Facelifted Mazda CX-5 more refined for 2017

Photos by Neil Moore / Feature image: The 2017 Mazda CX-5’s blacked-out mesh grille and narrower headlamps have given it a more aggressive first impression.

I’ve always thought the CX-5, which launched in 2012, to be a sensible vehicle. Roomy, decent on fuel and family-friendly, this compact crossover checked all the right boxes for soccer moms and dads.

But Mazda – or at least their marketing department – is always hyping the idea of ‘creating an emotional connection’ between driver and vehicle. I wasn’t feeling it with this one.

Five years later, I’ve had a change in heart.

For starters, the first-generation CX-5’s ‘grocery getter’ styling has been subtly altered by moving back the A-pillars, sculpting the sheet metal and making the stance a little wider and lower. More significantly, its blacked-out, three-dimensional mesh grille – flanked by thinner headlamps – gives the all-new 2017 model a more aggressive look. Maybe even a little sinister when dipped in ‘Deep Crystal Blue Mica,’ as was my tester.

Interior designers have also up their game. The cabin looks not only more upscale, but has improved ergonomics, locating all controls and switches within easy reach.

40/20/40 rear seats fold flat, enlarging the 875-litre cargo hold to 1,687 litres.

My vehicle was a top-trim GT model, which as you’d expect, is adorned with maximum bling. Such as faux wood, of which I’m not normally a fan. But these woodgrain-embossed strips of metal in the doors and dash are an exception – they look great without trying too hard to be something they’re not.

Ditto for the cream leatherette in the doors and centre console, which nicely matches the real thing in the seats. I prefer this two-tone colour scheme to a monotone of charcoal.

But you needn’t spend large to get a CX-5 you can live with. Even the base front-driver, starting just a tick under $25K, comes with all the necessities and a few of the frills. Content includes seven-inch infotainment screen, rearview camera, tilt/telescopic steering with audio, phone and cruise controls, and pushbutton start.

On the outside, GX models get a roof spoiler, LED headlights, and roll on 17-inch alloys. Also standard is hill launch assist and G-Vectoring Control, which Mazda spent more than eight years developing. When you steer, this technology gently – and almost immediately – dials back engine torque to shift more weight to the front wheels, and improve traction and steering response.

The power drop is imperceptible, but I did find the CX-5 always felt planted and in control during hard cornering. G-Vectoring also reduces the many minor steering corrections you make along the way, reducing driver fatigue.

A six-speed manual gearbox is also part of the base GX package. To Mazda’s credit, they still offer it in many of their vehicles, but to get a third pedal in the CX-5, you must also settle for front-wheel-drive and a 2.0-litre engine (155 hp, 150 lb/ft of torque).

If you’d rather have the more robust 2.5-litre four cylinder on a budget (187 hp, 185 lb/ft), there’s only one transmission – a six-speed automatic. But at least the price penalty is minor. The autobox and added displacement only bumps MSRP by $1,400. If you want all-wheel-drive, however, that’ll be another two grand.

Next up is the mid-trim GS. Starting at $29,100 for the FWD model, it adds a height-adjustable power liftgate, faux leather/faux suede seating instead of cloth, heated front buckets with power adjust for the driver, heated steering wheel, and remote levers to drop the 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat.

You also get a few safety nannies like blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and Smart City Braking, which at low speeds, readies the brakes if it detects an object ahead. And applies the binders if you don’t.

Heated front sport buckets are upholstered in perforated white leather in this top-trim GT model.

My tester included everything from the CX-5 parts bin. GT models start at $34,700 – nearly $10K more than base – but provide even more premium features.

This includes perforated leather seating, now heated in rear, 10-way power driver’s seat with memory, upgraded Bose audio system, navigation, 19-inch alloys, and adaptive front lighting.

Always cognizant of putting their best foot forward, Mazda’s PR department also threw in the $1,600 Technology package that adds radar cruise control, forward obstruction and lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition, heads-up display and more.

I had commented earlier on the CX-5’s premium cabin, which doesn’t feel any less refined on our potholed spring roads or in the cut and thrust of city traffic. Mazda engineers have paid attention to NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) with a more rigid chassis, noise isolating windshield, and an independent suspension that is soft enough to absorb the bumps without excessive body roll in the corners.

CX-5 also scores high marks for roominess. Back seats will accommodate three full-sized adults, and when you drop them flat, the 875-litre cargo hold expands to 1,687 litres. Enough for a pair of mountain bikes or a week’s worth of camping gear. And if you need to pull your toys rather than carry them, towing is 907 kg or 2,000 pounds.

Despite Mazda’s reputation for “zoom-zoom,” I haven’t focused yet on performance. And that’s because people don’t buy this kind of vehicle for corner carving – or the track. If you want a rocket, double or triple your spend and look at Porsche Cayenne or Grand Cherokee SRT.

The CX-5’s major competitors are Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue and Ford Escape, and among them, Mazda’s 2.5-litre SkyActiv four cylinder holds its own.

Acceleration isn’t neck-snapping, but borderlines on ‘spirited’ in sport mode, with its quicker throttle response and higher shift points.

Mazda’s interior designers have upped their game in the 2017 CX-5. Abundant soft-touch surfaces, white leather and woodgrained metallic accents give this GT cabin an upscale appearance.

Steering feel is better than most, and you have a sense of the road beneath you. Mazda engineers have found a way to filter unwanted motion, without disengaging you from the pavement.

In this high-volume vehicle, the automaker wisely made incremental changes – a little ‘nip and tuck’ rather than an extreme makeover. CX-5 accounts for one quarter of Mazda sales globally, and more than a third in Canada.

And with this all-new model arriving now at dealerships, they are well poised to continue challenging for leadership in Canada’s largest – and arguably most important – automotive segment.

Dual exhausts, wide haunches and a roof spoiler create a more athletic look from the rear.

SNAPSHOT: 2017 Mazda CX-5 
BODY STYLE: compact crossover 
ENGINE: (base) DOHC 16-valve 2.0-litre four cylinder (155 hp, 150 lb/ft of torque); (as tested) DOHC 2.5-litre SkyActiv-G four cylinder (187 hp, 185 lb/ft of torque)
TRANSMISSION: FWD with 6-speed manual, AWD with 6-speed automatic with manual shift mode
FUEL ECONOMY: (as tested) 10.2/8.3 litres/100km (city/hwy)
CARGO: 875 litres with seats up, 1,687 litres with seats folded
PRICING: : GX $24,900; GS FWD $29,100; GS AWD $31,100; GT $34,700; GT with Tech package $36,300. Additional packages, options, freight and taxes extra
WEBSITE: mazda.ca