Sweet handling. Most buyers choose Mazdas for their superior handling characteristics, and the 2019 Mazda CX-5 is no different. The ride is poised, the steering is direct, and body motions are well controlled.
Topping it off are a number of electronic aids – including a traction-control mode designed to shift the vehicle's weight in turns, helping to hold a cornering line – that are nearly invisible and reduce driver fatigue.
New turbo. For 2019, the CX-5 now offers a choice of two engines. Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring trims – in either front- or all-wheel-drive configurations – feature a carry-over 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine with 187 horsepower. Its active cylinder displacement allows it to run on two cylinders under light load – a first for a four-cylinder engine in the North American market.
Two new upper trim levels – the all-wheel-drive-only Grand Touring Reserve and Signature – feature a 250-hp, 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with maximum toque at a very usable 2000 rpm. Both are mated to a traditional six-speed automatic transmission.
The base engine offers good throttle response, but it's hardly quick off the line, and engine thrash and noise is apparent when you put your foot into it. The 2.5-liter turbo, for its part, cuts the naught-to-60 run from 8.8 to 7.3 seconds, but there's discernible turbo lag from a stop, and the transmission could use at least a couple more gears to handle the extra power efficiently.
Sublime styling. Like the rest of Mazda's offerings, the CX-5 offers a sophistication of style matched by only a few – regardless of size or class. Outside, the intersection of surfaces with the shield-like mesh grill, thin headlights, and narrow taillights reflects an artful balance of style versus purpose.
Likewise, the interior is a step above the class with nicely-textured trim that extends to the fully-lined, scratch-averse cargo space. The sturdy cloth seats and plain dash of the base model are enhanced with strips of wood and matte leather on pricier trims, while the front seating position – Mazda says it's between a sedan and conventional crossover – makes ingress and egress easy.
But there are nits to deal with, including a snug rear seat that feels shy on head and shoulder room, a middling 30.9 (back seats up) and 59.6 (back seats folded) cubic feet of cargo space, and a USB port tucked away in the console storage box.
In addition, the 7-inch touchscreen looks low-rent compared to the rest of the interior, the unintuitive infotainment system contains too many sub-menus, while Android Auto and Apple CarPlay aren't available on the base Sport trim.
Advanced safety features. The bad news: standard advanced safety on the Sport only includes low-speed automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert.
The good news: forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high beams are optional, while the entire bundle is standard on Touring and above trims.
Final thoughts. The beautiful-on-the-inside-and-outside 2019 Mazda CX-5 brings style and handling prowess to the small crossover class, while the Touring trim, in particular, offers good value.
If Mazda could bring the infotainment system up to snuff, offer a bit more refinement in the base engine, and eliminate some of the turbo's lag, we'd call the CX-5 near-perfect.
Looking at the competition, both the Honda CR-V (39.2 cubic feet with the back seats up and 75.8 with the back seats folded) and the Toyota RAV4 (38.4 cubic feet with the back seats up and 73.4 with the back seats folded) crush the CX-5 in cargo space, while the Toyota offers more standard safety features on the base model.