The auto industry hasn’t quite gotten the subcompact-SUV segment right, judging by the models we’ve test driven. But a number of the compact crossover SUVs have made a big impression on us. The Mazda CX-5 remains one of the best – the recipient of an “A” rating from www.edmunds.com, and one of Mazda’s biggest sellers in the U.S. market, with about 100,000 units sold per year.
Mazda, once the maker of quirky little sedans with powerful Wankel rotary engines, now makes a trio of crossovers – the subcompact CX-3, compact CX-5 and midsize CX-7. Soon to return to North America is the full-sized CX-9. Our preference for right-sized SUVs, with room for five, all-wheel drive and high seating position, steers us toward the medium-sized models. Thus, we’ve found the CX-5 to be much more desirable than the smaller CX-3, despite its higher price and slightly lower fuel economy.
We test-drove a Soul Red Metallic 2016 CX-5 Grand Touring model with all-wheel drive. It had a base price of $29,750 and sticker price, with options, of $32,640. The base CX-5 Sport starts at $21,795, compared with $19,960 for the base CX-3. Most drivers will find the CX-5 worth the extra $2,000 thanks to its larger passenger compartment, superior refinement and greater utility.
The CX-5 competes in a crowded segment featuring some very strong entries. They include the Mitsubishi Outlander, Ford Escape, Chevrolet Equinox, Toyota RAV-4, Honda CR-V, Nissan Murano, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson and Jeep Cherokee. We’ve driven most of them, and there isn’t a clunker in the bunch. We can’t say the same about the subcompact crossovers, some of which we’ve found too small, too noisy and too limited in their cargo-carrying ability for typical families.
Where riding comfort, power and convenience are concerned, each model has its strengths and weaknesses. The CX-5’s strongest suit is its driving dynamics. Once, the Outlander was the sweetest-handling compact SUV; the CX-5 now maintains a firm grip on that title. It’s not just reassuring and confidence-inspiring; it’s actually fun to drive. Mazda has brought the roadworthiness of its sedans, the Mazda3 and Mazda6, to the crossover game.
Front-seat room is ample in the CX-5. In the back seat, head room is ample for tall passengers, but knee room is tight. The rear seat folds down in thirds, creating a nearly flat cargo deck.
The CX-5 Grand Touring comes with the larger of two available engines, a 2.5-liter, 184-horsepower Four, and a 6-speed automatic transmission. This package delivers 24 mpg city, 30 highway, on regular unleaded gasoline.
Among its standard features are 19-inch alloy wheels, rain-sensing wipers, leather-trimmed heated sport seats, power moonroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, satellite radio, multi-function Commander control, rear-view camera, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. The $1,505 Grand Touring Tech Package added a navigation system, Smart City brake support and other features.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has rated the CX-5 a Top Safety Pick Plus.
Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.