It’s always a good thing when a vehicle is an equal blend of form and function, and that’s the case with the handsome and practical 2023 Mazda CX-5.
It’s mostly carried over from the 2022 version, except that the base GX trim now receives fuel-saving cylinder deactivation as the other non-turbo-engine trims have; and Rhodium White Metallic exterior paint is available as on my tester. The CX-5 comes in eight trim levels, starting at $32,850 including a non-negotiable delivery fee of $1,950. I had the top-level Signature at $45,850, along with a coat of that new paint for $350, bringing my ride to $46,200 before taxes.
The CX-5 is unmistakably Mazda, with a long nose and short rear overhang. Lower trims get 17-inch wheels, while upper ones, including my Signature, wear 19-inch rims. All but the two lowest trims have a standard sunroof. The cabin design has a lot going on but still manages to look cohesive, with metallic-trimmed vents and steering wheel, a stitched dash, and a 10.25-inch tablet-style infotainment screen.
The CX-5 earns the top five-star crash-test rating from the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). It also receives a Top Safety Pick+ designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which recently updated its side-impact test to higher speed with a larger barrier, to better simulate being hit by an SUV. Many vehicles that scored high before are failing the new test, although the IIHS doesn’t yet include it in the overall rating. But the CX-5 passed it with the highest “Good” score.
All trims include emergency front braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, and a wide-angle version of the back-up camera that’s mandatory on all new vehicles. The Signature further adds emergency rear braking, 360-degree camera views, front and rear parking sensors, and driver attention alert.
All trims include rain-sensing wipers, acoustic windshield and front-door glass, heated front seats, 10.25-inch infotainment with wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a two-year trial to connected services. Moving up the trim lineup adds items such as a power tailgate, auto-dimming mirror, dual-zone climate control, heated steering wheel, proximity key, leather upholstery, adaptive headlights, head-up display, heated rear seats, premium stereo, and ventilated seats. At the top Signature level, the list includes Nappa leather upholstery, wood trim, LED interior lighting, navigation, and satellite radio.
User Friendliness: 7/10
The CX-5 is a mixed bag for ease-of-use. The climate system is straightforward, with buttons and dials for fan and temperature, along with hard buttons for the heated and ventilated seats, and the heated steering wheel.
But the tablet-style infotainment system is not a touchscreen. It’s primarily operated by a console-mounted controller, and while it’s conveniently placed and has hard buttons to bring up the major menus, it can be clunky to page through all the screens to get something done.
Changing the height of the head-up display – which some automakers handle with a dead-simple toggle switch – requires five taps or twists just to get to the adjustment screen. And when the voice control couldn’t recognize a navigation address, input required dialling and tapping for each number and letter. Finally, the key fob is large, but the buttons are nubs on the side, tiny and hard to see. Try finding the right one in low light, when your hands are full, or – heaven forbid – you’re in a panic situation.
The CX-5 has a wide tailgate opening, and while the liftover is a bit higher than some, it’s still easy to get your items inside. The rear seat folds just shy of completely flat, and it’s a 40/20/40 split – handy if you want to carry longer items like snowboards and still park two people in those back chairs.
Small-item storage isn’t spectacular, as the infotainment controller takes up a good chunk of the console, but there’s a cubby in front that contains the wireless charger. It can tow a maximum of 907 kg (2,000 lb).
The CX-5 is roomy for its exterior size, in both the front and rear seats, and the chairs are supportive and stay that way on longer drives. They’re clad in soft Nappa leather in the Signature, and are heated both fore and aft, along with ventilation in the front seats. I found the driving position to be near-perfect for my shorter frame, with good visibility all around.
Despite Mazda’s characteristically sporty driving dynamics and the Signature’s 19-inch wheels, the ride is comfortable and controlled, and the cabin is very quiet.
Most of the CX-5’s trims use a naturally aspirated 2.5L four-cylinder engine that makes 187 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque. The Sport Design Turbo and my tester, the Signature, use a turbocharged 2.5L that makes 227 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque on regular-grade, 87-octane gasoline. Mazda also advertises it at 256 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque if you pump in 93-octane premium-grade, but for most buyers that’s an unlikely scenario. Both engines are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive is standard.
The turbo is a great little engine, delivering linear power without any lag. It’s peppy off the line, and has good passing power at highway speeds. A six-speed transmission now seems a bit of a dinosaur in a world of seven- and nine-speed autos, but this unit shifts smoothly and unobtrusively, and does a good job of keeping the engine in its sweet spot. Paddle shifters on the wheel let you manually shift the gears sequentially if you like.
Driving Feel: 9/10
Fun-to-drive handling is a Mazda trademark, and while you won’t mistake it for an MX-5, the CX-5 is lively without going over the top. The steering is sharp and responsive, and it’s well-weighted – light enough for manoeuvrability, but with enough heft for confidence. There’s enough feedback that you know what’s under the wheels, too.
The all-wheel drive primarily powers the front wheels but sends torque to the rear as needed for traction. It uses sensors that measure not just wheel slip but also braking and steering, and even outside temperature and wiper use, to do so proactively in poor conditions. On curves, the CX-5 ever-so-slightly reduces engine power as you turn the wheel. It’s unnoticeable but just enough to shift the car’s weight to the front tires, improving their grip and making the turn feel smoother to passengers.
Fuel Economy: 8/10
The CX-5 with its turbocharged engine is rated by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) at 10.8 L/100 km in the city, 8.7 on the highway, and 9.8 in combined driving. In my week with it I pretty much matched it at 9.9 L/100 km. With the non-turbo engine, the CX-5 is rated at 9.0 L/100 km combined; it includes cylinder deactivation that the turbo engine doesn’t have.
It’s slightly thirstier than some of its competitors, including the recently introduced CX-50. The two are similar, including their engines, but while the CX-50 is slightly longer and wider, it rides on a new platform and is rated at 9.4 L/100 km in combined driving. Meanwhile, the 2023 Kia Sportage with all-wheel drive is rated at 9.5 L/100 km, while the Subaru Forester and its standard all-wheel drive is pegged at 8.2 L/100 km.
At a range of $32,850 to $45,850 across the non-turbo and turbo trims, the CX-5 is fairly even with some rivals. Its sibling CX-50 goes from $39,850 to $47,300; the Subaru Forester from $33,349 to $43,949; and the Kia Sportage from $30,495 to $43,295, all with delivery fees included. The CX-5’s turbo engine starts with the Sport Design Turbo for $44,850. The $1,000 increase for the Signature is primarily for styling cues – grey wheels rather than black, body-colour lower bumpers, and interior trim – and Nappa leather upholstery.
The 2023 Mazda CX-5 has some excellent rivals in the compact SUV segment, but the question for some will be whether to pick it or its CX-50 sibling. The CX-50 is slightly larger but not as tall, with a bit more legroom and cargo space, and more towing capacity with the turbo engine. Its suspension and drive modes aim it toward off-road fans, although the CX-5 will still get you down a cottage trail and back again. But with a lower starting price and more choice of trim levels, the CX-5 is a contender when you’re checking out the Mazda showroom.
|Engine Cylinders||Turbo I4|
|Peak Horsepower||227 hp @ 5,000 rpm|
|Peak Torque||310 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||10.8 / 8.7 / 9.8 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||871 / 1,680 L seats up/down|
|Model Tested||2023 Mazda CX-5 Signature|
|Price as Tested||$46,300|
$350 – Rhodium White Metallic paint, $350