2018 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring Review: Slaying With Suburbanites, If Lacking in Space

This Mazda is fit for making an entrance at the BBQ, but a fantastic family hauler it isn't.

Cait Knoll

Welcome to Critic's Notebook, a quick and off-the-cuff car review consisting of impressions, jottings, and marginalia regarding whatever The Drive writers happen to be driving. Today's edition: the 2018 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring.

About a year and a half ago, my fiancée made it known that my soft-top 2011 Jeep Wrangler was no longer going to cut it as our "family car". Our familial unit consists of the two of us and our 65-pound black lab named Oscar, and piling the lot of us and any cargo into the two-door Jeep was a bit of a squeeze. It was a perfect vehicle for my single days, but for our consistent road trips to Pittsburgh and Boston for holidays and family visits, the little Wrangler wasn't the hauler we needed. 

I hemmed and hawed over relinquishing my beloved ride, but I eventually started looking into purchasing a four-door vehicle. I was exclusively searching for Jeeps—they've always been my daily driver—but when I mentioned my search to my colleagues at The Drive, at least three workers flagged the Mazda CX-5 as something to consider. I ultimately settled on a 2014 Grand Cherokee (old habits die hard), but to see what life would be like with the one that got away, I recently spent a weekend with the 2018 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD. 

Cait Knoll

A vision in red.

The Pros:

  • With these looks, this thing can make an entrance. And that's saying a lot, given that small SUVs aren't the first things to come to mind when you say "sexy car." The CX-5 is perhaps the best-looking vehicle in its class, and I'd venture those looks are a significant reason why it's Mazda's best-selling vehicle in the U.S. Both the exterior and interior feel well-designed and refined in a way that, say, the Toyota RAV4 doesn't. It's sleeker and more stylish than its direct competitors—and in a category filled with arguably bland crossovers, that makes the CX-5 catnip for suburbanites. I pulled into a friend's driveway for a backyard BBQ party, and all of the attendees' heads whipped around to check out the Mazda. 
  • If you're looking for a quiet, elegant cabin experience, the CX-5 is here for you. There's little audible wind noise; instead, be soothed by standard features like a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and the $1,395 Premium Package includes goodies like rear-seat heaters. The ergonomics and materials inside are quite fancy; both my fiancée and the friends I drove around were vocally impressed.
  • I'm a huge fan of the center console-mounted controls for the 7.0-inch infotainment screen, even if I kept forgetting the area housed the little volume knob as well. Being able to change the audio input without having to reach forward and press a screen while driving at speed is super-practical.
  • Speaking of sleek functionality, my test car had the traffic sign recognition option, which broadcasts upcoming signs on the multi-color Active Driving Display (a.k.a. a head-up display), as well as the adaptive front-lighting system, which adjusts the beams to match your intended path. That system also incorporates an auto-leveling function, which stabilizes the direction of the low beams no matter what bumps or slopes pass beneath the wheels. In other words, you're not going to blind an oncoming driver if your CX-5 is weighed down with a couple big guys in back. 
  • Mazda is clearly prioritizing safety.  Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert is now standard on all models (it was previously a Touring-trim-or-higher option), as are LED headlights and taillamps and the robust i-Activsense safety technology package comes standard on Touring and Grand Touring versions (it's available as an option for Sport models). As a result of features like these, the CX-5 is a 2018 IIHS Top Safety Pick when optioned with the adaptive front-lighting system. 
  • Fuel economy is near the middle-to-front of the pack for the small SUV world (though it's a tight race). Newly included in the 2018 CX-5 is Mazda's cylinder-deactivation technology, which shuts down two of the engine's four cylinders at cruising speeds in order to increase efficiency. 
The CX-5 Really Wants to Stay Quiet
The Drive

The Cons:

  • The 2.5-liter Skyactiv-G engine is a bit of a wimp. The lack of power is consistently apparent, especially during high-stakes highway merges. I wasn't bothered by the engine's shortcomings in low-speed town driving—actually, this little SUV handles well enough to be downright fun at times—but at higher speeds, I craved more power. 
  • Cargo space is sorely lacking, especially in comparison to its competitors. The CX-5's maximum cargo capacity is listed at 59.6 cubic feet, a number dwarfed by the RAV4's 73.4 or the Honda CR-V's 75.8. Another employee from The Drive was recently considering a crossover, and as the father of twins, he brought his behemoth of a stroller to each dealership. The CX-5 couldn't store his necessary wares; he ended up with the CR-V.
  • There's no support for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. While CarPlay's own functionality issues have given me a number of headaches over the years, it still ought to be available as an alternative to the built-in infotainment system. It's 2018, Mazda. People love their phones. You know this. [Mazda does intend to fix this starting this year, FWIW, but owners of existing cars will likely have to pay a fee to have the systems retroactively added. —Ed.]
  • The cupholders, bizarrely, are placed too far back in the center console. Remember when I mentioned how much I appreciated the infotainment controller's position? That comes at the sake of prime drink-holder location. I legitimately had trouble contorting my arm around to easily pick up a cup. 
Cait Knoll

Staying bright in the gloom.

The 2018 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring, Ranked:

Performance: 3/5

Comfort: 4/5

Luxury: 3.5/5

Hauling people: 3.5/5

Hauling stuff: 3/5

Curb appeal: 4/5

“Wow” factor: 3/5

Overall: 3.5/5

Cait Knoll

Pretty and parked.

The Bottom Line

The Mazda CX-5 is a fantastic-looking small SUV, but it was just too small for my suburban life. Sure, lugging small amounts of people or things presents no problem for the CX-5—but far too often, I find myself needing to throw massive amounts of camera gear or other bulky items into the back of my vehicle. I recently packed eight bags of mulch, a new leafblower, a new lawnmower, and a new ladder in the back of the Grand Cherokee after a single Home Depot trip; I wouldn't have been able to do that with the CX-5. 

And while its size is one issue, in my eyes, the CX-5's sexiness comes at the cost of leaving it feeling a bit too precious. When I had to fill up a gas can for the aforementioned mower, I felt downright uncomfortable carting it home in the Mazda at the risk of messing up the interior. I'd like it much more if I never went very far or had to tote much of anything, but in a world where I want comfort, power, and ruggedness out of an SUV, the CX-5 falls short for me. It's the compact crossover I'd take out for date night dinner on a Saturday, or when I want to turn heads at a BBQ. 

2018 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring, By the Numbers

Base Price (Price as Tested): $30,945 ($34,685)

Powertrain: Skyactiv-G 2.5-liter inline-four, 187 horsepower, 186 pound-feet of torque; six-speed automatic; all-wheel-drive

Fuel Economy: 24 mpg city, 30 mpg highway

Number of Times Suburban Party Attendees Asked "Can I Check Out The Inside?": Four