We drove a $40,000 Mazda CX-5 Turbo to see if it’s the perfect compact SUV. Here’s the verdict.

Our 2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature AWD test car.

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Our 2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature AWD test car.
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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

  • The Mazda CX-5 compact SUV competes directly against the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester, and Nissan Rogue.
  • Mazda has made several key updates for the 2019 model year, including the addition of an optional turbocharged engine.
  • The Mazda CX-5 comes standard with a 187-horsepower 2.5-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine, and a 250-horsepower turbocharged version of the engine is available as an option on high-end trims.
  • The base 2019 Mazda CX-5 Sport with front-wheel drive starts at $24,350, while the top-of-the-line Signature trim starts at $36,890. With options and fees, our Signature trim CX-5 came to an as-tested price of $39,905.
  • We were impressed by the turbocharged CX-5’s bountiful power, sporty driving dynamics, stylish design, and high-quality interior. Unfortunately, the CX-5’s infotainment system remains poor, and cabin noise is more prominent than it is for some of its rivals.
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The Mazda CX-5 has long been one of the most popular compact crossover SUVs on sale in the US since its debut in 2012. Although the second-generation CX-5, which debuted for the 2017 model year, doesn’t sell quite as well as the segment-leading Toyota RAV4 and the Honda CR-V, it certainly holds its own.

Through April, Toyota has sold just shy of 118,000 RAV4s, while Honda has moved about 116,000 CR-Vs. During the same period, Mazda sold a respectable 47,000 CX-5s.

Read more: We drove a $39,000 Toyota RAV4 and a $32,000 Subaru Forester to see which one is the better compact SUV. Here’s the verdict.

Last year, Business Insider had the chance to spend a week with a 2018 Mazda CX-5. We were impressed by the CX-5’s stylish design, stellar driving dynamics, and a cabin that felt surprisingly luxurious.

“The 2018 Mazda CX-5 definitely brings the Zoom Zoom to the compact crossover SUV market,” we said in our review. “The Mazda offers its drivers a brighter view of the world where a winding piece of tarmac is more than a barrier to your destination, but rather an experience to be enjoyed.”

However, the CX-5 wasn’t quite perfect. It is adequately powerful, but its standard naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine lacked the punch of a turbocharged unit. On the inside, the infotainment system was lackluster.

This year, Mazda has made several updates to the CX-5, including the addition of the turbocharged engine from the larger CX-9 SUV.

Recently, we spent some time with a 2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature AWD, clad in a gorgeous Deep Crystal Blue Metallic paint job.

The base 2019 Mazda CX-5 Sport with front-wheel drive starts at $24,350, while the top-of-the-line Signature trim starts at $36,890. All-wheel-drive is a $1,400 option on the Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring trims. It’s standard on Grand Touring Reserve and Signature trims.

With options and fees, our Signature trim CX-5 came to an as-tested price of $39,905. It’s the most expensive mass-market compact SUV Business Insider has ever tested.

Here’s a closer look at the 2019 Mazda CX-5:


Here it is! The 2019 Mazda CX-5.

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Aesthetically, the CX-5 carries over for the 2019 model year effectively unchanged.

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The crossover retains its striking and stylish looks, punctuated by the large Mazda corporate front grille and angular headlights.

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Unlike the front end, the rear of the CX-5 is rounded with short overhangs.

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The CX-5 is 179.1 inches long with an adequate 7.5 inches of ground clearance.

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Our tester came with these attractive 19-inch wheels.

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Inside, our Signature trim CX-5 sports a plush interior similar to the one that wowed us last year. Cabin ergonomics remain stellar while the material quality is nearly of the luxury-car standard.

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I found the CX-5’s Nappa leather-trimmed driver’s seat to be comfortable and well-bolstered. Although my fiancé struggled to find a comfortable seating position in the front passenger seat.

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In front of the driver is a central digital-information display flanked by a pair of analog gauges. The digital display is engineered to mimic a traditional analog gauge.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Our test car also came with a head-up display.

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Atop the CX-5’s dash is a 7-inch touchscreen display running the Mazda Connect infotainment system.

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The system remains, for the most part, unchanged from the last car we tested. Its menu layout is still fairly basic and straightforward. Unfortunately, that means the touchscreen is still slow to respond, and its user interface is confounding at times to use.

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Fortunately, the system is more responsive if you use the rotary controller on the center console.

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Mazda added Apple CarPlay capability to the system’s bag of tricks. It’s an absolute game changer. It effectively allows you to bypass Mazda’s infotainment system.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

For example, our test car’s built-in navigation system worked well enough.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

But Apple CarPlay gives you access to Google Maps, which is a superior system in pretty much every regard.

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The 7-inch screen is also the primary display for the CX-5’s advanced camera system.

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The rear cabin is plenty roomy for two full-size adults while the middle seat is more suited for children.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The rear seat’s fold-down center armrest is home to a pair of cupholders and to the controls for the seat heaters.

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Open the shallow storage compartment and you’ll find a pair of USB plugs.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Rear legroom in the CX-5 feels tighter than many of its rivals. This is despite of the fact that, on paper, its 39.6 inches of legroom is actually one of the most generous in the segment.

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The CX-5 is available with an optional sunroof. However, unlike many of its rivals, the Mazda is not available with a large panoramic glass roof.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Overall, the cabin of our test car was fairly quiet and refined, although we did detect a bit more road noise than many of its contemporaries. Despite this, the CX-5 has come a long way, as old variants of the car had one of the louder cabins in the segment.

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Open the power rear liftgate and …

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… you’ll find 30.9 cubic feet of cargo space. Fold down the rear seats, and the cargo capacity increases to 59.6 cubic feet. As a result, the CX-5’s cargo-carrying ability lags behind that of the Toyota RAV4 and the Subaru Forester.

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Underneath the cargo floor is the car’s spare tire.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The CX-5 comes standard with safety systems such as dynamic stability control, hill-launch assist, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and smart city brake support. Our tester came with optional extras such as adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, and lane-keep assist.

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Under the hood, the Mazda CX-5 comes standard with a 2.5-liter 187-horsepower naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine. Our top-spec test car had the upgraded 2.5-liter turbocharged engine that can produce up to 250 horsepower using premium-grade fuel. Power output is reduced to 227 horsepower if you use regular gas.

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All CX-5s come with a six-speed automatic transmission. In our test car, it sent power to all four wheels.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

What’s it like to drive?

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The Mazda CX-5 is a blast to drive – even with the slightly underpowered naturally aspirated engine. Strap on a turbo, and the Mazda will outrun just about anything in the segment.

The CX-5’s 250-horsepower engine develops a maximum of 310 pound-feet of torque at just 2,000 RPMs, which means the 3,825-pound SUV can absolutely hustle off the line.

According to Motor Trend, the CX-5 turbo managed to hit 60 mph from a standstill in just 6.4 seconds, besting the naturally aspirated CX-5 by an impressive 1.9 seconds.

And then there’s the handling. In our review of the naturally aspirated CX-5, we said;

Handling-wise, the CX-5 is simply wonderful. Its crisp steering really allows you to push the car in the twisty bits. However, Mazda’s stability control will kick in before you can really have fun. Overall, the CX-5’s suspension, chassis, and steering are beautifully tuned. As a result, you get a crossover SUV that’s both confident in the corners and comfortable cruising down the highway.

This rings true for the turbocharged model as well. Now you just have a whole lot more power at your disposal.


The verdict.

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We absolutely fell in love with the 2018 Mazda CX-5. Its enthusiastic personality makes the Mazda easy to love and very hard to hate.

But we did find a few faults. Our two main gripes being that the 187-horsepower engine could use some more juice, and the infotainment system could benefit from a revamp.

For 2019, Mazda addressed those two issues with the introduction of the turbocharged engine and the addition of Apple CarPlay that allows iPhone users like myself to bypass the in-car infotainment interface.

So does that mean Mazda has made the perfect compact crossover SUV?

Sadly, no. The CX-5 trails behind its rivals in terms of cargo capacity and rear-seat room, and it doesn’t offer as complete a suite of standard driver-assistance tech as Toyota or Subaru.

However, what Mazda has managed to do is deliver, hands down, the best-driving mass-market compact SUV money can buy. It’s an impressive feat considering it’s fighting for sales in arguably the most brutally competitive segment of the market where everyone brings their A-game.

And for that reason, if I had $40,000 to spend, the 2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature would be the compact SUV for me.