Mazda’s 2016 CX-5 is a compelling pick among compact crossovers

A swooping front to rear design gives the CX-5 a sporty image

We have yet to test a Mazda crossover we didn’t like. And their CX-5 is at the top of the list in the compact, 5-passenger category.

For 2016, the CX-5 received some styling tweaks, which along with its compact size, gives it a cute, appealing look. It also received improved interior materials, tighter suspension, updated infotainment system, more sound proofing and a standard rearview camera that adds to its fun-to-drive quotient.

CX-5 is offered in FWD or AWD and in Sport, Touring and top tier Grand Touring trim levels. We tested the latter and it came standard with a host of niceties including heated leather seats. Technology wise, the Grand Touring (GT) was equipped with Blind Spot Monitoring, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Dynamic Stability Control, Automatic Crash Notification and Hill Launch Assist. Along with this the GT gets 19-inch tires, automatic headlights, automatic windshield wipers, heated outside mirrors, satellite radio and more.

Optional on Touring and Grand Touring models is Mazda’s Smart City Brake Support that uses a laser to detect stationary objects in front of the vehicle at speeds up to 19 mph. At that speed, and after a warning, it will automatically apply the brakes if the driver doesn’t. Taking this safety trait further, iActive Sense includes adaptive cruise control and Smart Brake that activates at higher speeds.

Slip into the comfy and supportive front bucket seats with their extended under thigh support and be impressed with a cabin that is decked in high quality materials. And unlike similar cars, Mazda thoughtfully padded the sides of the console for folks who like to rest their knees against it on long hauls.

All HVAC controls are easy to use but the fan switch is a bit tiny and could be larger. A 7-inch display serves the audio, rearview camera and GPS nav systems, which, allows a 3D or 2D views. There’s a multifunction control knob on the console that controls much of the display offerings. The white on black gauge set was easy to view at at glance but there’s one feature that needs acclimating to. The audio’s volume control knob is on the console, not on the dash as customary. An unusual placement.

The back seat is spacious with ample legroom but that is determined by how far the front seats are racked rearward. Behind the rear seats, that split and fold 40-20-40, the cargo area is rated at 64.8 cubic feet with all seats folded, 34.1 with them up. More meaningful, the cargo area measures 37 inches deep, 44 wide and 31 high with the seats up. Coincidentally, depth extends to 65 inches with them down (which is easily accomplished by pulling two convenient handles in the cargo area).

This compelling crossover gets it power from a 2.5L, 184-hp four-cylinder engine producing 185 lb/ft of grunt. Coupled to a 6-speed automatic transmission (standard on Touring and GT), the pairing results in EPA mileage estimates of 24 city, 30-highway mpg. In independent testing, the AWD version reached 0-60 in 8.0 seconds, which isn’t bad, but not a head snapper. Engine noise is a bit noticeable at idle, but disappears once underway.

There’s also a 2.0L four that comes standard with the Sport model and it puts out a meager 155-hp and 150 lb/ft of torque. Nestled in the AWD version, it most likely provides lackluster performance for a 3,435-pound vehicle.

As a compact, the CX-5 is nimble and parks easily thanks to a relatively tight turning radius and electric-assisted power steering. The ride on 19-inch Toyo tires is smooth, comfortable and quiet. Handling too is impressive as it exhibits a nice amount of athleticism in sharp turns taken at speed.

The CX-5 shines when used as a commuter car, for weekend road trips and errand running. And with AWD, it provides surefootedness during inclement weather and in modest snow depths. And best of all, it’s priced modestly.

With a very long list of standard features including Bluetooth, Bose audio, moonroof, fog lamps, tire pressure monitoring and much more, all this standard fare fetches a base price of $29,470. Add to that a cargo mat ($60), Soul red paint ($300), rear bumper guard ($100), retractable cargo cover ($200), door sill trim plates ($125), and the Grand Touring Tech package that includes GPS nav, adaptive front LED headlights, LED fog, tail and running lights, takes that price to $32,640. A modest price for a nicely equipped crossover.

The CX-5 is positioned between its smaller brother CX-3 and larger midsize CX-9 crossover. The choice is yours depending upon your needs and budget.

CX-5 also ranked well in crash safety tests with a four out of five stars for overall crash worthiness, four for frontal impact protection, and five for side crash. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave it its top “Good” rating for moderate-overlap frontal offset, small-overlap frontal-offset, side-impact and roof strength tests.

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