Lately, Mazda, the brand that added Zoom-Zoom to the automotive lexicon, has been quietly slipping upstream.
In the past few years, its crisply designed interiors have grown quieter and more finely crafted. Ride quality has improved with each generation. Safety and driver-assist features are liberally distributed throughout the lineup.
Still, through it all, Mazda vehicles have retained their exuberant, class-leading dynamics.
Mazda has not ditched its Zoom-Zoom principles, but it has become more overt about its luxury intentions. Its new “Feel Alive” ad campaign turns a spotlight on design and product quality.
A more luxurious corner carver
You can still carve corners in a Mazda, but you don’t have to be passionate about driving to appreciate its virtues.
We tested the 2019 CX-5 compact crossover, Mazda’s best-selling model. It’s the most engaging — and arguably the best-looking — of the non-luxury compact crossovers.
The five-passenger CX-5 was fully made over in 2017. Now, just two years later, it adds two new top-level trims and two new engines. Suspension revisions build on handling and ride-quality advances initiated by the 2017 redo.
Infotainment system upgrades include available Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration. Once mastered, the knob-based control system requires minimal eye-time of the driver. However, as Mazda has increased its capabilities, its menu structure has grown complex and could use a refresh.
Two new upscale trims
The CX-5 is available in five trims: Sport ($25,345), Touring ($27,610), Grand Touring ($31,040), Grand Touring Reserve ($35,865) and Signature ($37,885).
Mazda equips the Sport trim with push-button ignition, a 7-inch touchscreen, LED headlights, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth and a pair of USB ports.
Also standard are low-speed forward collision warning and mitigation and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.
Unlike many makers, Mazda makes a wide selection of options available for its base trim. Most notably, the i-Activsense package ($625) brings automatic headlights, automatic high beams, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, upgraded forward collision warning and mitigation with pedestrian detection and automatic windshield wipers.
The new trims, Grand Touring Reserve and Signature, are dressy enough to narrow the gap separating the CX-5 from the luxury segments. With its armchair-rich brown Nappa leather upholstery, ambient cabin lighting, wood and chrome trim accents, 360-degree rearview camera and Bose sound system, the Signature is especially compelling.
Three powertrain choices
The carry-over engine, a 2.5-liter four that makes 187 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque powers the Sport, Touring and Grand Touring trims. It’s paired with a six-speed automatic transmission.
So equipped, the CX-5 moseys from 0-60 in 8.5 seconds.
Grand Touring Reserve and Signature get a turbocharged version of the same engine borrowed from the midsize CX-9 crossover. It makes 227 hp or 250 hp, depending on fuel grade used, and an impressive 310 lb-ft of torque.
Acceleration is swift and sure, with the six-speed automatic snapping off crisp shifts that seem to always land the engine in the meaty part of its power band. With the new engine, the CX-5 romps through the 0-60 sprint in 6.2 seconds.
Both engines are rated to tow up to 2,000 pounds.
Also new to the stable is a 2.2-liter four-cylinder diesel (168 hp/290 lb-ft) that’s available only on the Signature trim. Tow-rated to 1,500 pounds, it’s slower and marginally more efficient than the gas engines.
Mazda’s crusade for better handling and a more comfortable ride continues this year with suspension revisions designed to isolate passengers from the impacts of broken road surfaces.
Even with this more compliant suspension, the CX-5 is nimble and athletic. Unwanted body motions are well controlled and body lean in corners is minimal.
Steering feel is a bit heavier — and more natural and communicative — than that of most crossovers. Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control feature employs the traction control system to sharpen steering responses when entering and exiting a corner.
Such innovations enable a small company like Mazda to excel among giants. Now, with its upscale aspirations, it looks a company ready to take a next big step.
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2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature
Vehicle base price: $25,345
Trim level base price: $36,890
As tested: $39,325 (includes destination and handling)
Options included Soul Red Crystal paint, illuminated door sill plates, retractable cargo cover, rear bumper guard, cargo mats
Tow rating: 2,000 pounds
EPA rating: 24 combined/22 city/27 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified