Driving Matters in All Shapes and Sizes: the 2017 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD

The CX-5 has been a perennial best-seller for Mazda since its debut in 2012. The sporty compact crossover got a comprehensive refresh for 2017 with Mazda’s engineers obsessively tackling even the smallest of details to make the CX-5 a truly world-class vehicle. It’s now quieter, lighter, more rigid and packed with more technology than nearly anything else in its class. Beyond that, it looks and feels luxurious from behind the wheel with more soft-touch materials, elegant stitching, and a redesigned dash that looks downright handsome without an overabundance of buttons. Outside, the sheet metal has been nipped and tucked in accordance with Mazda’s latest iteration of Kodo design language and it is a faithful rescale of the brand’s flagship CX-9 crossover. The slender headlights frame the more angular nose while the CX-5’s rear has also been chiseled into something far more elegant than the previous model’s jellybean-shaped rear hatch.

From behind the wheel, the 2017 CX-5 is a delight to drive, having been imbued with all of the driving dynamics shared by Mazda’s sportier cars. Within the first few turns, it’s clear that Mazda’s talented engineers have unlocked the secret to balancing a smooth ride with precision handling and strong mechanical grip. While it’s not as scalpel-sharp as an MX-5, it’s easy to sense the CX-5 shares some of that same sporty DNA. In a world of vague electric power steering, the CX-5 stands head and shoulders above anything else in class in terms of steering feel, instantly connecting you to the road surface without feeling jittery or tiring. The six-speed automatic transmission, too, feels amazing well-suited to the character of the CX-5, offering well-timed shifts whether you’re putting along in traffic or trying to make up time on a twisty back road. The all-aluminum 2.5-liter inline-4 engine has 187 hp on tap and feels well-balanced under the CX-5 sculpted hood. While the engine’s performance can probably best be described as adequate, it’s bristling with character and feels like a playful companion to the rest of the CX-5’s drivetrain. The 2.5-liter engine has an incredibly linear and predictable powerband, never exhibiting any flat or rough spots while driving, allowing you to enjoy the driving experience fully. Best yet, regardless of which trim level you select, this is the standard – and only drivetrain – available, so the driving dynamics of the CX-5 can be enjoyed by all, regardless of budget.

That being said, the vehicle I drove was the popular Grand Touring trim which came standard with far more safety and technology features than I expected in an affordable compact crossover. While I was expecting things like Mazda’s super-intuitive Mazda Connect infotainment system that featured navigation, Bluetooth, and a back-up camera on its 7.0-inch full-color touchscreen, what surprised me was the deep level of highly-integrated safety equipment including blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning with lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control with stop and go support, and automatic smart city braking. That’s… A lot. And it’s standard. The only additional features that can be and were added to the Grand Touring model I drove were the $595 Soul Red metallic paint and  $1,830 Premium package that adds 2-position memory seats, 6-ways of adjustability for the passenger seat, a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats, plus a windshield wiper de-icer and a really slick head-up display that Mazda calls its Active Driving Display. Honestly, I’m not sure I’d spend the nearly $2,000 on the package that mostly keeps my passengers more comfortable since things like the heated and power-adjustable driver’s seat is already standard. I thought the Active Driving Display was really slick since information is now projected directly into the windshield instead of a pop-up plastic screen as in the previous CX-5, but unfortunately, it was nearly impossible to see while wearing polarized sunglasses. That being said, once the sun sets, the head-up display is wonderful to use, but if you’re on the fence about spending the extra money on the Premium Package, I don’t think you’d miss much by skipping it.

The rest of the interior feels much more upscale than that of the 2016 model. With soft, smooth leather lining the seats and steering wheel, most of the touch points in the CX-5 feel significantly more luxurious than other offerings in this segment. The dash is an elegant, simple design with well-placed buttons and knobs along the bottom of the center console for the HVAC controls, as well as the rotary controller and hardkeys to control the Mazda Connect system for those that don’t want to use its touchscreen. It’s really nice to have this level of redundancy for what is essentially the main hub of in-vehicle entertainment and information since it allows the driver or passenger to choose the method of control that best suits their preferences. Additional steering wheel controls are well-placed and offer easy control of the adaptive cruise control system as well as adjusting audio settings or activating voice controls. Unfortunately, using the voice control functions felt a little clunky and limited at first, but I’d imagine most people would probably rely on their phones’ voice assistants most of the time anyway. With a phone connected via Bluetooth however, the driver has access to a number of music streaming services like Pandora and Aha Radio, which plays through the standard 10-speaker Bose CenterPoint2 audio system. Better still, the audio system can be heard crystal clear inside since Mazda’s engineers took a painstaking path to make the interior as quiet as possible, including utilizing double-glazed front windows, additional sound-deadening materials, and even making tweaks to the engine to reduce noise inside the cabin. It’s thoroughly impressive just how quiet and refined the 2017 CX-5 is from the driver’s seat.

With a base MSRP of $24,045 for a CX-5 Sport with FWD, the CX-5 offers an incredible value as one of the best driving compact crossovers on the market today. For those wanting all-wheel drive, Mazda offers it on every trim level for a very reasonable $1,300. The $25,915 MSRP CX-5 Touring adds leatherette seating and leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift knob, as well as convenience features like keyless entry and start. The Touring also offers the option to add a 10-speaker Bose AudioPilot2 stereo, navigation, and most of the Grand Touring’s additional safety features. The Grand Touring trim starts at $29,395 MSRP and represents the best value in terms of the features offered. There are very few vehicles out there that can offer this level of technology, refinement, and poise, especially for under $30,000. Mazda has done a fantastic job with the refresh of the 2017 CX-5 and it deserves to be on your shortlist if you’re looking for a compact crossover.

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