Mazda took a risk during the press preview for the all-new 2017 CX-5. After a morning driving the compact SUV, we spent time behind the wheel of its competitors. And I'm not talking about the likes of the Hyundai Tucson or Kia Sportage.
Nope. Mazda provided journalists with a BMW X1, Audi Q3, Mercedes-Benz GLA250 and Lexus NX200t.
Bold. But, in retrospect, not at all stupid.
The CX-5 could actually hold its own among the luxury set, while costing at least $10K less when comparably equipped.
That's the thing about Mazda: You always seem to get a lot more for a lot less.
"We're a small automaker," said Kory Kareeda, senior vice president of strategic planning for Mazda North American Operations, "but we've consistently punched above our weight."
Though CX-5 may not win every fight against the heavy weights, the fact it can compete a class above is impressive.
And the CX-5 stacked up surprisingly well against the Q3, GLA, X1 and NX.
It beat the pants off of the GLA in terms of immediate acceleration, ride comfort and interior quietness. It was fairly comparable to the NX in those same categories. The Q3 handled better but had a cheap interior finish that left a bitter taste in my mouth. And, while the X1 beat the CX-5 soundly in terms of handling and acceleration, the CX-5 was by far the more comfortable ride.
The reason these comparisons are even possible is the excruciating attention to detail Mazda gave the CX-5 in its redesign. From the stitching on the seats to the door seals to how your hand curls around the door handle, it seems like every piece of the CX-5 was touched and refined.
Which makes sense since the CX-5 is the best-selling vehicle in the Mazda lineup.
"Our biggest goal with this car was not to screw anything up," said Dave Coleman, manager of vehicle dynamics engineering.
Mission accomplished in my book.
I could pick nits and say the black lacquer near the gearshift is a fingerprint magnet or that passing accelerations over 70 mph are sluggish. But that's about all I've got in the negative column.
Equipped with a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine, the CX-5 delivers 187 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. This power combo works well in most driving situations, as the CX-5 is quick off the start and does really well in passing situations up to about 55 mph.
The interior refinement was impressive and noticeable, and the biggest improvements were made in the area of cabin quietness. Mazda listed a whole host of small improvements, such as the carpeted cargo area, increased insulation and acoustic glass, which added up to a big difference. The silence inside - while at rest and while driving - was tomblike.
Ride and handling in the CX-5 manages to be both sporty and comfortable, and the small SUV is solid on the highway and fun-to-drive on winding roads.
We were driving Grand Touring models with all the technology upgrades, and my favorite new features on the CX-5 included the heated steering wheel and the sign reader, which gives you real-time speed limit updates as you pass a sign.
I tested out the lane keep assist and the adaptive cruise control as well, and these two features work similarly to corresponding features on other cars. The one thing I will note is that the lane keep assist isn't as aggressive as some systems. You have to keep your hand on the wheel, and it's more of a nudge than a push when you appear to be weaving out of your lane.
Mazda has re-iterated that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are coming for CX-5 even though they're not available at this time. The good news, however, is any Mazda vehicle built after the 2013 model year and has MazdaConnect can be retrofitted with CarPlay and Auto when available. Though Mazda execs declined to give a direct answer about when the systems are coming, they did say that they hope to make it available by the end of 2017.
Also available by the end of the year: a diesel engine. Mazda has released very few details regarding this engine other than it's coming. So stay tuned for more information soon.
CX-5 will have three trim levels and is available at every level in front- or all-wheel drive.
Sport ($25,030): This base trim will have standard features such as cloth seats, 17-inch wheels, cruise control, push-button start, MazdaConnect, a 7-inch touch screen infotainment screen, backup camera and two front USB charge ports.
Touring ($26,900): This middle trim adds features such as a six-way power driver's seat, leatherette seating surfaces with suede inserts, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, heated front seats, advanced keyless entry, dual zone climate control and two rear USB ports.
Grand Touring ($30,380): The top-tier trim adds leather seats, 19-inch wheels, eight-way power driver's seat, Sirius XM Satellite Radio and rain-sensing wipers.
Package options on Touring and Grand Touring trims add features such as lane keep assist (T), adaptive cruise control (T), head up display (GT), sign recognition (GT), heated steering wheel (GT) and heated rear seats (GT).
The biggest thing I want to say about the CX-5 is it's easy to drive. And I mean that in every respect. Visibility is good out all windows. The driving position is comfortable and easy to adjust. All the up-level tech features are easy to access and work the way they should. In sum, it's the kind of vehicle that doesn't require effort to drive. It just is. And that's something special in today's age.
The CX-5 is arguably one of the prettiest compact SUVs on the market right now, and the fact it drives as well as it looks is a huge feather in its cap.
Editor's Note: Driving impressions in this "First Look" review are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Mazda USA covered our accommodations, meals and transportation costs.Read more from Jill CiminilloFord's 'Empathy Belly' teaches engineers what it's like to be pregnantChicago Auto Show: Test track nationFive favorite vehicles from 2016