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If it ain't broke, don't fix it, goes the old saying. 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 in 2012 and has rapidly risen to become the best-selling model in Mazda's lineup. Over the years, Mazda constantly tweaked this small SUV's formula, giving it multiple revisions, facelifts and midyear refreshes. And now, just 5 years post-launch, Mazda debuts the CX-5's second generation.
Has Mazda's constant revising watered down the 2017 Mazda CX-5's winning formula or has messing with success left the SUV better than before?
In 2016, the launch of Mazda's CX-9 SUV 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 in the lineup to get the "Mazda Premium" treatment.
Compared to the 2016.5 CX-5 that I tested last year, this 2017 model, in Grand Touring Premium trim, boasts more comfortable seats, a cabin with nicer leather and real stitching and even a steering wheel that Mazda 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 brought to noise reduction. That same obsessive nature that led its engineers to reduce weight by shaving wire harnesses on the MX-5 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 -- dozens and dozens of tweaks were made with the result being that the CX-5's cabin is noticeably quieter at highway speeds.
This crossover SUV 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.
The remarkable HUD became an integral information source while I drove the CX-5, with clear and useful graphics projected directly on the windshield. Beyond vehicle speed and turn-by-turn directions, it also popped up a stop sign icon when when the car's camera detected an actual stop sign ahead. The HUD showed blind spot alerts as well, so I didn't even need to turn my head to know if another car was in the next lane over.
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 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.
The engine bay hasn't changed much for this second generation, but the available options have 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 (Mazda promises a diesel version later on.)
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 can be had in both front-wheel- and all-wheel-drive, the latter of which I drove. Although all-wheel drive would give me a little more confidence on slippery roads, the CX-5 doesn't have any driver control over the system, such as a locking differential.
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. I managed an average of 25 mpg, just about hitting the EPA number.
The aforementioned improvements to noise reduction and various other generational changes have left the new CX-5 a little over 100 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.
The biggest change from the previous model is a much more supple ride. 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 added its G-Vectoring Control to the list of the CX-5's 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. It's 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.
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.
The maps in the navigation system look good, even showing 3D-rendered buildings in urban areas. But the lack of online destination search is a strike against the CX-5 in the increasingly connected automotive world. Unique to Mazda, however, is the inclusion of red light and speed cameras in the map database, with the car actually giving me a warning when I approached an intersection equipped with a red-light camera.
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 midcycle refresh or software update that steps up the dashboard tech.
For this second generation, the new "Mazda Premium" CX-5 aims to punch way above it's traditional class. Mazda benchmarked its small SUV against 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. For now, however, relative to traditional competitors such as the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, the CX-5 finds itself in a much better position than before and is a much stronger competitor.
The 2017 Mazda CX-5 goes for a base price of $24,045 before the destination fee. However, my love for the HUD propels my trim choice all the way to the top, the Grand Touring trim priced at $29,395. As the HUD only comes as part of an additional $1,830 Premium package, the total with destination runs to $32,760. Add $1,300 for all-wheel drive.
If I could do without the HUD, the most sensible option is the Touring trim, at $25,915 before destination. Adding the I-ActiveSense package for a paltry $625 brings in adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist, making it a comfortable car for road trips. Strangely, Mazda doesn't let you also choose its Preferred Equipment package in conjunction with I-ActiveSense, which would add navigation and upgraded audio, so stick to the smartphone for navigation. That puts a CX-5 Touring model at a total of $27,480 with destination. Again, add $1,300 for all-wheel drive.