The 2016 Mazda CX-5, a very nice compact SUV

I’ve spent the last week behind the wheel of a beautiful red 2016 Mazda CX-5 as part of a loaner program and have really enjoyed driving this smaller crossover SUV that competes directly with the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 (even the name is similar). I usually drive a larger SUV, the Toyota Highlander, so that’s of course the vehicle that I use for comparisons. It’s probably not entirely fair as the Highlander is about $20k more expensive, but as with everyone, the car you’re familiar with is your yardstick for measurement.

This is only the fourth year Mazda has had a car in this category but the company has definitely figured out the requirements of this size vehicle and the Grand Touring AWD model I had with its 2.5L engine featuring a 6-speed sports mode at 184 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque was fun to drive, albeit occasionally a bit slow from a full stop.

It’s a really nice looking vehicle:

mazda cx-5 grand touring awd 2016

The base CX-5 costs $29,470 and the particular vehicle I was driving had the GT I-Activesense package (cruise control, smart brake support, lane departure warning) and the Grand Touring Tech package (navigation system, LED headlights, smart city brake support and auto-dim rear view mirror with Homelink), making the total MSRP $34,140.

There was a lot I liked about the CX-5 and my kids definitely enjoyed it, but the biggest thing that bothered me was actual gas mileage. The sticker says 24 city, 30 highway and I experienced about 26mpg, but for a smaller compact SUV, I expected something over 30mpg as standard. It’s light, the engine isn’t that big, and I’m light on the gas pedal having spent years driving hybrids and trying to maximize fuel efficiency. In 2000 these kind of figures would have been okay, but in 2016 and beyond, I really do expect another 5-10 miles per gallon of fuel, if not more.

By comparison, the Honda CR-V has an EPA measured fuel efficiency of 29 combined, and the Toyota RAV4 a combined 26mpg, the same as the Mazda. SO maybe it’s my expectations that are off and the fact is “mid to high twenties” is the norm for this segment? Still disappointing with so much modern tech on these vehicles.

Let me share some pictures to show the things I liked and didn’t like…

front console, mazda cx-5 2016

The front console is nicely designed and was easy to navigate as I drove, though I’m used to having stereo system controls on the dashboard itself (they’re on the armrest, as you can see in the next photo). Notice that the navigational system screen is front and center, but still protected by the dashboard from direct sunlight. Helpful!

The controls on the center console took a bit of getting used to:

center console controls and layout

Shifting from normal to sport gearing mode required flipping the toggle just to the left of the gearshift, a control that continually reminded me of an electric window control. Also note the parking break: it’s electronic, so all you need to do is push down on it when parked to engage, pull up on it to disengage when ready to drive again.

The audio system controls were definitely quirky and I still haven’t figured out how to turn the stereo system off completely. This isn’t a big deal (you can mute it or turn the volume to zero) except if you’re listening to an audio book on CD, in which case you quickly realize that it’s playing without you being able to listen. Not so good. With a big of practice, the controls were all easily managed without looking, so props to the industrial designer in that regard.

dashboard and steering controls, 2016 cx-5

The controls on the dashboard and steering wheel were a bit mind-numbing, as you can see. There’s just a lot going on, and when you add the control sticks (see the windshield wiper controls on the right, above) it was slightly baffling to figure out how to have everything work just so.

The voice system tied to the navigational computer was quite slick and surprised us. You can set nav destinations and engage the GPS system completely hands free once you’ve pushed the button the first time to engage the system, and it can also find artists and songs on iPods plugged in via USB and switch to them subsequent to a requested song. Neat!

The screen was also bright and easily understood:

navigational system grand touring tech package mazda

Something I hadn’t seen in a GPS system before is that it also knows speed limits so could warn you when you were speeding. Darn useful, especially in areas where there are sneaky speed traps, though it didn’t know about construction zones, so you still have to pay attention to your speed!

dual usb and sdcard slots in the mazda cx-5

I also appreciated the dual USB and SDCard slots in the front. With a short cable and an iPod Classic, I was able to easily bring along thousands of my favorite songs without clutter or hassle. With the CD system, XM satellite radio and the two USB input options, it’s easy to set up the vehicle to give you a wealth of audio choices unimagined 20 years ago.

All in all, a very nice compact SUV that has lots of things to really like, most notably including all the slick new tech. The biggest thing that could be improved is the gas mileage, but that might just be true for the entire class of compact SUVs, all of which seem to be around 25mpg combined. Learn more: The Mazda CX-5.

Disclaimer: Mazda loaned me the CX-5 for a week for the purposes of this evaluation.

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