Test Drive: 2016 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD

Originally published March 23, 2015

Not everyone gets along with his or her in-laws. I get that. Which is why I recognize how lucky I am that I do. My mother-in-law is a kind and generous lady with a tremendous sense of humour and a seemingly endless desire to fatten me up with delicious home cooking every time I see her.

So when several years ago, she asked for my advice on her new car purchase, I confidently pointed her at the Mazda dealership, and here we are four Mazdas later with her merrily driving a CX-5. I thoroughly enjoy her cooking, so it is very much in my best interest to make sure she remains happy with the cars I recommend to her, and so far, I’m not going hungry.

Where competitors are looking at CVT transmissions and turbochargers to achieve similar results, Mazda is having success with their approach, and the 2.5L SKYACTIV engine is a good one.

The 2016 model year marks the mid-lifecycle refresh for the compact CX-5 crossover. It was a handsome machine to begin with, and Mazda’s KODO design language is proving to weather well, still looking sharp today. Subtle updates are there for the new model, if you look closely. There are new LED lights front and rear (the former are a part of the Adaptive Front Lighting System), a subtle rework to the grille with a series of horizontal bars will identify the latest model to eagle-eyed Mazda fans. The most obvious update on our GT-trim test car is a set of attractive 19-inch wheels with contrasting finish.

Those wheels, when coupled with the Titanium Flash Mica paint on our CX-5, give the little ute a decidedly upscale appearance that helped the Mazda stand out as one of the styling leaders in our recent seven-car comparison test.

The power train in the CX-5 soldiers on unchanged for 2016. In all but the base GX trim, Mazda’s ubiquitous 2.5L inline four sends 184 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque through a six-speed automatic to either the front, or all four wheels (as is the case with our AWD tester). The 2.0L in the base model can be had with a six-speed manual, but frankly, with only 155 hp and 150 lb-ft of torque, you’re better to save a few pennies and get the bigger engine.

Both engines utilize Mazda’s SKYACTIV technology, which, at the risk of over-simplifying it, combines high compression ratios with low-friction internals in an interest to reduce fuel consumption and increase drivability through good low-and-midrange torque. Where competitors are looking at CVT transmissions and turbochargers to achieve similar results, Mazda is having success with their approach, and the 2.5L SKYACTIV engine is a good one.

 

When really cold, such as during our test week, the Mazda’s gasoline engine growls and clatters like a little old diesel until it warms up. From inside the CX-5, the ruckus isn’t much of an issue thanks to decent sound deadening in the firewall, but from outside, the sound is likely to make Mazda aficionados rejoice that the long-anticipated SKYACTIV diesel has finally reached North American dealerships (it hasn’t).

Around town and on the highway, the 2.5L engine offers sufficient power to keep the CX-5 from impeding traffic, but it’s never going to shove you in the back the way Subaru’s turbocharged XT will. The SKYACTIV technology delivers on the efficiency promise, having supplied an overall average of 10.5 L/100 km in a mix of highway and city driving, with snow tires and truly arctic weather. Not bad at all for an all-wheel-drive SUV, but the official figures are even better at 9.8 city and 7.9 highway on regular fuel.

Unsurprising from the company that eschews convention and makes their halo sports car less powerful than the previous model in an effort to maintain playful balance, the CX-5 is most impressive for its poise. The power does not overwhelm, the transmission does an adequate job of shuffling the gears appropriately between efficient driving and sportiness, and the handling is excellent.

In fact, it’s these driving dynamics that have earned the CX-5 so many kudos since its introduction a few years back, with drivers amazed at the precision and feel of the Mazda’s steering, and its composure in the corners. Most of the competitors still trail the CX-5 in this department, so if motoring enjoyment is high on your list without compromising practicality, Mazda’s got the answer.

The snappy handling does trade off some ride comfort, with the CX-5 feeling stiffer over the potholed Canadian roads than most of its competitors. The larger 19 inch wheels leave less rubber sidewall to absorb the impacts too, suggesting they’re not helping the comfort level much. Such is the cost of high fashion.

And the CX-5 is practical. Its cargo hold is very competitive in the class, offering up 966 L of space behind the rear seats – 1,852 if you fold them down. What’s more, the space is easily accessed through a wide lift gate opening and a reasonably low lift over height. The rear seats split 40/20/40, offering many practical configurations, and fold flat to easily accommodate bulky items. The only real eyebrow raising concern is that even with a $2,100 Technology Package option, our CX-5 did not have a power tailgate.

The practicality continues to the passenger compartment, where rear seat space in every dimension is among the very best in the class. Rear legroom at 997 mm is especially generous for a compact SUV and overall passenger volume at 2,897 L betters top competitors, RAV4, CR-V and Escape.

Perhaps the update for 2016 that will most dramatically affect CX-5 owners on a daily basis is the implementation of a new infotainment system. Borrowed from the Mazda3, this new system is controlled via a rotary knob mounted on the centre console that falls easily to hand. Mimmicking BMW’s iDrive and Audi’s MMI, revered for being among the very best in the industry, the Mazda’s system is straightforward and easy to operate with basic common sense. The graphics of the 7.0-inch display are bright and clean.

In addition to the new and improved multimedia interface, front seat occupants continue to enjoy heated seats, dual-zone climate control and a nine-speaker BOSE audio system in our GT-trim CX-5. The optional Technology Package adds some serious safety tech to the car with Smart City Brake Support (a system that warns drivers of impending doom, and actively brakes the car if the driver does not), radar cruise control, lane departure warning system, and a feature I especially love, High Beam Control that automatically dims and re-ignites the high beams when passing on-coming traffic.

All of this technology costs money, and the CX-5 is certainly not the most affordable compact SUV. Optioned up as our rig is, Mazda asks for $36,995, plus freight. Still, with the company’s new unlimited mileage warranty, well-sorted tech features, handsome styling and that beautifully balanced driving experience, the 2016 represents solid value.

When the lease comes due on my mother-in-law’s 2013 CX-5 in the next year and she asks me if she should get another, I’ll be able to tell her that the 2016 model is an even better choice now than it was before. And I’m pretty confident I’ll still be rewarded with some great dinners.

Warranty:
3 years/unlimited distance; 5 years/unlimited distance powertrain; 7 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 3 years/unlimited distance 24-hour roadside assistance

Competitors:
Chevrolet Equinox
Ford Escape
Honda CR-V
Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
Mitsubishi Outlander
Nissan Rogue
Subaru Forester
Toyota RAV4
Volkswagen Tiguan

2016 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
articles_PricingType 2016 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
Base Price $34,895
Optional Equipment Technology Package (Smart City Brake Support, Mazda Radar Cruise Control, Forward Obstruction Warning, High Beam Control, Lane Departure Warning System, Sirius XM Satellite Radio) - $2,100
A/C Tax
Destination Fee $1,895
Price as Tested $38,990
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.8
8 Exterior Styling
7 Performance
8 Interior
8 Comfort
8 Fuel Economy