Test Drive: 2018 Mazda CX-5

The Automotive Journalists Association of Canada voted the Mazda CX-5 Best Small SUV for 2018, having been won over by this tidy Mazda’s fine looks, premium interior, and engaging driving dynamics. But in this ever-expanding universe of jacked-up hatchbacks, is the CX-5 the one for you?

The simple and elegant design features tight tolerances, high-quality materials, and surprising attention to detail.

While the 2018 Mazda CX-5 starts at $25,900 for the base front-drive model with a 2.0L engine and six-speed manual, tested here is the top-tier $31,500 GT variant with a more powerful 2.5L four-cylinder and a six-speed automatic transmission. The Technology Package adds another $1,600, and considering what you get, this is a value-packed upgrade.

To wit: adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go function, brake assist, pedestrian detection, distance warning system, forward obstruction warning, lane-departure warning and assist, auto high-beam, Sirius XM, and a head-up display showing speed, distance warnings, blind-spot warning, and traffic sign recognition.

This is on top of the GT’s standard AWD, leather, heated steering wheel, heated seats both front and rear, 19-inch alloys, power liftgate, Bose audio, navigation, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, proximity key with push-button start, LED headlights, wiper de-icer and sunroof.

So yes, this fully kitted CX-5 GT provides a plethora of goodies at a competitive price. And as is the case with all Mazda’s, the way it goes down the road suggests the engineers responsible for such things do indeed adhere to the brand’s tagline, “Driving Matters.” You will get a cushier ride in some competitors (Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, Chevrolet Equinox), but the Mazda’s firm-ish underpinnings do pay dividends when it comes to body and path control.

The steering is sharp with a reasonable amount of feedback too, and from this helm the CX-5 cuts an accurate swath. It is a fun crossover to fling about, yet it also shines during highway duty, tracking true while isolating occupants from outside noise.

There is a Sport setting, activated by a toggle on the console that calls up more aggression for both throttle response and transmission programming.

Mazda’s unique G-Vectoring Control improves the vehicle’s dynamics by slightly reducing engine torque when turning in to a corner. The deceleration G-force shifts some weight to the front wheels, thereby giving more grip and better turn-in response. If it does indeed make a difference, well awesome, because GVC is completely invisible to the driver.

The SkyActiv naturally aspirated, 187 hp 186 lb-ft 2.5L four gets cylinder-deactivation for 2018, with a claimed fuel economy benefit of 20 percent when driving at a steady 40 km/h and 5 percent at 80 km/h. My week with the CX-5 GT ended up at a respectable 9.1 L/100.

What you don’t get with this engine is much in the way of mid-range grunt. It’s fairly zippy off the line but runs out of poop once up to speed. The turbocharged fours in competitors from Honda, Ford, Hyundai, and Volkswagen are more satisfying, but we expect the soon-to-be-available diesel version of the CX-5 to be a torque-rich sweetheart. Yes, it will be more pricey, and with diesel now performance non grata thanks to Volkwagen, who knows how Mazda’s diesel aspirations will pan out.

The GT’s sport seats are snug and comfy, and once ensconced you’re looking at one of the best cabins in this segment – it appears much more expensive than it is. The simple and elegant design features tight tolerances, high-quality materials, and surprising attention to detail. Look closely at the door panels – the upper stitching is black while the lower cinnamon-coloured stitching matches the seats. All the metal trim surfaces look rich, and the head-up display shows blind-spot info and warnings, which is a pretty smart feature.

Too bad about the infotainment interface though. A central rotary controller on the console is the gateway to accessing most functions, but there’s a lot of distracting twirling and pushing just to find and select something as rudimentary as radio presets. The Bose audio gets a B from this musicker, and the navigation graphics are a tad primitive. Another minor gripe is the major gauge cluster not being backlit like many competitors – and paddle shifters would be nice to satisfy the more sporty GT buyer.

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None of these complaints are deal breakers, but there is one that could affect a buyer’s decision – the Mazda CX-5 cargo capacity can’t match the capacious holds of the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Volkswagen Tiguan, Subaru Forester. By the numbers, the Mazda CX-5 offers 875/1,687L with the rear seats up/folded to the Honda CR-V’s 1,065/2,146. That represents quite a difference if you’re regularly hauling hockey bags, strollers, or lots of camping gear.

But if ultimate cargo space is not high on your list (nor stoplight drag racing), the 2018 Mazda CX-5 GT Sport makes for a mighty compelling choice. It is arguably the best-looking and best-driving vehicle in the segment, and its high-quality cabin feels like it was swiped from one class up. Factor in the improved fuel economy for 2018, and you’ve got a compact crossover that rises to the top of the heap.

2018 Mazda CX-5 GT
Engine Displacement: 2.5L
Engine Cylinders: 4
Peak Horsepower: 187 hp
Peak Torque: 186 lb-ft
Fuel Economy: 9.8/7.9/8.5 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 875 / 1,687 L seats down
2018 Mazda CX-5 GT
Base Price $35,100
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,895
Price as Tested $38,695
Optional Equipment $1,600 – Technology Package $1,600
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.8
9 Styling
7 Powertrain
9 Quality
7 Comfort
6 Practicality
8 Drivability
8 Usability/Ergonomics
8 Fuel Economy
8 Features
8 Value