The 2016s are in!
Not all of them mind you, but Mazda has released its revamped CX-5 small sport-ute early and it remains a good-looking ute in a mostly ho-hum market segment.
That’s the first plus, because generally you aren’t hung up on looks if you’re shopping for a small ute. But the tested Grand Touring model with AWD was decked out in Soul Red Metallic paint, a sparkling red that added $300 to the sticker, but worthy of the charge. Mazda has refined the big front grille some and this model featured a smoke gray grille along with black lower fascia on the sides and over the wheels for a sportier look that also protects those areas.
Better yet for looks, the test ute came with silver and gray sport 19-inch wheels, up from the standard 17-inchers.
Related Video: See Mark put the Mazda 3S to the test at Road America.
While a base Sport CX-5 will run you just $22,675 for a front-drive model, the tested version lists at $29,470, plus an $880 delivery fee. With options, this one hit $34,140. That’s above average for the segment, but then the Grand Touring more than performs to the price.
First, it has AWD for winter traction, something we’re not so concerned about on these warm summer days, but come December, you’ll be happy to have it.
And let’s face it, Mazda has been milking its Zoom-Zoom motto for years and again the CX-5 delivers a sporty ride and feel that you’d likely have to pay $45 grand or more to get otherwise.
Handling is responsive with a moderately heavy feel, but turn the CX-5 into a corner aggressively and it knows what to do. The ute corners well, with little lean and the road feel is more akin to a sports sedan than a ute, so it’s fun to drive. Ride, due to its 106.3-inch wheelbase also is well controlled. The suspension has a sportier feel than most utes, so there is some feedback from the 19-inch tires and you’ll feel a little more jostle on large bumps. But overall the ride is family friendly.
Acceleration? That’s a tale of two trannys because this one is adjustable.
In its standard mode the 6-speed automatic offers lackluster shifts and power. The Skyactiv-G 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine will efficiently deliver 184 horses and similar torque rating, a bonus in this size ute. But the CX-5 seems to lag and lull about 40 mph before it picks up power again. Tromp the gas pedal and it’ll respond, but that sort of driving will burn more gas.
On the other hand, there’s a toggle on the console to put the tranny in Sport mode. That’s the ticket, and may lead to one. In Sport mode the CX-5 explodes with life and torque. The gearing changes radically to give the vehicle more oomph. But, and this may only be with the test vehicle, the Sport mode didn’t allow the Mazda to downshift beyond 40-45 mph, so the engine would be buzzing along at 3,500-4,000 rpm as you hit highway speeds. Yet even when I backed off the gas it didn’t go into a sixth gear to lower the revs. You could toggle the Sport mode off at that point, but that shouldn’t be necessary.
I would worry that using the Sport mode not only would cut seriously into gas mileage, but could put some long-term heavy wear on the engine if you forget to toggle it off. There’s a clutchless manual shift mode available too, and that also aids sporty acceleration, if you can be bothered to shift yourself. Few folks are these days.
Gas mileage was decent for an AWD-equipped compact ute. I got 24.6 mpg in mostly city driving while the EPA rates the Mazda at 24 mpg city and 30 highway. Mazda’s Skyactiv system uses lower weight materials and the engines are designed to get better gas mileage than standard I4s. Note too that the base Sport model features a 2.0-liter I4 that is rated 26 mpg city and 35 mpg highway, but generates just 155 horses.
Braking is good with four-wheel discs and the test ute featured 19-inch tires. Plus the test ute added an Active Sense package ($1,500) that along with Tech package ($1,505) that includes Mazda’s Smart Brake system that helps stop the vehicle if it senses something in its path that is stopped or slowing rapidly.
Other features in the active sense package include radar-equipped cruise control, high beam control and lane departure warning, which thankfully not only can be turned off with the push of a button, but stays off, even when you restart the ute. Most systems default to “on.”
The tech package includes navigation, LED headlights, adaptive front lighting and LED running, fog and taillights along with an auto-dimming mirror.
While there is a dual-zone climate control system and 9-speaker Bose sound system, what none of the packages include is a radio that’s easy to tune, or use. Sorry, this would be a deal-breaker for me.
As in some pricier cars, Mazda uses a big knob on the console to control the radio, navigation and a few other functions, and none are easy to figure or use. Finding a station was hard and storing it and retrieving it while driving was awkward at best. Even some of the high-end cars have gone back to giving us 6 buttons on the center stack for easy use and I hope Mazda does soon.
Otherwise the dash was attractive and well laid out. The screen itself is large and displays the back-up camera well, and the nav map. I also like that it lists atop the screen the next cross street as you approach it. There’s a blind-spot warning system too, although its beeps are unnecessary, and the front seats have 3 levels of heat, while the driver’s seat is powered and includes a power lumbar support.
I really like the seats here. They’re comfortable and supportive and the test car was particularly attractive with white over black perforated leather. Head and legroom are excellent for four adults and a fifth could wedge in the rear seat if needed. Rear seats split and fold down for extra cargo space and the hatch makes for easy access to the already generous cargo area. Oddly, the retractable cargo cover ($200 extra) must hook to the hatch, when seems a bit odd and not as easy to hook open as in most utes.
I like the dash and styling inside though. The gray headliner and black soft-touch dash gives this a quality, almost luxury feel, as do the white leather inserts in the doors and gray textured look to the console. Stack trim is black gloss and door and dash trim are a smoked metal look material. One drawback though, the push-button start is well hidden behind the steering wheel’s hub and the wiper lever to the right of the wheel.
The usual radio, phone and trip computer buttons are on the tilt/telescope wheel’s hub and overhead is a sunroof, a HomeLink system and visors with extenders. Getting in and out also is easy as the Mazda’s step-in height is near perfect for us shorter drivers.
Overall the CX-5 is a sporty sport-ute that’s fun to drive and brings some energy and youthfulness to the small ute market. There are a few bugaboos, so make sure those aren’t concerns for you when you test drive one, and you should if you’re shopping this market!
Stats: 2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD
Hits: Good looking ute with responsive handling, sporty but comfortable ride, excellent acceleration in Sport mode and good gas mileage for AWD ute. Easy in and out with comfortable supportive seats and nicely laid out dash, plus blind-spot warning, 3-level seat heat, big backup camera screen, sunroof and hatch.
Misses: Horribly confusing radio system, Sport mode that refuses to downshift even at highway speeds so wastes gas and over-taxes engine, lackluster acceleration if not in Sport mode and cargo cover that oddly attaches to the hatch.
Made in: Hiroshima, Japan
Engine: Skyactiv-G 2.5-liter, I I4, 184 hp
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Weight: 3,589 lbs.
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Length: 179.3 in.
Cargo: 65.4 cu.ft.
MPG: 24/30 (EPA)
MPG: 24.6 (tested)
Base Price: $29,470
Dealer’s Price: $30,350 (includes delivery)
Cargo mat, $60
Soul Red paint, $300
Rear bumper guard, $100
Retractable cargo cover, $200
Door sill trim plates, $125
Active sense package (radar cruise control, smart brake support, lane departure warning, high beam control), $1,500
Tech package (Nav system, LED headlights, adaptive front lighting, LED running & fog, tail lights, auto-dimming mirror, smart city brake support), $1,505
Test vehicle: $34,140
Sources: Mazda, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage