2015 Mazda CX-5 Test Drive Review

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2015 Mazda CX-5 Test Drive Review

Look and Feel 8
Performance 8
Form and Function 6
Technology 3
Safety 9
Cost-Effectiveness 8
7 10 Overall Score

The 2015 Mazda CX-5 is a hoot to drive, as long as you subscribe to the philosophy that it’s more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow.

Like most Mazdas, the CX-5 puts a smile on the driver’s face. But it needs improvements in terms of functionality to better compete with some of the more popular models in the compact crossover class.

Look and Feel

8

Out of 10

Mazdas are somewhat like Hollywood B-list actors. They’re recognized on the street, and they may even have a small and intense following, but for whatever reason they lack widespread appeal and aren’t necessarily the first choice when casting for a role in a movie, or as is the case for a Mazda, the role of your daily transportation.

Most automotive enthusiasts are Mazda fans (you can count me as one), because almost all of the company's vehicles are terrific to drive and pretty to look at, and because they’re not ubiquitous like Hondas or Toyotas, they wear a mantle of uniqueness. The 2015 Mazda CX-5, the automaker’s entrant into the popular compact crossover vehicle category, is indeed attractive to behold, with its sculptural sheetmetal and pugnacious stance. And it’s a hoot to drive, as long as you subscribe to the philosophy that it’s more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow.

But when you’re competing against longtime stalwarts such as the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, you’ve got to get the compact crossover SUV exactly right. In my opinion, the Mazda CX-5 falls short, but is the clear choice of this trio for those who value an engaging driving experience over ultimate functionality.

Mazda offers the CX-5 in three trim levels: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. The CX-5 Sport starts at $22,375 (including a destination charge of $830), and is equipped with a standard 6-speed manual transmission. An automatic transmission runs another $1,400. At that price, the CX-5 Sport is equipped with just about everything you might need except for Bluetooth, which is part of a bargain-priced package containing a whole bunch of other stuff for $400. If you also want all-wheel drive, plan to spend another $1,450.

The Mazda CX-5 Touring trim level ($25,795) adds upgrades in the form of a peppier engine and a standard automatic, along with the Sport’s optional Bluetooth Audio Package containing text-messaging support, E911 automatic emergency notification, Pandora Internet radio and a 5.8-inch color touchscreen display upgraded with a reversing camera in this model. Additional standard features include keyless entry and push-button ignition, an upgraded sound system, a 6-way power driver's seat, a blind-spot warning system, upgraded interior trim and dark tinted privacy glass.

The CX-5 Grand Touring ($28,800) rides on 19-inch aluminum wheels and adds leather upholstery, heated front seats and side mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power sunroof, a premium audio system and more.

For additional cost, both the Touring and Grand Touring models are available with a Technology Package. This adds Mazda’s Smart City Brake Support System, adaptive bi-Xenon headlights, a navigation system and other upgrades. My test vehicle for the week, a CX-5 Grand Touring with front-wheel drive, had the Technology Package, premium Soul Red paint and some additional accessories that ballooned the sticker price to $30,910.

Undeniably attracted to its lustrous paint and good looks, as well as the larger 19-inch wheels that give the Grand Touring a better overall stance, I accepted the CX-5’s key fob, opened the driver’s door and faced a gloomy, dark, black-on-black interior. Getting in was like being embraced by Lord Vader himself. I much prefer the CX-5’s lighter, airier Sand-colored interior, but Mazda offers it in conjunction with too few exterior hues.

Performance

8

Out of 10

There’s no denying that the CX-5 is fun to drive. From its well-calibrated brakes and precise steering to its athletically tuned suspension, flinging this crossover along sinuous paths at misguided speeds is a worthy use of your time.

Some credit also goes to the CX-5’s tidy dimensions and grip from the big 19-inch wheels that come standard on the Grand Touring model, but what shines brightest is the suspension’s ability to remain planted through tight corners while masterfully transitioning weight around a center of gravity that's taller than that of a traditional car. The CX-5 is a pleasure to drive around town, too, soaking up most bumps with ease and delivering a smooth yet lively ride.

Power-wise, it’s a bit of a slog to get the engine revving high enough to deliver decent power, but the right pedal is responsive. No, the CX-5 is not a fast crossover—and my test vehicle had the larger of two available engines. Touring and Grand Touring versions of the CX-5 are equipped with a 184-hp, 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, and while that figure is competitive for the class, the CX-5 simply doesn’t feel as quick as it should, given Mazda's zoom-zoom advertising.

A 6-speed automatic transmission delivers power to the front wheels, and all-wheel drive is optional for those who live where the weather is regularly inclement. Shifts come swiftly and smoothly, making best use of the engine’s output.

To meet tough EPA fuel-economy regulations, Mazda has switched to high-compression 4-cylinder engines dubbed “Skyactiv.” The EPA says my CX-5 Grand Touring with front-wheel drive should have returned 27 mpg in combined driving. I averaged 24 mpg while bopping around the suburbs of Los Angeles. That’s disappointing.

Form and Function

6

Out of 10

As far as comfort levels are concerned, few people will find a reason to complain about the CX-5’s driver’s seat. It is supportive, and it’s easy to find a good piloting position. The front passenger may complain about the lack of a seat-height adjuster, though. Adult rear-seat riders will find snug accommodations, although not necessarily torturous. My young children were happy enough back there, but their feet sure made a mess of the CX-5’s black interior.

Seemingly designed to provide a more intimate feeling, the CX-5’s black-on-black cabin is dark and even a little claustrophobic, which is why I recommend checking into that lighter Sand interior color. Minuscule controls, a tiny 5.8-inch infotainment screen and limited center-console space don’t help to improve this impression. Everything is constructed of nice-feeling materials with little to complain about in terms of fit and finish, however.

I’m not a big fan of the CX-5’s center-stack controls. The knobs are well marked but too small, and it was frustrating to change radio stations using the elfin tuning knob. Plus, there’s little in the way of articulation, and it requires minute, precise rotations to switch away from Loverboy on the '80s station as quickly as possible.

Open the CX-5’s rear hatch and you’ll find 34.1 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat. That’s well short of a Toyota RAV4 but nearly as much as a Honda CR-V. Still, the space seems too narrow and small. On Halloween night, bags of costumes and the spoils of trick-or-treating seemingly ate up the entire space. Flip down the rear seats and you can fit a maximum of 64.8 cubic feet of your belongings. That’s an entire Miata trunk’s worth less than the Honda and significantly undersized when compared to the Toyota.

For my family of four and our needs, the Mazda CX-5 proved to be a little too compact and left me wishing for greater flexibility. What’s particularly strange to me is that I didn’t feel that way about the Mazda 3 hatchback I drove immediately following the CX-5.

Tech Level

3

Out of 10

Just about any CX-5 that you find parked in a dealership’s inventory is going to include, either as standard equipment or as an option, Mazda’s Bluetooth Audio Package. In addition to standard USB connectivity, this setup equips the crossover with Bluetooth calling and music streaming, HD Radio, satellite radio, text-messaging support, Pandora Internet radio and E911 emergency services connectivity, all operated using a 5.8-inch touchscreen display that also includes a reversing camera.

While this sounds fairly modern and comprehensive, the system is not offered with more sophisticated functions, like a smartphone app, and the screen itself is too small and too far away, giving the CX-5 a bit of an old-school look and feel.

A Tom Tom navigation system is optional, but is one of the worst that I’ve used. The teensy display shows little in the way of useful information, the graphics are quite dated, response proved agonizingly slow, and when zooming out to get traffic data, roadways and information disappeared outside of what appeared to be a 5-mile radius from my current location.

The whole system is far from intuitive, causing much frustration and grousing. Making matters worse, the setup distracted from my driving when performing even the simplest of functions. What the CX-5 needs more than just about anything is the superior MazdaConnect infotainment setup that’s available in the Mazda 3.

Safety

9

Out of 10

Mazda makes up technical ground on the safety side. The Touring model is equipped with E911 emergency services connectivity, which makes it easy to get help when you really need it. Additionally, this version of the CX-5 comes with a blind-spot monitoring system, while the CX-5 Grand Touring includes rain-sensing windshield wipers.

Unfortunately, Mazda does not yet offer a rear cross-traffic alert system for the CX-5. However, both the Touring and Grand Touring can be upgraded with a Technology Package containing Smart City Brake Support, a collision avoidance/mitigation system that uses a laser to scan the road for danger. If it detects that a car or pedestrian is ahead, it will actively apply the brakes to slow or stop the CX-5, providing a nice insurance policy for those moments when you’re stuck in stop-and-go traffic and checking Facebook rather than driving.

The Technology Package also includes bi-Xenon headlamps with an adaptive front lighting system that pivots the headlights in the direction that you’re steering. This, and the Smart City Brake Support, added to my peace of mind while slowly driving through Queen Elsa-infested neighborhoods on a spooky Halloween night.

In the event that a collision is unavoidable, there’s a good chance you’ll survive the impact in a Mazda CX-5. This crossover receives a 5-star overall crash-test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has given the Mazda CX-5 a Top Safety Pick designation.

Cost-Effectiveness

8

Out of 10

Take impressive reliability predictions and what's expected to be low cost of ownership, and combine them with lease deals, bonus-cash offers and low-rate financing, and a Mazda CX-5 appears to make smart financial sense. The icing on the cake is an impressive fuel-economy estimate.

The trouble is that I didn’t get particularly close to the EPA’s 27-mpg fuel-economy estimate. And while Consumer Reports sure is impressed with the CX-5, owners responding to J.D. Power surveys are not. An average depreciation rating from ALG and average warranty coverage also dampen the glow surrounding this crossover SUV, though 3 years of free roadside assistance is something you don’t get with a few of the CX-5’s key competitors.

So, is this a good buy or not? I think so. Mazda dealers want your business, and they’ll make the deal competitive. The quality is there. The reliability is there. Just don’t expect to pass by as many gas stations as you might surmise from those EPA ratings.

Updated

Liz Kim has worked within the world of cars for 15 years, at various points reviewing and writing about, or analyzing and marketing, everything automotive. It’s no wonder that she married a fellow automotive journalist. Liz can be found examining and assessing the latest vehicles when she’s not busy keeping the peace between, and the schedule for, her two young daughters.

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