2017 Mazda CX-5 is much more premium, no less fun

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it." "Leave well enough alone." When you've got a winning formula, it's usually not a good idea to go fiddling with things, lest you accidentally ruin a perfectly good thing.

Clearly nobody told Mazda this. The Mazda CX-5 was only just introduced back in 2012 and has rapidly risen to the become best-selling model in Mazda's lineup. The small SUV has undergone multiple revisions, facelifts and midyear refreshes; Mazda has been constantly tweaking the CX-5's formula. And now, just 5 years post-launch, it is already debuting its second generation.

Has Mazda's constant revising watered down the 2017 Mazda CX-5's winning formula or has messing with success left the CUV better than before?

2017 Mazda CX-5

The CX-5's exterior design isn't a dramatic departure, but the entire package feels more athletic and grown up.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Mazda Premium

Last year, the launch of Mazda's CX-9 was also the launch of the automaker's "Mazda Premium" initiative. The automaker is stepping its game up, hoping to differentiate from its traditional competition by offering more premium vehicles with better interiors, materials, comfort and attention to detail. The new CX-5 is the second "Mazda Premium" model.

Compared to the 2016.5 model that I tested last year, this 2017 Grand Touring Premium model boasts more comfortable seats, a cabin with nicer leather and real stitching and even a steering wheel that has been reconfigured for better comfort. The cockpit features the same great Mazda ergonomics that I loved in prior CX-5s, but now the dashboard boasts an improved design that looks a class above the older cabin with new metallic accents and a strong horizontal theme.

What you can't see in the pictures is the ridiculous attention to detail that Mazda has brought to noise reduction. That same obsessive nature that lead MX-5 engineers to shave wire harnesses chasing grams on the Roadster has been applied to chasing unnecessary decibels in the CX-5's cabin. A bit of carpet here, a seam filled there, door seals improved, body gaps reduced, bits shaved -- dozens and dozens of tweaks were made with the result being that the CX-5's cabin is noticeably quieter at highway speeds.

The crossover also features better available equipment, including a power liftgate, auto-leveling LED headlamps and a full head-up display (HUD) that puts speedometer, speed limit data pulled from the new traffic sign recognition system, navigation and more information right in the driver's sight-line. I particularly liked that Mazda's HUD includes indicators for the blind-spot information system, which I don't think I've ever seen before.

i-ActivSense safety

That blind-spot monitor includes rear cross-traffic alert when reversing at low speeds and is part of Mazda's i-ActivSense suite of driver aid technologies -- the full range of which is available on the new CX-5.

The suite also includes adaptive cruise control that works in low-speed traffic, a forward pre-collision alert with automatic emergency braking and lane departure warning with lane keeping assist.

SkyActiv G engine

The engine bay hasn't changed much for this second generation, but the available options has been pared down. Gone is the old 2.0-liter with manual transmission base model combo; Mazda's 2.5-liter Skyactiv-G engine with standard six-speed automatic transmission is now the only combination available for the North American CX-5 at launch.

The 2.5-liter's output hasn't changed much. It's now rated at 187 peak horsepower -- a modest gain of just three ponies -- and the same 185 pound-feet of torque. Mazda claims slightly better throttle response for the new model but, while the accelerator pedal did have a snappy feel, I didn't notice too much of a difference on the road. The 2.5-liter is as lively as it's ever been and that's a good thing.

The CX-5 will be available in both front-wheel drive and all-wheel driven variants. A Skyactiv-D diesel engine will be joining the lineup later this year. Yes, it will be available here in America. I can't wait to have a go.

2017 Mazda CX-5

The combination of G-Vectoring control and suspension tweaks leaves the crossover feeling more comfortable, but just as responsive.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

The EPA's estimates put the new CX-5's economy at 24 city, 31 highway and 27 combined mpg for the front-driven models and 23 city, 30 highway and 26 combined mpg for models equipped with all-wheel drive.

Premium ride

The aforementioned improvements to noise reduction and various other generational changes have left the new CX-5 about 100-120-ish pounds heavier than the outgoing model -- sure to raise some eyebrows among Mazda featherweight purists -- but you'd be hard pressed to notice the additional mass from behind the wheel.

I did notice that the ride quality is much more supple. I personally didn't mind the old CX-5's firm ride, but many of its buyers did. So, Mazda has softened the ride to soak up bumps better. The CX-5 now rides smoother and, of course, transmits less road noise into the cabin.

Interestingly, the steering still feels fantastic and the handling is engaging despite the softening of the ride. This is partially due to firmer mounting points for the steering rack and suspension for better control and some rejiggering of the geometry to account for the softer suspension bits.

Mazda has also made its G-Vectoring Control to the list of its standard features. Think of it as a sort of proactive stability control aimed at improving performance. It pulls off all sorts of tricks like slightly dipping engine torque just as you start cornering to shift weight onto the front wheels and improve initial responsiveness. Its subtle enough that I never noticed it working and, along with the physical tweaks, helps keep the new, softer CX-5 feeling fun on a twisty bit of road.

Mazda Connect isn't very premium

Let's not sugar coat this bitter pill. The Mazda Connect infotainment system in the center of the dashboard just isn't very good. It's navigation is good enough to get from point A to B and its simple interface is functional, but as Mazda pushes the CX-5 upmarket into more premium competition, it's just not going to cut it anymore.

2017 Mazda CX-5

Mazda Connect gets the job done, but it's the least "premium" feeling piece of the CX-5 puzzle.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

The CX-5 is missing features such as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, which could easily fill the digital media gaps in a low-distraction way and instantly improve the navigation experience. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a mid-cycle refresh or software update that steps up the dashboard tech.

Pricing and availability

For this second generation, the new "Mazda Premium" CX-5 aims to punch way above it's traditional class. Mazda has benchmarked the small SUV against vehicles like the Audi Q3, BMW X1 and Lexus NX and comes out looking pretty good. Sure, the BMW and Audi trounce the Mazda's pitiful tech offerings, but the cabin comfort and on-road feel isn't too far off the mark. The Lexus, in particular, had best watch its back.

That said, I don't think too many entry-level luxury and premium buyers will be cross-shopping Mazda with these luxury brands -- the badge on the grille just doesn't carry the same cache... yet. For now, however, relative to its more traditional competitors -- your CR-Vs, RAV4s, Escapes and the like -- the Mazda finds itself in a much better position than before and is a much stronger competitor.

The 2017 Mazda CX-5 glides into dealerships in late March starting at $24,045 before a $940 destination charge. As tested, our fully loaded CX-5 Grand Touring with i-Activ AWD ($30,695), Premium package upgrades ($1,830) and soul red crystal paint ($595) should top the range at $34,060.

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