The best looking and best driving affordable CUV in existence, bar none

2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD Review

There's no other word for this CUV except for "brilliant"

By: Amos Kwon

Web2Carz Editor-In-Chief

Published: May 16th, 2016

It's actually hard for us to believe that the CX-5 crossover has been around since 2013 because even after four model years, it still seems really fresh. Mazda replaced the remarkably mediocre CX-7 with the handsome CUV, and the CX-5 was a hit, especailly with critics. With numerous tweaks over the past few years, the CX-5 has improved even more and offered up higher levels of tech and refinement, as well as offering up nicer interior and exterior design changes.

Even when the CX-5 only had the underpowered 155 hp mill, it was still a great car, but with the introduction of the 184 hp 2.5-liter Skyactive four-cylinder, things got even tastier. We recently drove a top trim Grand Touring model to see if all of the collective changes are worth the nearly $34K sticker price.

  • Driving Impressions

    The CX-5 is an unequivocal pleasure to drive. Even though it can't compete with the Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T's 261 horsepower turbocharged four-banger, the CX-5 has better steering, better handling and better balance than the still very good Santa Fe. The 184-hp engine is willing and able, despite the fact that it doesn't launch the CX-5 with total authority. But that's okay since it's a perfectly fun and comfortable driving experience.

    If you'd driven the CX-5 without ever having looked at the exterior, you'd swear it was a sports sedan with the minimal body roll and very quick turn-in. You don't have to wonder if you've placed the car right in a turn since it nailed every apex we threw at it and threaded the needle in traffic like a champ. We dare you to find a better driving CUV at this price, and the CX-5 even bests cars with a lower center of gravity. Yes, it's that good.

    • Ride Quality: It leans on the sportier side but actually absorbs harsh bumps and potholes better than its competitors. The blend of firmness and comfort is just right.
    • Steering: The best steering CUV we've ever driven. Precise with very good steering feel.
    • Acceleration: Not what you'd call robust, but the fact that it weighs in at only 3,589 lbs in AWD trim means it's no slouch.
    • Braking: Progressive brakes with good feel. Zero grabbiness.
    • Handling: Mazda engineers did the CX-5 up right because it takes turns with minimal body roll, and chassis rigidity is evident.

  • Technology and Safety

    The Mazda Connect infotainment system might not display in the fanciest of ways (like upscale BMW iDrive or Audi's MMI) or as intuitive as Kia's UVO system, but it's incredibly functional and easy to use. there's a big 7-inch touchscreen that's a clear upgrade from the old 5.8-inch screen. Plus, the central control, multi-function knob between the seats is a breeze to use. Action is easy but precise and lacks the awful vagueness of the Lexus Enform system.

    It's clear that Mazda thought long and hard about creating a system that works incredibly well first and looks good second. None of the controls is hard to use, and visibility is good. We could do without the slightly overexposed orange-reddish hue for some of the visuals, but there's very little to complain about overall.

    • Infotainment Screen Size/Quality: Screen size is much better, clear and easy to read even in bright sunlight.
    • Bluetooth Phone Pairing: Easy pairing and re-pairing upon subsequent startups of the vehicle. It's quick and easy.
    • Voice/Sound Quality: The call quality was excellent on both ends. Our upgraded Bose audio system was very good with some minor distortion with heavy bass music.
    • Controls: Some of the best in the industry. The Audi MMI-like center knob is simple to use even at highway speeds.
    • Safety: The CX-5 now offers a robust set of safety features such as adaptive cruise control, collision-mitigating braking, lane-departure warning, and automatic high-beam control, as well as Smart City Brake Support and adaptive front lighting.

  • Exterior Design & Styling

    The CX-5's exterior styling is one of its strongest points (and it has a lot of them, mind you). The next best-looking CUV in this price range is the Hyundai Tucson, which is smaller. From tip-to-toe, the CX-5 is handsome, and every angle is a good one -- not something you can say about every other CUV on the market.

    The front has been tweaked for more refinement while the rest of the vehicle remains the same. In Grand Touring trim, the CX-5 gets some of the best-looking wheels on the market, 19-inchers with a combination of matte black and brushed alloy.

    • Front: The new 5-bar shield grille looks far better than the old honeycomb version, and smaller circular fog lamps give the fascia a cleaner look.
    • Rear: Nothing has changed about the 2016 CX-5's rear, but nothing needed to change, anyway. The cat's-eye taillights look great, especially with the combo LED detailing. Everything else, including the twin round exhaust pipes, is beautiful.
    • Profile: Its compact appearance belies the interior room in both the second row and the cargo section. The creased Kodo "soul of motion" body, the slightly sloping roofline and the dark-trimmed wheel wells give it head-turning looks.

  • Driver and Passenger Comfort

    The original CX-5 was decent inside, but something was missing. There was a lot of black and gray, but none of it seemed cheap or like an automotive afterthought. The 2016 gets better materials on the dashboard and center console, and it's noticeable. They feel better to the touch and look better, as well. Armrests have also been changed for improved comfort.

    In the Parchment colored heated leather seats, we found ourselves completely comfortable for long drives and well-bolstered for more spirited circumstances. The fact that they look spectacular, bordering on German sports sedan details, is a boon. The CX-5's ergonomics are top-notch, and there isn't a carmaker who's thought as much about functionality as Mazda, in our opinion. The only CUV that competes with it in terms of comfort and usability is the new Lexus RX, which is pricier and has a frustrating user interface. Stash space? Check. Mazda's switch to an electric parking brake frees up real estate on the console where the conventional handbrake once lived. There are two USBs and an auxiliary jack in an easily accessible open storage bin beneath the center stack. Another console cubby is right-sized for the car's key fob (push-button start is standard) or other small items.

    • Front Seats: Look great, feel great and might just be the best CUV seats at this price range. Parchment color makes it look very upscale.
    • Rear Seats: Ample room for six-footers and a solid amount of headroom. The middle passenger doesn't fare as well, but find us a CUV that nails this, and we'll concede the point./li>
    • Visibility: Great visibility all around and a good seating position for the driver.

  • Storage and Cargo Room

    It's nice to see that Mazda has thought about the "utility" part of CUV because the storage space and cargo space are all very usable and work well in real-world driving. Not all cars can say this. The small rubberized compartment in front of the shift knob holds loose items well since it's angled downward so things won't go flying under hard acceleration.

    The emergency brake button removes the manual brake handle and frees up space in the console. All other storage sections are ample and work very well for the owner who needs places to stash water bottles, loose change, valuables, etc.

    • Storage: Cupholders are deep and well-placed, the small binnacle next to them is deep and good for small items. The center armrest is on the shorter side but plenty deep. The well-sized glove compartment holds plenty.
    • Trunk/Cargo Room: Cargo space is 35.4 cu. ft. with the second row in place, which is very competitive for the segment. Seats fold flat for about 65 cu ft of total rear cargo space.

  • Final Impressions

    Many CUVs are easy to like. The RAV4 is a good buy, as are the Hyundai Santa Fe, Honda CR-V and the Kia Sorento. But the CX-5 is the one that thrills, largely because it's a CUV geared towards those who really want to enjoy the drive. There's never a boring trip in the CX-5 because it handles and steers so beautifully. We detected no rattling, no build quality issues, and making use of all the controls was an exercise in liberation, rather than frustration. And to top it all off, the level of comfort in both front and rear seats was superb.

    We lament the fact that Mazdas just don't sell as well as their competitors because the CX-5 is just that much better at virtually everything. In Grand Touring trim, it's luxurious and absolutely handsome inside and out. What Mazda has done with this CUV is truly remarkable, and this kind of attention to detail makes every one of their current vehicles a total pleasure. We can't wait to see what this translates to in the upcoming CX-9 7-passenger SUV. The CX-5 should absolutely occupy the top spot on every CUV shoppers list and will easily change the hearts and minds of those who started looking for a mid-size sedan.

  • Price & Specifications

    Engine: 2.5-liter Skyactive 4-cylinder

    Transmission: 6-speed automatic with manual shift mode and sport mode

    Drivetrain/Layout: all-wheel drive, front-engined

    Power Output: 184 hp / 185 lb-ft of torque

    Fuel Economy (mpg): 24 city / 30 highway

    Base Price: $29,470

    As Tested: $33,935 (incl. $900 delivery, processing and handling)

    Standard Features: 19" alloy wheels, variable rain-sensing wipers, fixed-intermittent rear weiper, heated power mirrors with turn lamps, rear privacy glass, auto-on/off halogen headlights, fog lamps/daytime running lights, roof spoiler & shark fin antenna, power moonroof, tilt & telescoping steering column, leather wrapped steering wheel with audio/cruise/Bluetooth controls, power automatic door locks, power windows w/ driver one-touch, leather trimmed sport seats, 8-way power driver's seat, driver power lumbar support, manual passenger seat lifter, heated front seats, push-button engine start, dual zone auto climate control, Bose AM/FM/CD/MP3/SAT 9-speaker audio system, HD Radio/AUX jack/2 USB input, Bluetooth hands free phone/audio, 7" color touch-screen display, multi-function Commander control, rearview camera, dual illuminated vanity mirrors, center armrest with covered storage, 40/20/40 split fold down rear seat, rear seat center armrest, carpeted floor mats, anti-theft engine immobilizer, tire pressure monitoring system, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, ABS with electronic brake distribution & brake assist, dynamic stability control, traction control, hill launch assist

    Options on our test vehicle: GT I-ActiveSense Package: Mazda Radar Cruise Control, Smart Brake Support, Lane Departure Warning, High Beam Control; Grand Touring Tech Package: Navigation system, LED headlights, adaptive front lighting, LED daytime running lights, LED foglights, LED combination taillights, Smart City Brake Support, auto-dimming mirror with Homelink, rear bumper guard, roof rack, side rails, door sill trim plates, SiriusXM Satellite Radio

    Find Local Discounts on the Mazda CX-5

Shopping for a used
Mazda CX-5?

• For more information such as specs, prices, and photos of the 2016 Mazda CX-5, click here: 2016 Mazda CX-5.