2020 Mazda CX-5 review: Pint-sized and premium – CNET

What matters most in a utility vehicle? Do you care only about interior versatility and passenger comfort, or do you lust after things like evocative design, luxurious materials and stirring performance? If those latter items are at the top of your shopping list, the 2020 Mazda CX-5 is probably the best small SUV for you. Rival offerings in this segment may check some of those boxes, but more often than not they still have more in common with a toaster oven than something that truly rouses a driver’s spirit.

Like

  • Smooth-shifting transmission
  • Strong acceleration
  • Premium design
  • Upscale interior

Don’t Like

  • Awful infotainment system
  • Obese A-pillars
  • Tight backseat
  • Buzzy engine

A real stunner

The Mazda CX-5 is far from the newest small crossover around, but it sure is pretty. Like the larger, three-row Mazda CX-9, this utility vehicle is swaddled in elegant styling including a broad, smiling grille, clean flanks and a perky rear. It’s easily one of the best-looking models in its bustling vehicle segment, which includes rivals like the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and Ford Escape.

Reinforcing its upscale appearance, my tester rolls on comely 19-inch rims that feature a dark-gray finish. They fill the body’s wheel openings quite nicely and don’t degrade over-the-road refinement. Unfortunately, lower portions this CX-5 are trimmed in black plastic cladding, which looks completely out of place on such a tastefully styled machine.

Appealing to a broad range of customers, the CX-5 is offered in five trim levels. There’s Sport, Touring and Grand Touring, as well as Grand Touring Reserve and Signature. For added appeal, all-wheel drive is offered across the range, but it’s standard on the two top models.

Luxury-car appointments

Mazda builds some of the nicest mainstream interiors in the business. Across its product range, this Japanese brand’s cabins are often far prettier than what you get in competing vehicles.

My highfalutin CX-5’s interior coddles passengers with near-luxury trimmings. The seats are enrobed in luscious Nappa leather, which is smooth to the touch. There’s real wood trim on the door panels and dashboard. Contrast stitching livens things up, and where there is plastic, much of it is soft and attractively grained.

Justifying the extra expense, Signature models like my tester also feature a comfortable, eight-way-power adjustable driver’s seat. Both front chairs are heated and ventilated, a luxury touch. Clicking the butt-warmers on quickly takes the winter chill away, though the weather was too cold for me to evaluate the ventilation feature. A standard head-up display keeps the captain well informed and traffic-sign recognition ensures you usually know what the speed-limit is, though it’s not always 100% accurate.

2020 Mazda CX-5 Signature

The CX-5’s cabin is beautifully made with a simple overall layout.

Craig Cole/Roadshow

Despite its impressive appointments, the CX-5 isn’t the most practical vehicle in its class. When it comes to hauling passengers, the back seat is disappointingly tight on legroom. With the driver’s bucket adjusted to my liking, there’s almost no space to spare for rear passengers’ knees — at least there’s plenty of headroom back there. The outboard seats are heated, too, and you get a pair of USB ports in the center armrest.

As for luggage space, the CX-5 provides 30.9 cubic feet behind the rear seat. Fold that 40:20:40-split backrest flat, which you can effortlessly do by pulling a couple small levers in the cargo hold, and that figure grows to 59.6 cubic feet. While adequate, the CX-5 is appreciably less capacious than the CR-V, which offers 39.2 cubes of storage space behind its second-row seat and 75.8 with the backrest folded. Even Ford’s Escape has more cargo room.

Circuits and such

There’s plenty of substance behind the CX-5’s pretty face. Mazda’s i-Activsense suite of safety features is standard across the range. This includes advanced driver aids like lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert, to name a few. All this stuff seems to work well. None of it exhibited any blatantly bad behavior during my testing.

In addition to all that stuff, push-button start, rain-sensing windshield wipers and keyless entry are included in all versions of the CX-5. These were luxury-car amenities just a few years ago and here they are, standard fare in a mass-market crossover.

2020 Mazda CX-5 Signature

Setting my Signature-trim tester apart from more workaday CX-5s, it has heated and power-folding side-view mirrors, always a handy feature. There’s also a windshield wiper de-icer, a godsend in wintry weather.

An 8-inch color touch-enabled display is perched high on this vehicle’s dashboard, home to the clumsy Mazda Connect infotainment system. With amateurish graphics and a confusing user interface, it is one of my least favorite multimedia arrangements available today. Icons on the homescreen look like they were designed by an intern at a toy manufacturer. The graphics are shiny and glossy, appearing at least a decade out of date. But dig a little deeper and it’s not only the look of this system that’s unattractive, the usability is ugly at times as well. For instance, changing radio presets is a multistep exercise in frustration. The rest of the CX-5 is so pretty and well-thought-out, it’s a head-scratcher why its infotainment tech is so behind the curve. Luckily, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included so there’s almost no need to use what the automaker offers from the factory.

Zoom-zoom dynamics?

Matching its sophisticated looks, the CX-5 provides a mostly refined driving experience. For 2020, engineers worked to improve its noise, vibration and harshness characteristics. For the most part, they succeeded.

Underway, this Mazda’s interior remains quiet and the ride is surprisingly supple, with little road harshness being felt inside, even though it rolls on generously sized 19-inch wheels. Lower-trim versions of the CX-5 are likely even smoother thanks to their smaller 17-inch rims. Still, there’s no tininess or coarseness to the way my CX-5 tester soaks up bumps. Simply put, this crossover carries itself like a larger, more expensive vehicle.

2020 Mazda CX-5 Signature

Likewise, the steering is nicely weighted, with a crispness to it you don’t often get in popularly priced utility vehicles. While not quite telepathic, this Mazda’s tiller is still rewarding to use. Snake the CX-5 through some of your favorite corners and it proves to be a willing dance partner. It doesn’t mind being pushed, though the suspension is compliant enough to provide a bit of body roll when hustling, something that keeps you from getting too crazy. Another thing that reins in any delinquent driving are husky A-pillars. Both frontal roof supports are gargantuan, considerably reducing outward visibility at oblique angles.

Helping improve handling, Mazda includes something called G-Vectoring Control. What it does is minutely reduce engine output when the steering wheel is turned. This supposedly prevents the vehicle’s weight from shifting rearward, meaning there’s more pressure on the front tires for better feel and control. I never noticed this doing anything during my time behind the CX-5’s wheel, but that’s the point. It’s intended to be seamless, and it is, helping provide light and precise handling.

A big ol’ slab of torque

Two engines are available in the Mazda CX-5. The up-level offering powering my tester is a 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that’s standard equipment in Grand Touring Reserve and Signature models. Fill the tank with 93-octane gas and this engine rewards you with 250 horsepower and a stout 320 pound-feet of torque, 10 more than last year. Don’t worry though, it will happily run on regular-grade fuel, though output is slightly reduced to 227 hp and 310 lb-ft.

That turbocharged engine makes this crossover plenty quick, imbuing it with ample torque throughout the operating range, so there’s no need to bury the accelerator just to get moving. Helping deliver this respectable performance is a willing transmission. On paper, the CX-5’s gearbox is behind the times, having only six forward speeds. These days, transmissions in some other vehicles have eight, nine or even 10 ratios, which makes this Mazda seem positively ancient. Fortunately, there’s nothing wrong with this gearbox’s performance. Shifts are silky smooth both up and down, plus it’s eager to drop ratios as needed, making it feel plenty responsive.

2020 Mazda CX-5 Signature

If there’s a downside to the CX-5’s drivetrain it’s, oddly enough, refinement. It’s hard to argue with this engine’s performance, but it’s also louder and coarser than I’d like. This powerplant is not afraid to let you know it’s working, and it emits some unwarranted vibration. No, it’s not excessive, but the rest of the CX-5 is so well thought out and refined that this buzzing seems especially noticeable.

Lower-trim CX-5s are also powered by a 2.5-liter four-pot, albeit one that does not benefit from forced induction. It delivers a still-respectable 187 hp and 186 lb-ft. It’s hard to argue with the turbocharged engine’s performance, but this base unit should be more than adequate for the majority of CX-5 drivers.

No matter the engine, just one transmission is offered in this crossover, a responsive six-speed automatic. With the turbo-four under its hood and standard all-wheel drive, my tester stickers at 22 miles per gallon city and 27 mpg on the highway. Combined, Uncle Sam says it should average 24 mpg. Those consumption scores are nearly in lockstep with a Chevrolet Equinox, one fitted with a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive. A similarly equipped Escape is a bit more economical than either of those rivals, averaging a claimed 26 mpg in mixed driving.

2020 Mazda CX-5 Signature

A little gem

Is the 2020 Mazda CX-5 perfect? No, but it’s still a lovely small crossover. In Signature trim, it feels a segment above where it actually competes.

The model I’m testing here checks out for $39,080, including $1,100 in destination fees. Just three modest options inflate the base price to that level. Machine Gray paint adds $300 to the bottom line, a bumper-protecting guard cost an additional $125 and roof-rack side rails are $400.

40 large is a healthy chunk of change to drop on a small crossover, but thanks to its agreeable dynamics and near-luxury interior, this CX-5 doesn’t feel overpriced. Even though it’s not the most practical offering in its class, with its tight backseat and somewhat limited of cargo space, this Mazda is still an excellent choice, a solid alternative to more popular rivals.

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