First impressions:New Mazda CX-5 2017

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — “Which would you rather, an upscale German crossover vehicle or a 2017 Mazda CX-5 with a suitcase full of $10,000?” asks Stan Hortinela, research and development engineer for Mazda.

It may sound like a comparison between apples and oranges but when you focus on the overall driving experience, your sense of well-being and bang for your buck, the new 2017 Mazda CX-5 looks mighty attractive.

The previous generation CX-5 recently eclipsed Mazda3 as the brand’s best-seller in Canada. Mazda’s ‘mega-hit model’ reached annual global sales of 370,000 units within five years of its launch.

Understandably not wanting to mess with a good thing, the new 2017 CX-5 has been fine-tuned to give it a ‘premium’ feel but remain at mainstream pricing or, as Mazda puts it, ‘civilizing without compromising.’

The words ‘obsession’ and ‘determination’ often appear in Mazda’s language. This historic ‘never-give-up’ attitude is demonstrated by being the only Japanese brand to win the 24 hours of Le Mans, after 15 attempts.

The handsome new CX-5 is unquestionably a Mazda, embracing its KODO: Soul of Motion design language of energetic grace, channeling the ‘less is more’ aesthetic and sticking to their belief in human craftsmanship.

Mazda uses clay modeling to translate the energy of human touch into the design of the vehicle. How will light fall on the swirls and swoops of a vehicle? How will the paint colour capture light?

This fixation on details and the unique collaboration of the engineering, colour and design arms of Mazda’s development team combine to make the CX-5 quite striking. Especially in the new rich and lustrous Soul Red Crystal paint.

New headlamps and taillights and redesigned front fascia and grille add to the premium look of the CX-5.

I thoroughly enjoyed ‘nerding’ out on all of the 698 ways Mazda refined the new CX-5 (although you may not), especially learning how great improvements were made in lessening vibration and noises that affect conversation and cause fatigue to the occupants.

In the 2017 CX-5, the noise difference between the front and rear seats has been cut by 50 per cent. Even on those concrete-surfaced highways of California, it’s really quiet in there!

Analyzing and re-analyzing where airborne sounds sneak in from gaps, adjusting the windshield wipers to lessen turbulence, adding rubber seals in door gaps and acoustic glass in the front side windows — all contribute to a quieter, calmer CX-5 but potentially add weight and compromise fuel economy, ride and handling, and threaten the brand’s reputation for its fun-to-drive factor.

Not to worry. Mazda has finely tweaked the ride, steering and throttle response, sticking to its philosophy that driving should be exciting, sensual and fun.

The CX-5 introduces G-vectoring control in its first North American application in an all-wheel drive vehicle. GVC minimizes unpleasant body movement that comes from ‘spirited’ driving by working with the engine, wheels, chassis and suspension to ‘anticipate’ what the driver wants the vehicle to do in a turn, enhancing driving dynamics.

Upgrades in CX-5 were not about more horsepower, although there is a slight increase in the new CX-5. Mazda’s objective was smoother, immediate throttle response in all situations from a standing start to merging onto a freeway to efficiently and safely passing vehicles on secondary roads.

As we take to the mountainous roads outside of San Diego, this improved throttle response is evident. Squeezing the accelerator, there is no lag.

Transmission shifts are instant. The refinements to the interior are apparent. In fact, it’s difficult to find anything wrong with the vehicle.

Inside, the word ‘premium’ can definitely be applied. Mazda wants to punch above its weight class here and has created a CX-9-inspired experience inside the cabin, from the padding and soft-touch materials, to a now-heated steering wheel with an improved grip, redesigned layout of switches on the wheel, a more compact airbag cover.

The CX-5 has an airy driver-centric cockpit that reaches above its segment. Like I said, it’s difficult to find anything wrong with this vehicle.

The back seat was not neglected. Mazda added two USB charging ports and climate controls. A re-design on the rear door hinges makes entry easier. The incline of the seats has increased by two degrees and can recline an additional four.

Seats are molded, comfortable, with good lateral support and fold almost flat, expanding the rear cargo capacity. The power liftgate with adjustable height is new.

There are many technology improvements in the 2017 CX-5. My favourite is the new windshield-based Active Driving Display.

Remember that awkward plastic screen that stuck up on top of the dash in the previous CX-5?

Gone.

The focus time between display and the road ahead is now significantly improved.

The dash, with its streamlined gauge cluster, has a clean feeling. Mazda has moved the shifter forward 60 mm, raised the centre console, shifted the A-pillar rearward 35 mm and re-contoured the side mirrors for better visibility.

On the highway, Mazda Radar Cruise Control adapts to the speed of the vehicle in front but now has stop-and-go, reducing vehicle speed to 0 km/h if necessary, then gives you a time-to-go notification once the vehicle in front begins to move again.

Much more friendly than the blast of horn behind you.

The windshield wipers even defrost themselves. Such thoughtful tech.

Thousands of human hours have gone into the 2017 CX-5. This energy has paid off for the brand. With the new no-compromise new CX-5, it should continue to do so.

Which would you rather? High-end German crossover or the 2017 Mazda CX-5 and a suitcase full of $10,000? As Mazda would say: Zoom. Zoom.

Pricing

  • GX: $24,90 to $28,300
  • GS: $29,100 to $33,500
  • GT: $34,700 to $36,300

Note: All CX-5 models have the 2.5-litre, four-cylinder engine which makes 187 horsepower and 185 lb.-ft. of torque, with the exception of the GX model with manual transmission which is powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine which produces 155 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque.

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