Popular Ambition

A Victory & Reseda review of the 2018 Mazda CX-5

In the most competitive automotive segment in the USA, you have to find a way to stand out.

For years, Mazda went "all-in" on the CX-5. The first-generation model set the tone for a new chapter in Mazda's history – by translating its enthusiast bent onto an SUV. It worked. By the end of its run, it would lead sales in the USA and other places around the world above the other Mazda offerings.

Now, there's another strategy taking place at Mazda – the push upmarket. It is not enough to become an enthusiast’s brand. It is to seek opportunity for those with higher incomes and deeper demographics.

That push began with the mid-sized, three-row CX-9. It was a well-executed in every way possible, including a new posh version – the Reserve. Mazda made it clear that some of its models would not stop at the Grand Touring trim, which already mixed a level of luxury and content without compromising its enthusiast bent.

For 2017, the second-generation CX-5 arrived at the dealership offering the promise of upmarket aspirations with high style inside and out, while maintaining the core essentials that make the first CX-5 a success.

I had a previous turn in the Mazda CX-5 last year for another publication. This time around, I get a crack at a 2018 CX-5 Grand Touring for a travel story that took my partner and I to Door County, Wisconsin.

2018 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD

To answer the question about it being a proper travel companion with my partner, I have to separate the road trip from the conveyance. Let me talk about the Mazda CX-5…

The CX-5 is the second (possibly third, if you count the ND MX-5 Miata) application of the next-generation of the "KODO – Soul of Motion" design language. It might appear to be an evolutionary design from the original CX-5, there is more than the eye will point out. The headlamp and tail lights units are narrower, the grille is more three-dimensional, and the lines are much sharper. The placement of the chrome trim around the side windows is tastefully done.

There is a point of contention surrounding the 19-inch alloy wheels on my Grand Touring tester. The black rim color sometimes will fool those who look at them from afar—even with the satin chrome spoke trim. I think these wheels bring out a personality that denotes a sportier and more adventurous look overall to the CX-5.

2018 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring

While Mazda worked on the exterior to meet the new design standards laid down by the CX-9, they followed suit inside. Not only is the design more upmarket with higher-quality materials, they improved a lot in the readability of instruments and overall operation of the infotainment system and other controls.

Bose offered up 10 speakers for very good sound. Mazda Connect drives the system through its suite of infotainment options. The primary controller is a knob on the center console, accompanied by a set of buttons for specific menu items. The one advantage Mazda has over other competitors is that you can set up as many favorite radio channels as you want—across all bands, including HD Radio broadcasts—with no limits or limitations.

The Parchment leather seats fit most bodies and offer plenty of support and bolstering. They are on the firm side but can soften up gradually over time. Front seat space is exceptional, but it will be the back seats that will surprise you. There is more than enough leg and headroom in the back for people over six feet tall and the doors open wide, almost to 90 degrees.

A power-operated liftgate offers ease of access to an expandable cargo space. It is also protected with a rear shade attachable to the liftgate. It does operate almost like a window shade, which is great for even further privacy when loading into the rear. There is up to 59.6 cubic feet of space to haul in the back – and a donation trip to a local Goodwill in Waukesha, Wisconsin utilized most of that space superbly.

2018 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD

The 2.5-liter Skyactiv four-cylinder engine serves up 187 horsepower from its high-compression motor. This engine is connected to a six-speed automatic transmission and, in my tester, the i-ACTIV all-wheel-drive system. Performance is quite good, with over 3,600 pounds of crossover/SUV to pull around, though we'd like some more low-end torque for better passing control and overall driving under a full cargo load. For fuel economy, we averaged 28.3 MPG. With a high percentage of highway driving to achieve this, you have to say that’s pretty good for the CX-5.

G-Vectoring Control is part of the CX-5's traction and driving dynamics package. The idea behind this is to use the engine to assist in providing improved levels of steering, handling, and ride quality. This actually works well when road surfaces are less than ideal—during rainstorms, with snow and ice, and on anything other than smooth tarmac.

The CX-5 rides pretty well with a smooth ride, competent handling, and cornering. It should be just fine for many folks. The steering is also quite good, though putting it into Sport mode does tighten up the weight a bit. The wheel action is good with a solid turning radius overall. Brakes are superb with great pedal action and solid stops in both normal and panic situations.

Pricing for the new 2018 CX-5 starts at $24,150 for a front-drive Sport model. My tester came with a sticker price of $34,685, equipped with the Premium Package and a few other available features.

2018 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD

We can certainly say that the Mazda CX-5 is a stand-out in this very competitive class. Not just in design, but how it works in every way, shape, and form. It is not exactly perfect or the pick of the class, but one shouldn't leave off the CX-5 from their shopping list.

As for its upmarket aspirations, I understand where Mazda is going with the CX-5. There are pieces of this Grand Touring model that offer those touches akin to a Buick Envision, Infiniti QX50, Acura RDX, Lincoln MKC, and so forth. With a few more refinements, the CX-5 would be worthy of those aspirations. All I can say is watch Mazda in the next few years and see where they go with their most popular vehicle in the lineup.

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Mazda North American Operations

All photos by Randy Stern

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