We’ve already driven the base-model Mazda CX-5 recently, and found it to be a really great handler on the track. For the segment, it is especially well suited to transitioning from corner to corner, carrying speed. Roll is controlled pretty well, and the car communicates information about grip and road surface through the suspension and the tiller. Steering is rather responsive, and when pointed mostly dead ahead, always feels prepared to jump into the next curve at your command.
It takes some work in the CX-5 to build a lot of momentum. Our front-drive tester sported a six-speed manual transmission. Its 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder (the same Skyactiv powerplant found in the Mazda3) engine produces just 155 horsepower and 150 pound feet of torque, making it feel downright slow a lot of the time. With a light-feeling clutch, it’s easy to get a good start off the line, but one really has to wring this engine out to make the most of its power. The engine is happy to climb the rev ladder, but starts to sound a bit harsh as you get into those higher reaches. Plus, this engine struggles whenever you need that extra bit of power, such as on steep grades or in passing maneuvers.
There is a definite upside to this little engine, though, in that it is very fuel-efficient. Achieving 26 miles per gallon in the city, and an impressive 35 mpg on the highway, the manual-equipped CX-5 is a class leader when it comes to sipping fuel. We found stretching out the life of a tank of gas to be surprisingly easy on a long highway trip, even with two other passengers and the cargo area packed pretty tightly. We saw nearly 32 mpg over the course of 535 miles, during our week of use.
The CX-5 feels nicely spacious, despite its compact footprint. The amount of luggage we were able to fit behind the rear row of seating—while still being able to see out the back—was rather impressive. With the seats up, there is 34.1 cubic feet of cargo volume, which expands to 65.4 cubic feet with the rear seats down. There’s no lack of head or legroom either, and ingress and egress for both rows was relatively easy. Plus, the standard interior of the CX-5 is pretty inviting, with decent hard and soft plastics materials attractively laid out.
Long-term comfort was a small issue in the CX-5, though. As we said, the motor does sound pretty buzzy when taken into the higher reaches of the revs. Depending on the surface of the road, the CX-5’s tires and suspension do transmit quite a bit of sound into the cabin. Vibrations through the steering wheel, while communicative for enthusiastic driving, do become fatiguing over the long haul, as does having to work so hard to keep the speed up (we found ourselves resorting to using the standard cruise control whenever possible, to give our legs and right arm a break). Finally, the seats in the base trim aren’t as supportive as they could be, particularly in the upper torso, neck, and head.
In general, we found this entry-level CX-5 to be a wonderful little package. It adheres to—champions, even—Mazda’s formula of efficient, practical, yet fun-to-drive vehicles. It’s a good value for those who want a communicative handler without sacrificing space, and its utterly impressive fuel economy means it continues to be a value even after driving it off the lot.