Road Test: 2018 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD

Styling, Fuel Economy, Zoom-Zoom Driving

The compact crossover SUV segment is overflowing with some of the best-selling vehicles in the country. There’s one that offers an exceptional combination of styling, fuel economy and sports-car-like driving dynamics. It’s the 2018 Mazda CX-5, and if you’re shopping this segment, it’s an SUV you’ll definitely want to test-drive.

2018 Mazda CX-5

Come for the style, stay for the zoom-zoom

Three models are offered: Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring, each of which is available with all-wheel drive for $1,300 extra. Every trim level has a single option package that adds a few more features. The base Sport starts at $25,125, including destination. The more recommendable Touring model, with its additional safety features and amenities, still offers a lot to like for $27,190. Top-line Grand Touring models begin at $30,620.

The four-cylinder engine is neither the most powerful nor most efficient in its class, but it puts up respectable numbers, especially in fuel economy of 30-mpg highway/24 city/26 combined for all-wheel drive models. With what Mazda calls Skyactiv Technology, that earns the 2018 Mazda CX-5 inclusion in our All-Wheel Drive 30 MPG Club.

The first generation CX-5 debuted in 2012 while an updated second generation arrived for the 2017 model year. Changes for the 2018 Mazda CX-5 include the addition of cylinder deactivation for the 2.5-liter engine and more features added to each trim. The Sport gains blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic detection, while the Touring gets the full i-ActivSense suite of safety assists.

What Is Skyactiv Technology?

Insightful, creative engineering is the core of Skyactiv. It’s a holistic approach with innovative engineering that benefits not only fuel economy, but performance, handling and safety as well.

2018 Mazda CX-5

Zoom-zoom starts with the Skyactiv engine

The result is: Mazda accomplished so much with so little, yet retained it’s acclaimed Zoom-Zoom driving behavior.

At the heart is the Skyactiv-G naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. It’s a lightweight, efficient four that uses direct fuel injection, sequential intake valve timing and a high 13.0:1 compression ratio. Taking an aim at fuel economy, Mazda added cylinder deactivation for 2018, a first in North America for a four-cylinder engine.

Engine output is 187 horsepower at 5,700 rpm and 185 pounds-feet of torque at 3,250 rpm. Launch from 0-to-60 mph is a tick under eight seconds, admirable for a vehicle that weighs 3,532 pounds.

2018 Mazda CX-5

Zoom-zoom comes alive out on the road

There’s also engine torque vectoring that helps reduce head toss by dialing back the amount of steering corrections drivers have to make while entering and exiting corners. The system additionally works to keep the CX-5 in a straight line on the highway.

Connected to the engine is the Skyactiv-Drive six-speed automatic transmission. It uses a small torque converter that delivers smooth starts and shifts attributed to transfer efficiency.

The CX-5’s all-wheel-drive system is among the segment’s more sophisticated in that it uses various sensors to predict weather conditions, including whether the windshield wipers are activated. Although not intended for serious off-road use, the all-wheel-drive system works as advertised to make the CX-5 exceptionally sure-footed in deep snow.

Knockout Styling

The 2018 CX-5 stands out among its competitors with its attention to detail. Thank the styling cues borrowed from its big brother, the CX-9. Like that midsize SUV, a shield-shape grille cants gently forward and features a delicate ring of chromed plastic that dives into the narrow headlights. From the side, the CX-5’s windshield is placed further back into the hood than is typical for a crossover. A simple rear bumper and smaller taillights than most crossovers add to the stylized look of the CX-5. Hinting at the performance bent are a pair of chrome exhaust tips.

2018 Mazda CX-5

Mazda continues to fine-tune its segment-leading design

Inside, the CX-5’s dashboard also borrows from the CX-9 with a pleasantly cohesive look of a high center console and a vertically arrayed dashboard. The standard touchscreen infotainment system planted on the top of the dash looks good, but is often clumsy to use. I was disappointed that neither Apple CarPlay or Android Auto is available.

It’s obvious that designers focused on details with high-grade materials and tasteful accent trims on the dash and center console. The visual affect is near Audi. Climate control switchgear turns with a gratifyingly solid soft click.

Front seats are supportive and comfortable, and the CX-5 has one of the roomiest cabins in the small crossover segment. Drivers and front passengers have generous head and legroom and six- or eight-way power adjustable driver seats are offered on all but the base Sport.

2018 Mazda CX-5

The cabin of the CX-5 has tech and a sporty feel, but has some shortcomings, too

Comfort extends to rear seat passengers who have a plentiful 39.0-inches of headroom and 39.3 inches of legroom. Thoughtfully beneath the front seats, second row passengers have plenty of foot space. Car and booster seats are easily installed, while doors open wide, making it a snap to get seats in and out.

Touring and Grand Touring editions come standard with 40/20/40 split rear seatbacks. When folded flat, they extend the cargo space from 34.1 cubic feet to a more than generous 65.4 cubic feet.

The 2018 Mazda CX-5 offers a host of safety technologies such as adaptive cruise control, collision mitigating braking, lane-departure warning and automatic high-beam control as well as the low-speed automatic braking Smart City Brake Support.

My Zoom-Zoom Road Test

Mazda may have dumped its “Zoom-Zoom” TV adds, but the soul of Zoom-Zoom lives on. Our Grand Touring all-wheel drive test vehicle approached life with zest not found in other small crossovers.

2018 Mazda CX-5

The CX-5 has generous storage space

The engine was mostly quiet and I could feel some muscle when accelerating or mashing the pedal when merging or passing. Power was demonstrated in a refined, enthusiastic way rather than a brute force manner. There was plenty of energy from the mid-to-upper ranges of the power band.

The six-speed automatic proved to be a smooth partner to the 2.5-liter four. Shifts—up or down—were as smooth and quick as any automatic equipped small crossover I’ve driven.

What made me appreciate the engine and transmission’s performance was the sweet handling, thanks to the Skyactiv’s attention to chassis detail. The suspension is divided between MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link arrangement in the rear. The latter has been mounted higher than usual to improve damper efficiency.

Our CX-5 was composed under hard acceleration and deceleration, stayed flat as it danced through tight, fast corners and kept its poise right up to the limits of tire adhesion. Although the suspension is skewed toward athletic achievement, the little SUV still dispensed a comfortable, well-behaved ride whether it was on the freeway or city streets.

2018 Mazda CX-5

The CX-5 has presence

As is becoming the norm in this vehicle class, the steering rack is an electrically assisted system that has feel close to Miata roadster. It is communicative, quick and precise at high speeds, yet light when parking.

The only demerit I gave the CX-5 was a sensitive, slightly grabby brake pedal. I did become used to it, and sensitive or not, during an urgently needed panic stop, the brakes came through as needed.

I would like to tell you what the cylinder deactivation system felt like, but I couldn’t pick out when the 2.5-liter engine was running on two cylinders or four. And unlike certain GM products with V-8 engines, there’s no tell-tale icon in the instrument cluster that flips on when half the cylinders are deactivated.

I can tell you, however, that after 944 miles behind the CX-5’s steering wheel, the vehicle’s fuel economy read out showed 28.8 mpg, nearly two mpg high higher than the EPA estimate. Plus, on a long highway run we eked out 30.2 mpg.

The Compact Crossover For You?

Our top-of-line 2018 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD had all of the available option goodies with a price of $34,685, including $595 for the Soul Red Crystal paint job. If items like a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats are not important, the $27,000 Touring model is an excellent choice.

At its starting price, the CX-5 is right in line with the sales-leading Honda CR-V, slightly under the number two- selling Toyota RAV4, and slightly above the Ford Escape and Nissan Rogue. A Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson and Subaru Forrester also start below the CX-5.

Where the 2018 Mazda CX-5 stands out from the crowd is its combination of fuel economy, ZoomZoom driving behavior and a competitive price with good value for the dollar spent. That makes it a relative bargain among the compact class.

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