The CX-5, Mazda's compact crossover SUV, isn't exactly a muscle car. But now it has something in common with muscle cars.
Mazda decided to turn up the heat for 2019 by offering a 250 horsepower optional engine, the strongest available in a crossover in this class.
The result is a family car that hauls a family.
What It Is
The CX-5 is Mazda's sportier-than-most compact crossover SUV.
Prices start at $24,350 for the base Sport trim with a 2.5-liter engine and front-wheel drive; all-wheel drive can be added to the mix for a total of $25,750.
A turbocharged version of the 2.5-liter engine that has 250 horsepower is standard in the GT Reserve ($34,870) and top-of-the-line Signature trims ($36,890), both of which come standard with AWD.
To set it apart from the dozen-plus crossovers in this class, Mazda decided to offer CX-5 buyers an optional engine that's more powerful than those you can get in rivals. It also now comes standard with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Acceleration lives up the handling — and the looks.
Uncluttered Miata-like dashboard and controls.
There's almost no mpg penalty for going with newly available 250 horsepower engine.
What's Not So Good
The 250 horsepower engine is only available in pricey GT and Signature trims.
You must use premium gas to get all 250 horsepower.
Maximum tow rating — 2,000 pounds — remains unchanged, despite power uptick.
Under the Hood
You can stick with the standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder, which has a class-competitive 187 horsepower (more than the Nissan Rogue's standard 2.5-liter 170 horsepower engine and optional 2.0-liter hybrid engine with 176 horsepower). Or you can opt for the new turbocharged 2.5-liter engine, which has 250 horsepower and a mighty 310 foot-pounds of torque.
The massive horsepower and torque infusion transforms the CX-5 from a good-looking, good-handling crossover to one that also goes good.
With the 2.5-liter turbo, it can get to 60 mph in just over six seconds. The 2.5-liter no-turbo engine takes more than eight seconds. And that makes it the speediest crossover in its class — with virtually no appreciable fuel-efficiency penalty either.
The CX-5 turbo gets 22 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. The same CX-5 with the 2.5-liter engine gets 24 mpg city and 30 mpg highway.
On the Road
There's nothing but praise for how the CX-5 drives, handles and steers.
It doesn't have that electric/novocaine-esque sensation, which afflicts many new cars; your hands feel connected to the road. There is weight, just enough drag to allow precise corrections without going too far (or not far enough).
Think of it as a jacked-up Miata with seats for five and you'll be on the right track.
Its weak point is how you change/adjust radio stations. This is done either by rotating and pushing the knob controller mounted on the center console or by tapping the touch screen itself. If you use the knob, it takes two inputs to do one thing. For example, to go up to the next station on the dial, you first have to rotate the knob to the "or" position, and then you push the controller to go up or down. To do something else, you have to select the function and then push, and so on.
You can skip the knob and access the various functions — radio/station, GPS, apps — directly, by touching the appropriate icon on the screen. The problem there is the screen is relatively small, and so are the icons, which are arranged on the lower part of the screen. Tapping while moving isn't easy — or rather, isn't easily done without concentrating on the screen.
The good news is there are better things to do, like enjoying driving this thing!
At the Curb
The CX-5 has 59.6 cubic feet of cargo capacity, not quite as much as rivals like the Nissan Rogue, which has 70 cubic feet. However, it's pretty close. And more to the point, it isn't small. A compact sedan with the same footprint will generally have about 13 cubic feet of trunk space. Any crossover that's about the same overall length will have at least four times as much space, plus the superior access to the space.
Another area where the CX-5 is also pretty practical is ground clearance. It comes standard with 7.5 inches, whether you go FWD or AWD. This is a bit less than the class-highest Subaru Crosstrek's and less than the just-redesigned 2020 Honda CR-V. But both of those are more focused on snow-day driving than fast-paced driving.
A heads-up display, a 10-speaker Bose stereo system and heated rear seats are available, but only as part of a bundled GT Premium package that you can't get unless you first buy the GT.
All trims come standard with multiple USB power points, front and rear.
The Bottom Line
Making a sports car fun is easy; making a practical crossover genuinely sporty isn't. Mazda just did it.
Eric's new book, "Don't Get Taken for a Ride!" is available now. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.