2020 Mazda CX-5 Review

2020 Mazda CX-5 - Upscale, fun to drive, Mazda's CX-5 is a compact crossover that impresses.


Mazda's compact crossover, the CX-5, gets subtle enhancements for 2020, including upgraded sound insulation, additional standard safety equipment and more standard features. This builds upon a vehicle that was last redesigned in 2017 and received a big boost in power with a turbocharged engine last year. The 4-door wagon is offered with front- or all-wheel drive and has seating for 5. Itis similar in size to the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4 and Volkswagen Tiguan.

For 2020 CX-5 comes in five trim levels. Sport, Touring and Grand Touring are powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that is tuned to make 187 horsepower. The Grand Touring Reserve and Signature trim levels come with a turbocharged 2.5-liter four that makes 227 horsepower (250 HP with premium-grade fuel). Both engines mate to a 6-speed automatic. The normally-aspirated engine is available with front- or all-wheel drive, while the new turbo four is offered only with all-wheel drive.

Prices start at $26,590 and climb to $37,155. Standard on all models for 2020 is Mazda's i-Activsense. This includes adaptive cruise control with forward-collision warning, day and nighttime pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning with lane-keep assist and high beam control. New standard features include automatic on/off headlights as well as automatic rain-sensing windshield wipers.

Mazda's normally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder feels a bit overwhelmed pushing around the 3500-pound CX-5. While it is wholly adequate for most circumstances it is one of the least powerful "mainline" engine offerings the class. With a 0-60 sprint of nearly 9 seconds, acceleration from a stop is modest. The same can be said for highway passing response. Making matters worse is a slow responding six-speed automatic that is indecisive in stop-and-go driving. Towing capacity is an underwhelming 2000 pounds.

Step up to the turbo motor and the CX-5 comes alive. The engine is powerful and smooth, providing outstanding acceleration from a stop -- the CX-5 turbo will accelerate to 60 MPH in less than seven seconds. The engine mates well to the automatic transmission, which does not suffer the same indecisiveness it does with the NA engine.

On the plus side, the NA 2.5-liter four is one of the more efficient engines in the class, returning 24 MPG city and 30 MPG highway in all-wheel-drive trim. The turbo engine isn't quite as efficient, netting only 22 MPG city and 27 MPG highway. In routine suburban commuting with the NA engine, it is easy to beat the EPA numbers -- provided you throw in a mix of gentle highway driving. Step up to the turbo and you'll be stuck at about 23 MPG overall. The CX-5 has a smallish 14.8-gallon fuel tank that limits overall range. Thankfully, both engine run fine on regular-grade gasoline.

The CX-5 all-wheel drive system does not have a low range and is not intended for severe off-road use. It's more than capable of handling Chicago's snow-covered roads, but there's a fair amount of wheel slip anyway, thanks to the summer-biased touring tires.

With the maneuverability and security of a sedan and the high-build of a crossover, the CX-5 has always offered the best ride-handling balance of any affordably-priced compact crossover. That's something that gets even more appealing on the turbo models thanks to larger wheels and tires and firmer suspension. Regardless, there's minimal body lean in quick corners, powerful brakes and communicative steering. All the while, the ride is refined and supple with nary a hint of harshness. In fact, the composed suspension does an excellent job of filtering out large bumps while controlling undue body motions.

The CX-5 is one of the quieter and more refined compact crossovers and the enhancements for 2020 help smooth out the base engine's buzz at higher RPMs. There's nary a hint of wind or tire noise at highway speeds.

With class-leading materials, top-notch assembly and a modern and sophisticated design, the interior is decidedly more upscale than other compact crossovers. Drivers face a trio of gauges from behind a meaty steering wheel. The center stack features a small, but nicely placed display screen and simple dials for the climate control. Ancillary controls are well placed, though the engine start button is hidden to the right of the steering wheel. There's also a high-quality head-up display in top trims that reduces driver distraction even more.

Front seats are nicely bolstered and offer great long-haul comfort. Head and leg room are acceptable and outward visibility is excellent. Rear seats aren't the roomiest in the class, but offer average room for large adults -- provided the front seats aren't pushed all the way back. One downside is a nearly flat rear seat cushion. Entry and exit are easy through large doors and step-in height is modest.

While Mazda has upped the CX-5 technology game with a head-up display and nicely placed steering wheel controls, the infotainment system features a smallish screen and is controlled by a jog dial at the front of the center armrest. A simple touch screen would improve overall operation and open up additional space for storage.

Cargo capacity is 30 cubic feet with the rear seats up and 60 cubic feet with the rear seats down. Certainly not class leading but appropriate for most uses. The hatch opens wide, but the lift over is quite high. Interior storage underwhelms with just a few open and covered cubbies throughout.

Bottom Line --
The Mazda CX-5 is a comfortable, sport-minded, compact crossover. The addition of the turbocharged engine for 2019 finally gives it the oomph to go along with its sporty looks and sophisticated suspension -- though that comes with a significant fuel economy and price penalty. If you don't mind the underwhelming base engine, the CX-5 can be affordable, fun to drive and efficient. There are so many compact crossovers, be sure to shop around and find the vehicle that best meets your needs.

Mark Bilek

Mark Bilek is the Senior Director of Communications and Technology for the Chicago Auto Trade Association and the General Manager for DriveChicago.com. He is also responsible for developing and maintaining the Chicago Auto Show Web site.

Mark has been reviewing vehicles for more than two decades. Previously, he was associate publisher at Consumer Guide, where he oversaw publication of Consumer Guide Car & Truck Test, Consumer Guide's Used Car Book, and ConsumerGuide.com. He was also responsible for publication of "Collectible Automobile" and various hardcover automotive titles. In 2001 and 2002 he served as president of a Midwest Automotive Media Association. Mark has appeared on NBC TV, ABC TV, Fox News, WGN and MotorTrend TV as an automotive consultant. He hosts the Drive Chicago radio show on WLS 890 AM and was a regular guest on WGN Radio's Steve & Johnnie show. Mark lives in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three sons.