2020 Mazda CX-5 Review

Christian Wardlaw, Independent Expert | Jun 24, 2020

Introduction - Find the best Mazda deals!

For every 2020 Mazda CX-5 consumers drive home from the dealership, the automaker also sells one example of its six other models. Put another way, based on data for calendar year 2020, the CX-5 accounts for slightly more than half of the vehicles Mazda sells in the U.S. Together, the Mazda3, Mazda6, CX-3, CX-30, CX-9, and MX-5 Miata account for the other half.

That’s remarkable, and it underscores how critical the CX-5 is the company’s fortunes, how popular the compact crossover SUV segment is, and why Mazda continually improves the CX-5 in order to keep it competitive. 

For example, this year Mazda strove to reduce noise, vibration and harshness while adding more standard equipment and making subtle detail changes to the cabin in order to support the brand’s move into premium territory. Additionally, the available turbocharged engine generates more torque while the optional all-wheel-drive system gains an off-road traction assist feature.

2020 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring front view

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Mazda continues to offer the CX-5 in Sport, Touring, Grand Touring, Grand Touring Reserve, and Grand Touring Signature trim levels. For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a CX-5 Grand Touring Signature equipped with Machine Gray Metallic paint and a rear bumper guard. The price came to $38,680, including the $1,100 destination charge.

What Owners Say… - Find the best Mazda deals!

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2020 CX-5, it is helpful to understand who buys this compact SUV, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

In comparison to owners across the entire segment, and according to data collected for the J.D Power 2019 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, Mazda CX-5 owners are more likely to be male (62% vs. 50%). They’re also younger, with a median age of 56 years (vs. 59) and enjoy a higher median annual household income of $123,707 (vs. $92,841).

J.D. Power data shows that 45% of Mazda CX-5 owners are members of Generation X or Generation Y (vs. 38% for the segment), and 40% of CX-5 owners identify as Performance Buyers (vs. 11%). Naturally, Mazda CX-5 buyers are less likely to agree that they prefer to buy a vehicle from a domestic company (26% vs. 63%).

Styling and performance are important to Mazda CX-5 owners. The data shows that 76% of them like a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (vs. 67% for the segment). Additionally, 58% of Mazda CX-5 owners prefer a vehicle offering responsive handling and powerful acceleration. (vs. 40%). Only 33% of Mazda CX-5 owners agree that to them a vehicle is just a way of getting from place to place (vs. 44%).

Safety is more important to Mazda CX-5 owners, 35% of whom strongly agree that they will pay extra to ensure their vehicle has the latest safety features (vs. 29% for the segment). Reliability is not as significant a consideration, with 56% of Mazda CX-5 owners strongly agreeing that it is a first consideration when choosing a vehicle (vs. 64%). Mazda CX-5 owners are also less concerned about fuel economy, with 50% claiming it is a first consideration when choosing a new vehicle (vs. 67%).

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.

In the J.D Power 2019 APEAL Study, the CX-5 ranked fourth out of 13 compact SUVs.

What Our Expert Says… - Find the best Mazda deals!

In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions about how the 2020 Mazda CX-5 measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the APEAL Study.

Exterior

What draws people to the Mazda CX-5? The styling, which looks modern, upscale, and just a touch aggressive thanks to narrow lighting elements and a bold, blunt front end. Add lustrous paint finishes, polished grille and window surrounds, and dual exhaust outlets deftly integrated with the lower rear valence panel, and you’ve got one of the few genuinely attractive compact SUV designs in the segment.

2020 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring exterior view

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Interior

Exterior themes carry over to the interior, where elegant instrumentation, minimalistic controls, and complimentary tones and textures are the rule rather than the exception. White markings on dark gray backgrounds remain legible in bright sunlight, polished metallic accents convey a premium look and feel, and especially in the top trim level with premium Nappa leather upholstery, most materials convey quality and refinement.

2020 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring dashboard interior view

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Seats

Wrapped in dark Caturra Brown leather and equipped with heated and ventilated cushions, the Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring Signature’s 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat and 6-way power adjustable front passenger’s seat prove mighty comfortable.

Likewise, the back seat is hospitable, though there isn’t as much room as you’ll find in some of the CX-5’s competitors. Signature trim includes heated rear seat cushions, and most versions of the CX-5 also have rear air conditioning vents. Within the center armrest, passengers will find handy USB charging ports.

Climate Control System

Mazda CX-5 owners rate the SUV’s climate control system more favorably than several other aspects of the vehicle, but my experience testing the CX-5 under the high, hot June sun in Southern California suggests a more robust air conditioning system is necessary. 

Ultimately, the climate control does cool the CX-5’s cabin, but it sure seems to take a long time, in part because it must battle fairly intense solar heating through the window glass. The seat ventilation system doesn’t seem to help much, either. I would imagine that adding the humidity often found east of the Rocky Mountains would amplify discomfort levels.

Infotainment System

Mazda Connect is the name of the CX-5’s infotainment system, modeled on historical systems from Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz. However, where those luxury brands have dramatically improved with touchscreen displays, useful steering wheel controls, and natural language voice recognition technology, Mazda Connect hasn’t progressed much over the years.

Equipped with an 8-inch display that is touch-sensing only when the vehicle isn’t moving, Mazda Connect forces a steep learning curve, but with time you acclimate. Controls are located on the center console, a collection of knobs and buttons including a volume control for the stereo. Due to their placement and spatial relationship with the center console armrest, I find them a bit awkward to use.

It would help if the voice recognition technology was more advanced. Often, it cannot interpret a naturally asked question, and it sometimes doesn’t provide any feedback regarding its lack of response. If Mazda wants to be a premium brand, it’s going to need to raise its game on the infotainment front.

Signature trim includes a 10-speaker Bose Centerpoint premium sound system, which sounds good for this price point.

Storage and Space

When you buy a Mazda CX-5, it’s important to remember that this is a compact SUV. Thus, it’s not going to have a bunch of extra space inside. Still, with competitors like the Honda CR-V setting standards in the segment, the Mazda disappoints.

Within the cabin, the primary storage spot for your things is the tray located forward of the transmission shifter. Mazda also provides sizable door panel bins, a decent center console storage bin under the center armrest, and a reasonable amount of space in the glove compartment.

In terms of cargo space, the Mazda CX-5 is competitive when it comes to the volume behind the back seat, which amounts to 30.9 cubic feet. Fold the back seat down, and the space measures 59.6 cubic feet, which is well short of segment leaders.

Visibility and Safety

For 2020, Mazda makes all of its advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS) standard for the CX-5. That means this SUV has adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keeping assistance, blind-spot warning, and rear cross-traffic warning. Signature trim adds a surround-view camera and both front and rear parking sensors.

Most of the time, these ADAS systems work with a high level of accuracy and refinement. Mazda CX-5 owners can calibrate them, too, in terms of both sensitivity and how urgently they issue warnings. In particular, I like the subtle vibration the lane departure warning system issues through the steering wheel. It’s as though the SUV is saying to its driver: “Hey, just between you and me, you need to pay closer attention to the lane markings.”

When it comes to crashworthiness, the Mazda CX-5 earns stellar ratings. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives it a 5-star rating in every crash-test assessment plus a 4-star rollover resistance rating. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) calls it a Top Safety Pick Plus.

Engine/Transmission

Last year, Mazda began offering the turbocharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine it uses in the larger CX-9 SUV in the CX-5. It comes standard in Grand Touring Reserve and Grand Touring Signature trim levels, paired only with an all-wheel-drive system.

For 2020, the turbocharged engine makes 250 horsepower and 320 lb.-ft. of torque when using premium gas, and that torque figure is 10 lb.-ft. higher than last year. Use regular gas, and the engine produces 227 hp and 310 lb.-ft. Mazda also adds off-road traction assist this year, just in case you’re inspired to test the SUV’s 7.5 inches of ground clearance and the protective gray plastic cladding all around the CX-5’s lower perimeter.

On pavement, where most CX-5 owners spend most of their time, this engine supplies plenty of effortless power, and switching to Sport mode heightens responsiveness. The 6-speed automatic has a manual shift mode and paddle shifters, but they don’t add much to enjoyment levels aside from allowing a driver to keep the engine in the thick of its generous torque band.

Fuel Economy

The EPA says a Mazda CX-5 with a turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive should average 24 mpg in combined driving. On my testing loop, the SUV averaged 22.1 mpg.

Driving Dynamics

Typically, Mazdas are fun to drive, and that’s true of the CX-5 in comparison to most of its competitors. However, because it’s heavier and sits higher off of the ground with a taller center of gravity than its showroom sibling, the Mazda3 Hatchback, the CX-5 isn’t as thrilling on a favorite back road.

The problem in that environment is excess body motion. Where the Mazda3 soaks up undulations and almost glides over them, the CX-5 rocks and rolls on its suspension in spite of its standard G-Vectoring Control Plus technology, which aims to eradicate the problem. 

But, chances are you’re not going to be threading canyons in a CX-5, and the good news is that on the daily drive, the CX-5 feels alive. Perfectly weighted, the precise steering is a true delight, and the brake pedal is calibrated to allow a driver to fine-tune pressure for threshold braking – or just bringing the SUV to a smooth, clean halt. And while the ride quality is firm, it’s never harsh.

Mazda made efforts to quell noise, vibration, and harshness in the 2020 CX-5, and the result is impressive. The week before testing the Mazda, I was driving a Cadillac XT4 Premium Luxury. Which SUV proved quieter inside? The Mazda. And the CX-5 also offered a more supple ride quality than did the Cadillac, which cost $10,000 more.

Final Impressions - Find the best Mazda deals!

With the 2020 Mazda CX-5, and especially the higher trim levels, you feel like you’re getting an entry-level luxury SUV at a mainstream price. The quality, the materials, and the overall level of sophistication absolutely justify a premium brand position for Mazda, putting it on a footing with, say, Acura or Buick. But consumer perception is lagging.

Given the CX-5’s popularity, it falls to this compact crossover to convey the change at Mazda. Fortunately for the automaker, it is up to that challenge.

Christian Wardlaw is a veteran digital automotive journalist with over 25 years of experience test-driving vehicles. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2020 J.D. Power

Explore new car previews
2020 Subaru Outback Preview
2020 Subaru Outback Preview
Introduced at the 2019 New York International Auto Show, the 2020 Subaru Outback has been optimized to offer better fuel efficiency, a quieter and safer ride, boosted technology, and turbocharged power, which is something Subaru hasn’t given its Outback in over ten years.
Read the full review
2022 Hyundai Tucson Preview
2022 Hyundai Tucson Preview
A redesigned 2022 Hyundai Tucson is coming soon, replacing a compact SUV that led its segment in quality according to the J.D. Power 2020 Initial Quality Study (IQS).
Read the full review
2022 Hyundai Kona Preview
2022 Hyundai Kona Preview
A refreshed 2022 Hyundai Kona is on the way, equipped with revised styling and available in a performance-tuned N Line version that is certain to turn the little crossover SUV’s fun factor up to 11.
Read the full review
Read all articles
Scroll to the top
New Car Preview
2021 BMW 4 Series Preview
Most Dependable
2019 Vehicle Dependability: Most Dependable Luxury Cars Under $45,000
Most Popular
10 Most Popular Large Cars and Minivans
New Model Update
New for 2019: Lexus
New Car Preview
2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime Preview
More related
articles