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Long-delayed 2019 Mazda CX-5 finally arrives at New York Auto Show

Mazda's crossover gets a diesel, but does the math add up?

Steven Pham/Roadshow

There are some product debuts we've been waiting for a long, long time. No, not that one, this one: after an exhausting wait, Mazda is finally bringing a diesel engine to the US. The Japanese automaker is launching its Skyactiv-D 2.2-liter four-cylinder diesel engine in the 2019 CX-5 crossover, the company announced at the New York Auto Show.

This news is a big deal on several fronts -- Mazda has been making noise about bringing diesel offerings to this market for the better part of a decade, but the technology's rollout has been stymied by a number of factors, including calibration and certification issues, and more recently, Volkswagen's Dieselgate disaster, which has cast a pall over the fuel's public profile. 

With the German automaker's scandal seemingly largely in the public's rearview mirror, however, the time could be right for Mazda to revisit diesel models, which some consumers prize for their generous torque characteristics, superior towing ability and traditionally for good fuel economy and long range. 

Long delayed, the CX-5 Diesel is finally here.

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To that end, Mazda says the Skyactiv-D 2.2 will deliver 168 horsepower and a stout 290 pound-feet of torque. EPA fuel economy numbers are estimated at 27 miles per gallon city, 30 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined. The sequential twin-turbo engine will only be available in the CX-5's top Signature trim with standard all-wheel drive, starting at $41,000 plus $1,045 for destination ($1,090 in Alaska).

Disappointingly, however, those fuel efficiency numbers aren't far off what the base model's current 2.5-liter gas four-cylinder delivers. For comparison's sake, the CX-5's base Skyactiv-G engine generates 187 hp and 186 pound-feet of torque (admittedly at 4,000 rpm, twice the engine speed of the diesel at torque peak) and is rated at 24 mpg city, 30 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined in matching AWD spec. 

That's not a particularly significant fuel-efficiency win, especially in view of diesel's traditionally (significantly) higher price per gallon. (According to the AAA, the national average price for a gallon of gas is presently $2.83, while diesel is $3.07). 

This badge is the biggest giveaway your CX-5 has a diesel engine.

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The CX-5's available uplevel 2.5-liter turbocharged gas engine actually puts out substantially more horsepower, 227 hp (250 on 93 octane) and even more torque -- 310 pound-feet -- at the same low 2,000 rpm engine speed as the diesel. The turbocharged gas engine isn't nearly as miserly, however, with ratings falling to 22 mpg city, 27 highway and 24 mpg combined.

Since Volkswagen has retreated from offering diesels in the US, there's not much competition among non-premium brands for this diesel CX-5. Its only direct rival is the 2019 Chevrolet Equinox AWD, which is offered with a smaller, less-powerful 1.6-liter turbodiesel (137 hp/240 pound-feet). That power deficit is balanced somewhat by the model's comparatively parsimonious efficiency ratings (28 mpg city, 38 highway and 32 combined) and its significantly lower base price: $36,295 including $1,195 for delivery. 

Tow ratings for the CX-5 diesel have not yet been released, but if they're a good bit higher than the 2,000-pound limit of the gas-engined models, that could be a significant differentiator for potential customers, all while offering potentially longer range between fill-ups, too. (Roadshow has reached out to Mazda officials for estimates on both, and will update this article if and when the information becomes available).

The diesel engine is offered only with the CX-5's Signature trim level.

Steven Pham/Roadshow

Company officials are taking understandable pains to spell out that Mazda has done all of the necessary due diligence to make sure these new diesel models are legal in all 50 states. According to an official release, "Mazda worked closely with all proper federal and state agencies, such as the California Air Resources Board (CARB), to ensure that the Skyactiv-D 2.2 engine meets the required emission standards and passes all appropriate regulations."

Even with Dieselgate fading from public consciousness, it remains unclear how big the market is for the 2019 Mazda CX-5 Skyactiv-D. On the plus side, diesel drivers are some of the most loyal and fanatical supporters you'll find in all of autodom, and the standard gas-powered CX-5 is one of the very best compact crossover SUVs in a hugely popular, rapidly growing class. On the negative side, Mazda doesn't have a history of selling to diesel consumers, and the new offering's fuel economy ratings are underwhelming.

Will the decade-long wait for a Mazda diesel prove to be worth it? We won't know for sure until we get our hands on the new model, but, just as importantly, Mazda itself won't know until the sales numbers roll in.