2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Review

Christian Wardlaw | Oct 04, 2019

Introduction

Mazda is a brand in transition, seeking to position itself as an upscale alternative to more popular mainstream marques. In the same way that Buick is situated between Chevrolet and Cadillac, Mazda wants to ascend above the fray as a premium option to Honda, Nissan, and Toyota, among others.

To make this dream a reality, Mazda needs to consistently execute on the product side, designing, engineering, and building vehicles that meet loftier standards and expectations.

Marketing is the other piece of the puzzle. But until the public is willing to accept Mazda as something extra, in turn allowing the company to charge higher prices, today’s car buyers can purchase vehicles that are legitimately stylish and luxurious at what amounts to a discount.

Take Mazda’s most popular model, for example. The CX-5 is a compact crossover SUV that lacks nothing but brand cachet in order to compete head-to-head with entry-luxury vehicles from the likes of Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz. In fact, I picked my test car up at Los Angeles International Airport after flying home from a media drive of one of the CX-5’s direct competitors, and the Mazda looked, felt, and drove like it was a class above.

No doubt, a standard turbocharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine for the Grand Touring Reserve and Signature trim levels lends the CX-5 a deluxe driving experience. But even without the more powerful engine and top-trim specification, this SUV exudes sophistication.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Soul Red Crystal

The test vehicle for this review was a 2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature equipped with Soul Red Crystal paint and a carpeted cargo mat. The price came to $38,600, including the $1,045 destination charge.

 
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What Owners Say…

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the Mazda CX-5, it is helpful to understand who buys this compact SUV, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

Compared to the overall segment, the Mazda CX-5 is popular with male buyers. J.D. Power data shows that 62% of owners are men (vs. 50% for the segment). They’re also younger in terms of median age (56 years vs. 59 years), and they enjoy a higher median annual household income ($123,707 vs. $92,841).

Performance is a big reason for the CX-5’s popularity. Among the Mazda’s owners, 58% strongly agree that they like a vehicle with responsive handling and powerful acceleration (vs. 40% for the segment). Along the same lines, 50% of CX-5 owners agree that a first consideration when choosing a new vehicle is fuel economy (vs. 67%).

Design is another factor attracting people to the Mazda. Among CX-5 owners, 76% agree that they like a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (vs. 67%). Only 33% of CX-5 owners agree that a vehicle is just a way of getting from place to place (vs. 44%).

Owners say their favorite things about the CX-5 are (in descending order) the exterior styling, driving dynamics, interior design, seats, and visibility and safety. Owners indicate their least favorite things about the CX-5 are (in descending order) the engine/transmission, climate control system, infotainment system, storage and space, and fuel economy.

What Our Expert Says… 

In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions about how the Mazda CX-5 measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2019 APEAL Study.

Exterior

Mazda CX-5 owners say that their favorite thing about this SUV is the styling, and it’s easy to see why. Distinctive yet tasteful, bold but balanced, the cleanly tailored CX-5 looks more stylish than most small SUVs. Especially when dipped in brilliant Soul Red Crystal paint, which virtually glows in sunlight, the CX-5 appears to cost more than it actually does.

Interior

Interior design is also high on Mazda CX-5 owners’ lists of their favorite things about the SUV. The test vehicle’s Signature trim was particularly compelling, the cabin exuding quality and craftsmanship, looking, feeling, and smelling like the CX-5 ought to cost more than it does.

Signature trim includes exclusive Caturra Brown premium Nappa leather and real wood trim in a dark finish. Unfortunately, each is quite dark in color, providing little in the way of contrast with the otherwise black interior. A lighter brown, or an alternative color choice, would be desirable.

Seats

The CX-5 Signature test vehicle had heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, and heated rear seats. Clearly, it’s ready for any kind of weather, and rear passengers who fold the center armrest down will find a small storage cubby with dual quick-charge USB ports.

Comfort levels are high, thanks to an 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat and a 6-way power adjustable front passenger’s seat. The rear seat is just roomy enough to accommodate a couple of adults, and air conditioning vents help on warmer days.

Climate Control System

Tested during a Southern California heat wave, the CX-5 showed some improvement as far as air conditioning performance is concerned. Historically, in my experience, Mazdas struggle to cool the cabin when temperatures rise into the 90s and beyond. But the CX-5 did a decent job of combating high temperatures.

The problem, near as I can tell, is the amount of solar heating caused by the CX-5’s windshield. As a result, even after the interior is cooled off, you need to keep the air conditioning cranked up high if you want it to stay that way.

Infotainment System

Mazda CX-5 owners like the climate system more than the infotainment system, which isn’t surprising.

The company’s Mazda Connect technology is frustrating at first, no doubt. The controls are located on the center console, and it’s often hard to execute what should be simple functions, like setting radio station favorites and changing radio stations. Plus, while the display is touch-sensitive, Mazda deactivates this function when you’re driving as a gentle suggestion that you’re concentrating on the wrong thing at the wrong time.

With this acknowledged, once you’ve gone through all of the different menus and calibrated the various settings to your liking, you won’t need to wade through the various screens trying to find and perform a task when you’re driving. Also, over time, you’ll remember which center console controls do what, and you’ll be able to use them without looking down and away from the road.

Let’s not forget that Mazda Connect includes a long list of desirable features. They include Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, internet radio integration, text message audio delivery and reply support, and E911 automatic emergency calling. Higher trim levels add a 10-speaker Bose Centerpoint 2 premium sound system as well as a navigation system.

Storage and Space

Based on feedback from Mazda CX-5 owners, they want more storage and cargo space. This is understandable.

Cargo volume is modest at 30.9 cubic feet behind the rear seat and 59.6 cubic feet with the rear seat folded down. Most other compact crossover SUVs offer more.

Interior storage, however, is good for a compact vehicle. The glove box and center console storage bin provide decent space, and Mazda equips the CX-5 with a tray forward of the shifter, good-size door panel bins, and small trays in the door armrests. The cup holders, however, are awkwardly placed.

Visibility and Safety

Thanks to thin windshield pillars and door-mounted side mirrors, outward visibility is excellent. This is especially true when the CX-5 is decked out with front and rear parking sensors and a 360-degree surround-view camera.

Plus, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert is standard on every version of the 2019 CX-5, along with low-speed automatic emergency braking. Upgrade from base Sport to Touring trim, and Mazda adds a range of advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS). They include adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, and lane keeping assist systems.

Owners can calibrate some ADAS settings through Mazda Connect. Testing the vehicle with all ADAS set to Normal mode, I found them to work with impressive refinement. During my driving with the systems engaged, the ADAS never reacted with sudden braking or unexpected steering inputs, and I like that the lane departure warning system offers a choice between steering wheel vibration and an audible chime.

If you get into an accident with a CX-5, know that it’s an exceptionally safe SUV. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) calls it a “Top Safety Pick+,” while the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) awards it with 5-star ratings in every crash-test assessment.

Engine/Transmission

New for 2019, a turbocharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine is standard with CX-5 Grand Touring Reserve and CX-5 Signature trim levels. This is the same engine Mazda uses in the larger CX-9 SUV, and in this smaller and lighter package it delivers a pleasing punch of power.

The engine makes 250 horsepower, 63 more than the CX-5’s standard 2.5-liter 4-cylinder. You’ll need to run it on premium fuel in order to obtain that level of output, though. On regular, the turbo whips up 227 hp.

Torque is the real story here, and it doesn’t matter what kind of gas you use. The CX-5’s turbocharged 4-cylinder cranks out 310 lb.-ft. of the stuff at just 2,000 rpm, representing a big increase over the standard engine’s 186 lb.-ft. at 4,000 rpm. And since torque is what you feel from behind the wheel when you’re accelerating, there is a palpable difference between the turbocharged CX-5 and the standard CX-5.

Choose the turbocharged engine, and Mazda automatically includes all-wheel drive. A 6-speed automatic transmission with a Sport mode is also standard, and it automatically responds to both mountain and enthusiastic driving, holding lower gears for improved responsiveness.

Fuel Economy

According to the EPA, the Mazda CX-5’s turbocharged 4-cylinder should get 22 mpg in the city, 27 mpg on the highway, and 24 mpg in combined driving.

The test vehicle did not come close to these numbers. On the official testing loop, it returned 21.6 mpg. Over the course of a week and 425 miles of driving, it averaged 21.5 mpg.

Mazda CX-5 owners who choose this engine for its performance are likely to continue ranking fuel economy as their least favorite thing about the SUV.

Driving Dynamics

Equipped with standard G-Vectoring Control Plus, technology that automatically adjusts vehicle weight shift in curves and corners to reduce fatigue for drivers and passengers, the turbocharged Mazda CX-5 is a joy to drive.

Quick, precise, perfectly weighted steering always feels good in your hands, and fade-free brakes that respond perfectly to slight pressure changes at the pedal help to make the CX-5 a brilliant little SUV to hustle on a country road. And the cabin is remarkably quiet, letting in a hint of the turbocharged 2.5-liter’s scrappy engine note for added entertainment value.

Because this is an SUV with a short wheelbase and a taller center of gravity, the ride can feel tippy and choppy from time to time. But that comes with the territory; if you don’t like it, try a Mazda Mazda3 hatchback.

Final Impressions

From a product perspective, Mazda is already equivalent to entry-luxury brands in terms of design, quality, technology, and driving dynamics. Now the company needs to shift consumer perceptions of the brand so that it can charge higher prices for its cars and SUVs.

In the meantime, smart shopper, you’ll get more for less when you buy a Mazda CX-5 Signature. Except for when it comes to cargo space, of course.

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