When it comes to family vacation vehicles, the Mazda CX-5 doesn't come to mind immediately or even after a few minutes. When we were given the opportunity to drive our family of five to Maine in the CX-5, we were a bit reluctant, especially in light of the fact that we've driven the bigger Mazda CX-9 on long trips not once but twice. We were, however, curious how a compact crossover would fare with a wife, three kids, and a fusillade of luggage over the course of ten days and many, many miles. Who were we to say no?
We were a bit reluctant to smash everything into the CX-5. Our family tries to pack light, but that's also a challenge when your Airbnb rental has no washing machine. We had to pack a lot of clothes, outerwear for boat trips, tons of food and snack in bags and a cooler, books, tablets, headphones, an air mattress (for hotels), and whatever other crap I'm forgetting right now. Also, our kids are not small for their age. They also tend to bicker (a lot), so putting them in a single row is a threat to our sanity.
Our trip was a long one. Driving from the northern suburbs of Chicago to Goshen, NY (where Legoland is) and then to West Bath, Maine (our final destination) and back, along with numerous shorter trips within the state of Maine, we tallied up just over 3,000 miles. The cabin would have to house two adults and three kids, along with plenty of food and luggage. This is a lot to ask of a compact crossover, and we thought we might do fine or kill each other in the process.
Here are the details of our CX-5 tester:
- 2022 Mazda CX-5 2.5 Turbo Signature AWD
- Base MSRP (Signature): $38,650 | Price as Tested: $39,875 (incl. $1,225 destination)
- Horsepower: 227 | Torque: 310 lb-ft
- Seating Capacity: 5
- Fuel Economy: 22 city | 27 highway | 24 combined; Fuel Tank Capacity: 15.3 gallons
- 1st Row Legroom: 41 inches; 2nd Row Legroom: 39.6 inches
- Cargo Space: 29.1 cubic feet (behind row two)
- Standard Features: i-Active all-wheel drive, M-Drive (Sport, Off-Road modes), 19" bright alloy wheels, rain-sensing wipers, wiper de-icer, heated power mirrors with turn lamps, auto-fold door mirrors, Nappa leather-trimmed seats, rear privacy glass, power moonroof, driver's seat memory, power passenger seat, heated front and rear seats, ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, Mazda connected services, Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, anti-theft engine immobilizer, Tire Pressure Monitor, Lane Keep Assist, Lane Departure Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Smart City Brake Support-Reverse, LED headlights w/ auto on/off, LED DRLs, LED combination taillights, adaptive front lighting system, high beam control, body-colored rear roof spoiler, roof-mounted shark fin antenna, power rear liftgate, 10.25" color display, wireless phone charger, Bose AM?FM/HD/SAT 10-speaker premium audio system, Bluetooth, 4 USB inputs, SiriusXM 3 mos. trial, SiriusXM Traffic & Travel Svc. 3 mos trial, Active Driving Display w/ Traffic, frameless auto-dim rear view mirror w/ Homelink, Mazda Advanced Keyless Entry, Mazda Navigation w/ Traffic Sign Recognition, Hill Launch Assist, Smart Brake Support, Advanced Smart City Brake Support, Mazda Radar Cruise Control w/ Stop & Go, front & rear parking sensor, 360-degree view monitor, Traffic Jam Assist.
- Optional Equipment: None.
The current (2nd) generation of the CX-5 is easily its best. While it has kept the same shape for the most part, the styling is more refined and upscale than the 1st-gen model. The creases, body lines, and sporty stance make the CX-5 one of the best-looking compact crossovers on the market today. It just looks great from every angle. Mazda's design language is evolving across the board, and you'll start to see bigger changes throughout the model line, but we think Mazdas will continue to be some of the best-designed vehicles in the mainstream auto industry.
We actually didn't realize this until we got up close to the front and rear fascias, but the 2022 CX-5 received a mild refresh in the way of the headlight and taillight signatures. They used to be round, but they've now adopted a more squared-off look courtesy of the versions from the CX-50. Mazda has managed to integrate a styling element from a newer vehicle into an older one without sullying the original formula. The new light signatures give the CX-5 a little bit more of a rugged look, but it's very subtle.
The Cabin Looks Great and Works Well
You would think that it's suicide to try to drive a few thousand miles with three kids in the second row, and you'd be right. Unless it's the CX-5. The Nappa leather seats in our Signature trimmed 2.5 Turbo model means the leather is super soft, and the interior just happens to be one of the best in the segment with great ergonomics, solid levels of visibility, and a comfortable but not overly cushy ride.
The 10.25 infotainment screen is the best Mazda has, and it's now crisper than before. We used Apple CarPlay the majority of the time for navigation, music, and audiobook duties. Mazda does not have touchscreens, which takes some getting used to, but the physical controls between the seats are excellent (and actually safer than using a touchscreen). At one point on the drive home, the screen was black after we started it up when departing a rest area. I Googled the issue, and it was a simple fix by depressing three of the control buttons at the same time to reboot the system (we did this while we were moving, and it proved to cause no issues). Easy peasy.
In terms of space, it has more usable space than you'd think. Row two isn't the biggest, but it provided enough space for our three kids. We wouldn't recommend it to transport three teenagers, but for our family, the cabin of the CX-5 proved to be truly impressive. Even when compared to the CX-9 we drove on our trip to Colorado, the CX-5 did more than we thought it could.
The outboard positions were fine for our tall 10- and 7-year-old kids, and even the middle position worked for our tall 5-year-old. I'm 6 feet, and my wife is 5'9", and we had no trouble getting comfortable. The seat cushions could use a bit more length for tall folks, but there was plenty of legroom for me and my wife in the front row, and we had no issues with the bolstering and cushioning. Great analog gauges, physical control buttons, as well as some seriously great (and quiet) ventilated seats made for a comfortable trip.
It's a Sheer Pleasure to Drive
Mazda makes their vehicles truly excellent to drive and not just in the twisties. We've always lauded the CX-5 for its superb driving manners (literally, the best among its competitors), but its high-speed road manners are also worth the price of entry. The 227 horsepower 2.5-liter turbo four is very capable, even when it's not topped off with high octane fuel (giving it 250 horses). Acceleration fully loaded surprised me when going out of the toll booth gates. Throttle response is almost immediate, and the corresponding braking is a great match that allows precise modulation. We had no problem keeping the CX-5 to 75 mph for hundreds of miles without stopping.
Our one chagrin that seems to be endemic to Mazdas is the adaptive cruise control. Sure, it's great 90% of the time, but when that front car pulls away, the system is on the slow side to respond. We had drivers behind us hammering us to move faster, so I would gas it until we caught up the vehicle in front of us. It's surprising oversight that makes the long-distance driving experience a tad less than perfect. The ride is a great balance firm and cushy, and the steering feel is excellent with great responsiveness.
The CX-5 2.5 Turbo with AWD is not an impressively efficient crossover. We managed to beat the EPA estimate for combined driving. Our numbers were actually quite good when measured against the estimates. Fully loaded, we got 26.4 mpg over 3,000+ miles (90% highway). Those aren't mindblowing numbers, but they also show that the CX-5 does better than estimates would indicate. You can drive just about 400 miles on the highway with a full tank. That means you don't have to stop for gas for over five hours at 75 mph. We did that at least four times (yes, the kids held their bladders).
Would we recommend the CX-5 as a regular family vacation vehicle for a big family? No, but that's a qualified answer. There are bigger compact crossovers out there (Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4) that provide more room and cargo space, but we cannot think of another model that's as great to drive, operate, and look at as the CX-5. Even at the end of this generation, it's a standout. It has more power and better driving manners than both of the aforementioned vehicles, and it looks more upscale (even more than the totally redesigned 2023 CR-V).
There's no one else in the auto industry that makes a compact crossover that's handsome, as rewarding to drive, and as reliable as Mazda. The CX-5 2.5 Turbo Signature AWD also proves that refinement and luxury aren't reserved for their most expensive model. We would do a long trip in the CX-5 again, and so would our kids. How's that for a solid recommendation?