work.
Ford’s Escape is very close to the CX-5 in terms of driving dynamics and it’s available with all sorts of fancy technologies. But Ford’s quality has been dreadful for years and there are few signs that the company takes these woes seriously.
If you know the owner of a small Ford, in fact, you probably know someone who’s gone through several transmissions. In fairness, however, Ford has picked up its game a little when it comes to the Escape, though I remain wary and you should, too.
Volkswagen’s Tiguan is okay but nothing about it stands out other than a pretty decent reliability record. Nissan’s Rogue is well-priced and kind of pretty, but it’s saddled with a CVT (continuously variable transmission) that is the very antithesis of entertaining technology. And the materials inside fall on the wrong side of cheap.
As for the newest version of Jeep’s Cherokee, well, the styling is attention-getting, but like Ford, the Jeep brand’s long, long history of sub-par quality is a red flag. Subaru’s Forester, by the way, is a stolid player here and very safe. A new version is coming shortly, so if you want the outgoing model, drive a hard bargain.
As for the CX-5, I will warn you about the pricing. With freight and such, my tester tipped over 40 large. That said, the all-wheel-drive responses are both subtle and superb, fuel economy is strong, and the all-independent suspension layout keeps the car planted and controlled, despite the high centre of gravity.
The Mazda people love the drive and it shows here.
2018 Mazda CX-5 GT
Base price: $35,000. As tested: $$38,495. Freight, dealer prep: $1,895. (Base CX-5: $25,900.)
Engine: 2.5-litre I4 (187-horsepower/186 lb-ft of torque)).
Transmissions: 6-speed automatic.
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.8 city/7.9 using regular fuel.
Comparables: Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sorento, Volkswagen Tiguan, Ford Escape, Jeep Cherokee, Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain, Subaru Forester.