2016 Compact SUV Comparison – Part 3: Mazda CX-5 Touring

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Dad Kingdom’s 2016 compact SUV comparison is in full swing! 2 vehicles down, 5 to go. I’ve already reviewed the Rogue SV and the all-new Tucson Eco. Next up to bat is the 2016 Mazda CX-5 Touring. Then, the 4 remaining vehicles are the CR-V EX, Rav4 LE, Equinox LS and Escape SE. For around $26,000, you get a mid-level trim with an ambitious list of standard equipment, minus a few bells and whistles (and some cow hide). It’ll be interesting to see if my initial opinions hold up after I’ve finished reviewing them all. Check back later this fall for the final massive comparison!

The Mazda CX-5 has been winning comparison tests for years now and it’s easy to see why (examples here and here, although I’m not sure what these guys were smoking). It’s fun to drive, it has a thoughtfully designed interior, and its exterior design has really held up (hence the milder-than-usual mid-cycle refresh). This segment is stacked and I have a feeling it’s going to be very hard to pick a winner.

The CX-5 already had a nice sporty aesthetic, with clean lines and projector headlights, so a visual overhaul wasn’t necessary.

EXTERIOR

The exterior of the Mazda CX-5 has been tweaked a little for 2016, but nothing to write home about. The most noticeable changes are the new wheels and a new grille, along with slightly modified headlight housings. The rear fascia is mostly unchanged. I wish the sharp LED tail lights and stylish LED daytime running lights came standard. Unfortunately, they’re sequestered in the $1,625 Tech package (actually a good value for LED-everything, adaptive beams that follow the road, navigation, Homelink mirror and “Smart City Braking”). They got a little carried away with horizontal bars on the front fascia, but overall the refreshed exterior is a positive change. The CX-5 already had a nice sporty aesthetic with clean body lines and projector headlights, so a visual overhaul wasn’t necessary.

Fog lights and side mirror turn signals are both standard on the Touring model but, despite an attractive projector lamp design, you won’t find any trendy LED accent lights. (Some folks might prefer this absence.) The headlights will turn off automatically, but they don’t feature the fully automated on/off found on some peers. Also, if you need space for additional cargo or outdoor equipment, roof rails are a mere $275 extra. My only gripe is that the 17″ wheels aren’t nearly as cool as the upgraded 19″ wheels on the Grand Touring model. Without the 19’s and without the upgraded LED “technology” package, the exterior is sporty and stylish but just slightly above average when stacked up against the fierce competition in this segment. (I think Mazda is aware of this visual discrepancy, because it is almost impossible to find a stock photo of a new CX-5 without the slick 19’s.)

Mazda CX-5

INTERIOR & SAFETY

For 2016, the Mazda CX-5 did receive a bit of an interior overhaul featuring some nice finish materials (I like the faux carbon fiber), a quieter cabin and also the snazzy Mazda Connect infotainment system. This system has a 7″ touch screen and a console-mounted dial controller similar to high-end systems from BMW and Audi (iDrive and MMI respectively). I won’t say it puts other systems in this comparison to shame, but it does give the CX-5 a leg up in this category. Of course, there are also controls on the steering wheel. It looks like the CX-5 is the only model at this price point with leather under your palms. A leather-wrapped wheel may seem insignificant, but it’s something you literally hold every time you drive. Just sayin’…

As with all the other entries, the CX-5 has a backup camera. It’s adequate, but doesn’t have the dynamic guidelines found with some competitors. This Touring model also includes Mazda’s “advanced” keyless entry system (fancy name for a proximity key). A fairly minor feature, but once you’ve had a proximity key it’s amusingly inconvenient to use a traditional key. “What?! I have to take the key out of my pocket?!” #firstworldproblems

What sets the Touring model apart is that it is the only competitor in this test to include a blind spot monitoring system and a rear cross-traffic alert.

The CX-5’s cargo volume lands it in the middle of the pack. Not as big as the Rogue, but not as small as the Tucson. A 40/20/40 folding rear seat adds flexibility while quick release handles in the cargo area add subtle convenience. The driver gets one-touch window controls and a power adjustable seat that is firm and supportive yet also very comfortable. As previously mentioned, the materials have been refreshed and have a classy feel. Although, the door rests are softer than the center console. The rear seat might be the most supportive in the class, as it actually has some side bolstering. Unfortunately, the rear seat doesn’t recline, which is a surprisingly common feature for this class.

*Edit 4/15/16: In a bold move, Mazda has added some goodness to the CX-5 with a “2016.5” update. The 2016.5 Touring trim now features heated front seats and navigation! Two huge features with practically no increase in price!

The Mazda CX-5 is an IIHS “Top Safety Pick” with good ratings for every crash test, as is mostly the case with its competitors. What sets the Touring model apart is that it is the only competitor in this test to include a blind spot monitoring system and a rear cross-traffic alert (the CR-V does have a blind spot camera though). Many crash avoidance features are offered by the other competitors, but they only come in expensive packages or they only come with the top trim level. Kudos to Mazda!

Mazda CX-5

PERFORMANCE

The Mazda CX-5 has one of the strongest engines in the group, a 2.5L 4-cylinder with 184 hp and 185 lb/ft of torque. If you’re looking for an abundance of power, you’re in the wrong car segment. However, the CX-5 has all you need for daily driving and passing maneuvers. Despite having more than adequate power, the CX-5 is still near the top of the heap in terms of gas mileage (26 city/33 hwy). The 6-speed automatic is solid and responsive and it allows for some variety: Sport mode, regular mode, or select your own gears in semi-manual mode.


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(+) High-end infotainment system. Great interior.

(+) Excellent handling without a harsh ride.

(+) Desirable combination of power and gas mileage.

(-) The Touring model appears tame next to the Grand Touring model.

The Mazda CX-5’s reputation for best-in-class handling precedes it. If you drive with your eyes closed (not recommended) you won’t confuse the CX-5 with a Corvette. However, the handling does feel very responsive compared to other compact SUVs. Also, contrary to what you might expect, the good handling does not come at the expense of a comfortable ride. The CX-5 is still able to tolerate irregular pavement quite well. Even though I went in with high expectations, I was not disappointed.

SUMMARY

The 2016 Mazda CX-5 Touring has a lot going for it. With a total MSRP of $26,095, its price falls around the middle of the pack. But, it is a great value when you consider all of its standard features, some of which no other competitor includes (leather-wrapped steering wheel, blind spot alert, cross-traffic alert). Throw in sporty aesthetics, benchmark handling and a good powertrain and you’ve got one heck of a compact SUV with very few flaws. Visually, it’s not my favorite vehicle in this comparison, but I do like it a lot. Also, I’m not about to spend 26 grand on a car based primarily on its looks. With 3 compact SUVs in the rearview mirror (pun intended), the CX-5 Touring might be the front runner so far! Check back soon as Dad Kingdom reviews the remaining competitors!

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