When someone asks me what crossover I think is best, I quickly point to the nearest station wagon.
Maybe it isn’t the most popular advice and it likely isn’t what they want to hear. A point quickly proven when their eyes glaze over as I discuss the merits of a lower centre of gravity and the negative effects size and weight have on fuel economy.
Wagons tend to be much more fun to drive and, granted, that’s typically not what shoppers in this segment prioritize, there are a few crossovers and SUVs that provide driving enjoyment in addition to everything else that makes them so appealing to the masses.
The Mazda CX-5 is one of them and it competes in one of the most crowded and competitive segments in the industry. There are some big players here like the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, both bread and butter vehicles for their respective automakers.
While not quite the sales juggernaut in the segment, the CX-5 is Mazda’s best-seller and it deserves consideration not just because it drives well, but as an overall package I find myself comparing it to vehicles from Lexus and Volvo, rather than Ford and Nissan. There’s a premium air to it, and when equipped with the turbo drivetrain and Nappa leather upholstery, you’ll be checking the key fob to make sure that you’re actually in a Mazda.
With a firm push towards upmarket waters, Mazda has been injecting a healthy dose of luxury into all of their products. They’ve realized that customers looking for affordable vehicles still want the niceties that the premium brands enjoy and they’re willing to pay for it as echoed by Mazda’s sales charts showing more of their customers are skipping the base models and springing for higher trim levels.
The 100th Anniversary edition tester I was in commemorates 100 years of the company’s existence and pays homage to their very first passenger car, the cute-as-a-button R360 coupe. This trim package can also be had on the MX-5, Mazda3, and CX-9.
All 100th Anniversary models are fully loaded and feature Snowflake white paint, and Garnet red leather interiors
The CX-5 I was in had 100th-anniversary logos on the headrest, fenders and wheel centre caps, as well as on the floor mats. On the inside, red Nappa leather with contrasting white leather on the armrests and centre console is sure to impress just about anyone that gets in.
Like most of the products Mazda makes, simplicity and ease of use are paramount. Driving is the main focus and all of the controls are within easy reach and allow you to keep your attention on the road. Even the infotainment, for example, might be viewed as stark or lacklustre compared to some of the competition but it still does everything, and Mazda’s simple rotary knob, much like the controller in BMWs is one of the easiest and least distracting ways to interact with a complex screen.
The 2.5-L turbo 4-cylinder under the hood develops 250 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque from just 2000 rpm when running on premium fuel. On regular gas that rating drops to 227 hp and 310 lb-ft. Either way, it’s more than you’ll find in any of its competition and more than even what many of the premium brands are offering.
The Mazda designed 6-speed automatic is programmed to keep you in the meat of the powerband with minimal hunting between gears. Shifts are seamless and the transmission downshifts with alacrity so you can get up and go on a whim. Additional gears would be nice for highway driving where the boost to fuel economy would be welcome. Expect high 9s to low 10s on the highway with my overall efficiency after a week of mixed driving coming in at just over 12.2L per 100 km.
The real benefits to choosing a CX-5 are revealed the moment you grip the leather-wrapped steering wheel and take a corner. The steering itself will be heavier than what you might be used to but it offers a solid, reassuring feel and actually communicates with the driver. The ride is just the right amount of firm and never gets jarring. Nothing in this segment comes close in this respect and you’re going to need to spend at least $20,000 more to find a crossover that is this composed on windy roads.
Sure the Honda CRV has a bigger cargo capacity and slightly more room inside but for the most part you’re not going to notice. The CX-5’s cargo hold is comparable to the Chevy Equinox but there’s little doubt as to what I would rather be driving.
There’s not much to fault here. Fuel economy is a bit disappointing and falls about mid-pack but the non-turbo trims fare better here. The ride is just right for me, but might be too firm for some, and, lastly, locking out the touchscreen when moving should be on the customer and not a decision that Mazda should make for them. If the customer wants to have this functionality then they should be able to.
Do you need to climb all the way up to this 100th anniversary trim to experience what I’ve been talking about? Not at all. That premium feel of the CX-5 is baked in. If you don’t need the additional power from the turbo engine, the CX-5 GT will give you pretty much all of this, minus the badging and the fancy red interior.
If there’s one takeaway here, it’s that the CX-5 feels more like a well-sorted wagon than it does your typical crossover. It also feels more expensive than it actually is and that’s a neat trick to pull off. There’s so much choice here, it can be hard to make a decision. But if you haven’t yet considered the Mazda, add it to your list. I apologize in advance for making your decision just a little bit harder.
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.