2019 Mazda CX-5 Diesel review: Was it really worth the wait?

  • Engine Turbocharged, 4 Cylinder Engine
  • Drivetrain All Wheel Drive, All Wheel
  • MPG 28 MPG
  • Passenger Capacity 5
  • Body Type Crossovers, SUVs

Roadshow Editors' Rating

8.1 Overall
  • Performance 8.5
  • Features 8.5
  • Design 8.5
  • Media 6.5

The Good The 2019 Mazda CX-5's diesel engine is smooth and torque-rich, and offers improved towing capabilities and a little more fuel efficiency than its gas-powered counterparts.

The Bad The diesel's fuel efficiency isn't really a big upgrade, and this top-trim CX-5 is pretty expensive.

The Bottom Line Diesel purists will likely be the only ones flocking to the Mazda CX-5 Skyactiv-D.

That the 2019 Mazda CX-5 Diesel is just now hitting showrooms now is a bit of a shock. For the better part of the decade, Mazda had promised a diesel engine for a US-market car -- in fact, it was originally destined for the Mazda6. But the Japanese automaker said calibration and certification issues were the original source of delays, and those issues were made even more complicated by the Volkswagen Dieselgate scandal, which not only increased government oversight of diesel fuel, but tarnished public perception of these powertrains.

So Mazda faces an uphill battle by launching a diesel-powered CX-5 in the year 2019. Outside of pickup trucks, diesel engines are now pretty scarce. And making things more complicated, Mazda's Skyactiv-D engine is only being offered in the most expensive CX-5 trim. Does that make this more efficient CX-5 a worthy consideration, or is the diesel-powered Mazda basically dead on arrival?

Now playing: Watch this: 2019 Mazda CX-5 Diesel is armed with torque and a high...

Different with diesel

Any company deciding to install a diesel engine in a US-spec passenger car today is certainly going against the grain. Fittingly, Mazda is no stranger to doing just that, previously championing rotary and miller-cycle engine technologies. The result of Mazda's diesel development work is a 2.2-liter twin-turbocharged I4 producing 168 horsepower and 290 pound-feet of torque. When equipped with the diesel, the CX-5's tow rating jumps to 3,500 pounds -- a 1,500-pound increase over the gas-powered models. 

From a power delivery and harmonics standpoint, the CX-5's diesel powerplant is very impressive. There's some ever-so-slight diesel garble as you roll onto the throttle, with punchy thrust down low in the rev range. It's also perfectly smooth while spinning up to the high-for-a-diesel 5,500-rpm redline, making quick work of highway on-ramp merges.

Being a diesel, you would expect the CX-5 to pack some bladder-busting driving range, right? Unfortunately, that's not exactly the case. With a six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive, the EPA estimates the CX-5 Diesel to return 27 miles per gallon in the city and 30 mpg on the highway. I confirmed those numbers, easily averaging 30.1 mpg on tank of fuel under mostly highway driving.

By the numbers

To its credit, the CX-5 Diesel's fuel ratings are an improvement over the CX-5's 2.5-liter turbocharged I4 gas engine, which gets 22 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. Outside of slightly better efficiency and higher tow capacity, though, the rest of the numbers don't go in the diesel's favor so much. 

The gas engine's 250 horsepower bests the diesel's 168, which is par for the course, but the torque figures are less so. With 310 pound-feet of torque, the gas engine outmuscles the diesel's 290, and both engines making peak twist at 2,000 rpm. Ouch. 

Another difficult number attached to the CX-5 Diesel Signature is the price premium it carries over the gas car. Getting a range-topping Signature model with the gas engine costs $36,890, not including $1,045 for destination. Upgrading to the diesel bumps matters up by $4,110 for a $41,000 starting price, which is a lot of coin when you're only getting a slight benefit in fuel economy and towing. 

Getting the Skyactiv-D in your CX-5 will cost you an extra $4,110.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

Premium blend

Take the diesel engine out of the equation and the rest of the car is everything I've come to love about CX-5. It continues to be more satisfying to drive than competitors like the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester and Toyota RAV4. The steering is reasonably quick and communicative, body lean is controlled at turn-in, and there's a healthy helping of grip on the 19-inch Toyo tires, making it quite a bit of fun to wheel around. Other than bump stiffness being a touch firmer than other compact SUVs, the ride quality is solid and comfortable enough that it won't turn off most shoppers.

The CX-5 is also a handsome devil, with its massive grille, sloping nose and subtle body lines that particularly pop when covered in my test car's Soul Red paint. While I appreciate the CR-V's more angular face and the rugged, more squared-off appearance of the RAV4, I think the CX-5 strikes the best visual balance in the segment. It's equal parts elegant and aggressive.

The CX-5's cabin is very nicely built, with Nappa leather and real wood trim.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

The cabin is spacious up front, but rear-seat riders will be more cramped here than in competing cars. With rich, brown Nappa leather, high-quality soft-touch surfaces, real wood trim and a large list of standard features such as heated and cooled front seats, a head-up display (HUD) and a 360-degree camera, the CX-5 Signature makes a strong argument for being cross-shopped against premium competitors. That's a good thing, since $40,000 isn't a small sum of money.

Tech improvements

The CX-5's infotainment system also gets a much-needed update: The Mazda Connect system finally gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. In the Signature trim, the 7-inch touchscreen and rotary jog dial on the center console are used to control navigation, a 10-speaker Bose audio setup, satellite radio and Bluetooth. 

Sadly, what you still won't find in the CX-5 is a Wi-Fi hotspot or wireless charging pad. The sting of not having the latter is offset by the front area having easy access to two 12-volt outlets and a pair of USB ports, while back-seat riders have another couple of 2.1-amp USBs mounted in the center armrest.

Now playing: Watch this: Checking the tech in the 2019 Mazda CX-5 Diesel

Raising the CX-5 Signature's safety game are standard adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning with lane-keep assist and front and rear parking sensors. 

How I'd spec it

When building my ideal Mazda CX-5 Diesel Signature, I wouldn't throw too many extras at it because it's already very well equipped -- as it should be, for a vehicle in this class wearing a $41,000 base price. I would pony up for the $595 Soul Red paint job to highlight the SUV's lines. And finally to increase utility and make use of the extra towing capacity I would tack on the $400 roof rack and $450 trailer hitch and wiring harness. With destination, that bumps the bottom line of my car to $43,490, making it a smidge more affordable than the $44,335 test car pictured here.

Tough sell

Unless you're a huge diesel fan, the 2019 Mazda CX-5 Skyactiv-D Signature likely won't be all that appealing to you. Less-than-stellar efficiency gains and slightly better towing capabilities probably won't be enough to make you pay the steeper cost of admission. 

Outside of die-hard diesel fans, the Mazda CX-5 Skyactiv-D will struggle to win over customers.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

This makes the diesel-powered model a niche offering in Mazda's popular CX-5 lineup. Thankfully, that's a fact that Mazda acknowledges; the company expects diesels to account for no more than 10% of CX-5 sales. Even that sales split may be overly optimistic. But for diesel enthusiasts in search of a small SUV -- and willing to pay a premium -- Mazda has you covered with an attractive, nicely trimmed and entertaining-to-drive entry. For everyone else, saving a good chunk of change and getting the turbo gas engine in a CX-5 is probably the more attractive route.

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