Living with the 2023 Mazda CX-5 Turbo

Despite its shortcomings, the Mazda CX-5 is aging gracefully.


In the world of uninspiring SUVs and crossovers, it is not easy to find the right one with a character for a reasonable price. Unlike the other non-premium Japanese entries, the CX-5 offers a completely different experience since the second generation was released in 2017. The brand has implemented important updates over the last few years, mostly done in the right places, including new trims, new drivetrains, new design details without changing the golden formula.

As the CX-5 does things a lot differently than most entries in the non-premium segment, we wanted to test drive it extensively to see how it performs as a daily driver. It may not have the largest interior space or the best fuel economy, but it is still appealing to the audience that wants to have a premium experience with great performance and an admirable reliability record.

The Looks – Exterior and Interior

Just like any modern Mazda, it is undoubtedly a Mazda even from a mile away. The brand knows how to future-proof its models including the design language. Back in 2017 when it was first released, nothing else was able to come close in terms of the looks, it still doesn’t look old. Our tester is the top Signature trim with more chrome pieces in the front fascia, including the big front grille. If you haven’t already noticed, Mazda updated the headlights in the latest refresh to make the CX-5 look more modern. The updates are mostly subtle, but also noticeable when you pay attention.

As we make our way to the side and the rear end, we find less unpainted surfaces simply because the Signature trim offers a body-coloured front and rear bumper as well as wheel arches and rocker trim. It also comes with a satin chrome diffuser and mirror caps to underline the premium character of the vehicle. The Soul Red Crystal Metallic is $500 extra, but definitely worth the price as it makes the CX-5 look so much more premium and sportier. Last but not least, it does not have design tricks or gimmicks like some entries in this class, you would not be able to find fake vents, rugged looks or fake exhaust tips. What you see is what you get here, including 100% real dual exhaust tips.

In the interior, you will find a lot of matte textures all over the dashboard for a good reason. Just like the exterior, the CX-5 offers a subtle but premium experience. Nothing is offensive or obnoxious, and everything is laid out in the most user-friendly way. The updated CX-5 received the larger 10.25-inch screen that also offers a touch-screen experience with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, something that everyone criticized Mazda for so long, they made it happen.

The screen is a little bit closer than other Mazda models so you can use the touchscreen, but it is still far enough that you have to move forward to be able to reach the screen. Either way, the infotainment system is very intuitive, simple and lag-free, something that we can’t find in newer entries in this segment. The Signature trim also comes with a 360 camera with great camera resolution, Mazda has improved a lot of “tech” features over the last few years.

Despite having a larger and more usable infotainment screen, it still comes with physical controls for features that you use every day, including the HVAC controls. In order to be able to use the infotainment menu outside the smartphone integration, you still need to use physical buttons located in the center console, something we do not see a lot. The only gripe that I had is the half digital gauge cluster, it is the only area that you feel the age of this platform. It shows a few important features, but not very useful and different from the traditional fully analog instrument clusters.

Most shoppers think the CX-5 is too tight in the interior, especially when compared to the newer entries. It is true to a certain point that if the interior space is your priority, the CX-50 is here to solve that problem. The CX-5 on the other hand is adequate for smaller families, and it offers good seat comfort. The front seats are nicely padded with Nappa leather, they feel very comfortable. I just wish the bottom cushion was a little bit longer or had extra thigh extension, but it offers 10-way adjustment and it can accommodate taller adults with no issues.

The rear seats are where you feel the biggest difference, as newer entries have grown so much they feel more spacious inside. The CX-5 offers a decent amount of headroom and average legroom for tall adults. Just like the front seats, they are nicely padded and quite comfortable. It also comes with nice creature comforts like air vents and heated seats for the rear seat passengers. I just wish the heated seat buttons weren’t located in the armrest, as it makes it unusable if you have a passenger in the middle.

The small shortcomings have become more obvious as the segment evolves, including the trunk space. The CX-5 comes with 29.1 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats, which is not class-leading, but still a clear upgrade over various subcompact SUVs like the Mazda CX-30. While it is small for the class, it can still accommodate even large baby strollers when you place them horizontally, and it comes with neat features like standard 40/20/40 folding rear seats and the power liftgate available in the GS trim and upper trims.

The Drive – Specs & Experience

What makes the Mazda CX-5 appealing to many SUV shoppers is the driving dynamics and overall feeling behind the steering wheel. It wants to stand out, especially with the premium feeling and be different than the other non-premium traditional crossovers. One of the main reasons why it is different is that it comes with the turbocharged 2.5 litre Skyactiv-G engine that can push up to 256 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque with 93 octane gas, but it can also take 87 octane with lower horsepower and torque ratings. Either way, having the flexibility to use lower octane is very important, especially for most audience. Lower trims still come with the naturally aspirated 2.5 litre Skyactiv-G engine with cylinder deactivation.

Another reason why the CX-5 is still different is that Mazda did not jump on the continuously variable transmission bandwagon to save a few MPGs. Regardless of which engine you choose, the CX-5 comes with the good old 6-speed torque-converted automatic transmission which is a tried-and-true platform that Mazda has been using in all models except the new CX-90. As expected, the CX-5 comes standard with the all-wheel-drive system that offers front-biased power distribution at the limit.

Even though the turbocharged CX-5 offers more horsepower than the competition, the power delivery is completely different. It aims to provide a smooth driving experience, and it does not want to go to a higher RPM range. It usually upshifts around 5500 RPM, and Mazda tuned the engine to offer maximum torque in the midrange. It is quite faster than any other non-premium entry, the turbocharged 2.5-litre Skyactiv engine can take the CX-5 from 0 to 100 in less than 6.5 seconds. The only gripe I had was the valvetrain noise especially when the engine is cold, it is not the smoothest drivetrain for a car that offers a more premium experience than the competition.

The 6-speed automatic transmission and the all-wheel-drive system work well in harmony, but they are also not perfect. The 6-speed transmission has relatively taller gear ratios, but it is not a deal breaker when you have so much torque available anytime you need it. On the other hand, the 6th gear is not enough for higher speeds, meaning that the CX-5 revs more than 3000 RPM at highway speeds, which increases the overall fuel consumption and NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) levels. The car wants to have the 7th, and ideally the 8th gear to offer optimum driving experience on the highway. I would still choose this 6-speed automatic over any continuously variable transmission available in the market, but it’s a slight annoyance that should not dissuade shoppers.

The drivetrain is an excellent match to the rest of the vehicle. The steering, suspension, chassis tune and overall driving experience are really impressive even after 6 years since it’s first released. The inputs are definitely slow, the suspension tune is right where you expect it to be, softly sprung for family rides, but the body roll is gradual and not excessive at the limit. The steering weight is on the heavier side to give that extra premium feeling.

The Verdict

It is not easy to keep an SUV or crossover relevant for almost 7 years in a very competitive market. Despite its shortcomings, the CX-5 is still my favourite choice in this segment. It is definitely not a replacement for luxury entries, but it sits right in the middle which makes the CX-5 the most premium entry without paying the premium.

After our 4-week test, we have found that the CX-5 has quite a different value proposition than the CX-50, and it is still appealing to most shoppers despite the age of its platform. For shoppers looking for more interior space and more rugged looks, the CX-50 would be the ideal choice. On the other hand, with its independent rear suspension, more refined ride comfort, and slightly better ride quality, the CX-5 should not share a common fate with the outgoing CX-9.

Engine2.5-litre turbocharged inline-4
Transmission & Drivetrain6-speed automatic & all-wheel-drive
Max power256 hp @ 5000 rpm
Max torque320 lb-ft @ 2500 rpm
0-100 km/h6.5 seconds
Curb Weight3832 lb – 1738 kg
Fuel Economy (observed)20 MPG – 11.5 L/100 km
Price (as tested)$47,545

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