As a car reviewer, it’s rather uncommon for you to have a chance to review a newer model of your own vehicle. There are hundreds of different vehicle types and styles for sale from dozens of manufacturers, so the odds of your own car showing up are low. Nonetheless, less than a year ago I traded up my much loved 2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid for a 2017 Mazda CX-5 AWD Grand Touring edition in white. I really like it with its combination of every tech available and compact size. it’s easy to park, easy to drive, and terrific for when you’re solo or with one or two passengers. More than that and I miss the considerable additional space of my old Highlander, though.
When Mazda reached out and asked if I wanted to give the 2018 Mazda CX-5 a test drive, i was most intrigued: What’s changed in a year? Most car models evolve slowly and so model year differences are fairly subtle, with a slightly rounder this, a sleeker that and a 5% more efficient something else. No big jumps; that’s what a new model is for instead.Interestingly, though, the jump from the 2016 to 2017 Mazda CX-5 was substantial, with a redesigned interior, new glass that lowered road noise, a repositioned navigational system and redesigned dashboard and plenty of other improvements that made the extra cost of the brand new 2017 a no-brainer versus the deal offered on buying a 2016 CX-5 at the local Mazda dealership. [note: I wrote about my purchase experience too if you want to read it: Buying a 2017 Mazda CX-5]
The 2018 CX-5 Grand Touring AWD showed up in my driveway in the stunning Soul Red Crystal Metallic and I pulled out my own car to see exactly what was different from the outside. Short answer: not much at all:
The white one – with the blurred license plate! – is my car. The red one is the 2018 with the California plates on it. Just about the only different I could see was the addition of a sticker on the top of the rear bumper. Now I want one on my car too!
In fact, there are almost no differences between the 2017 and 2018 Mazda CX-5 other than tiny nuances. Here’s one I noticed: The button labels on the steering wheel controls. First, the dashboard cockpit layout of the 2018:
Look really closely at the buttons on the right of the steering wheel: the labels are slightly different than in the 2017:
It’s the MODE and CAN/OFF buttons that change. Apparently people found those two labels a bit baffling, because the 2018 has these two labeled as “MODE/ON” and the full word “CANCEL/OFF” to differentiate the on and off functions. I’m definitely reaching when these are the differences I could find.
Under the hood the difference is a bit more substantial: The 2018 sports a new Skyactiv 2.5L engine with Skyactiv-Drive 6 speed sport mode is the first to support cylinder-deactivation technology for improved fuel economy. The 2.5-liter Skyactiv-G inline-four can now shut down the two outer cylinders while cruising for better fuel efficiency, and it’s the only four-cylinder engine with cylinder deactivation tech for sale in the United States. But don’t get too excited: Mazda says it’ll give you about 1mpg better fuel efficiency and after driving it for a week I got essentially identical mileage as my 2017 (but to be fair, I do more “city” driving than “highway” driving).
And did I mention the gorgeous, deep red of the “Soul Red Crystal Metallic” color? People even complimented me on the hue, and legitimately so, as you can see:
It really is a lovely design for a compact SUV and the color, well, there’s a $595 surcharge for Soul Red, but look on the road and you’ll see plenty of them: customers are loving this color. Me? I’ve had white cars for many years and wasn’t about to break with tradition!
Mazda is learning from its customers in other ways too, notably that many optional features, safety tech and driving add-ons have gradually become standard on the different trim levels of the vehicle. Car manufacturers might love nickel and diming customers with this, that and the other add-on so that the base price is surprisingly low, but customers generally hate it and the entire purchasing process. For 2018 many of the optional equipment from 2017 bumped up to standard equipment: The Sport model now includes a leather-wrapped steering wheel, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert, and all of the great i-Activesense features are now standard on the mid-level Touring model, including 19-inch wheels, adaptive cruise control (which is a must-have for me now on any future car), automated emergency braking, rain-sensing windshield wipers and automatic headlights. At the top Grand Touring trim level the front seats add memory positioning. All moves in the right direction: My 2017 Grand Touring was already tricked out with every possible option and they make for a safer and more enjoyable drive!
A few additional features that are common across both vehicles include the rear armrest which integrates rear seat warmers and, under the rear portion, USB charging plugs. Not bad at all for a vehicle at this price point:
The other thing I really like in the Mazda line that is lacking in just about every other manufacturer’s vehicles (other than perhaps BMW) is a center control console that makes working with the nav system and entertainment system a breeze.
Mazda calls it the “Multi-function Commander Control” and it puts everything at your fingertips so that you really can keep your eyes on the road while changing channels, flipping to the navigational system, etc:
It’s become so much a part of how I control the entertainment and navigational system while I drive that I miss it when I’m in other cars, even those a few pay grades further up the cost. Instead of making you reach to the dashboard or figure out an overloaded steering wheel control area, it’s just simple and easy.
Ultimately, though, I found that there really isn’t so much difference between the 2017 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring and the 2018 model. It’s nice to know that your car is a smart design, though, which is clearly the case as there wasn’t much to fix or improve for this year. For 2019? The long-awaited diesel engine will finally be available as an option. Other than that? We’ll have to see.
AS DRIVEN: 2018 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD, Soul Red Crystal Metallic exterior, Parchment interior. SkyActiv-G 2.5L engine. Optional equipment: illuminated doorsill trim plates, Soul Red paint, rear bumper guard, retractable cargo cover and premium package. As driven: $34,685.00.
Disclosure: Mazda loaned me the 2018 CX-5 to drive for a week in return for this review and write-up.