Skip to main content

Even Mundane Chores Are Fun with the Mazda CX-5

No disrespect to the majority of compact SUVs on the market, but they don’t exactly put a good foot forward when it comes to displaying how exciting compact SUVs can be. They’ll help you get to work safely, comfortably, and on time, which are all good things, but they’re incredibly boring. Boring, at least when it comes to compact SUVs, is a disease that can be cured in the form of a Mazda CX-5 antidote.

Not everyone agrees with Mazda’s recent decision to shift toward being an upstream brand, but that’s a discussion for another day. What the move does is essentially put the brand’s cars, like the CX-5, into a neat little segment of their own. When I sprung into the CX-5 for the first time, it was only a few weeks after testing a Mercedes-Benz GLB 250. The first thought that popped into my head was that the CX-5 feels and looks just like the Mercedes, without the tech. High praise for an affordable option from a mainstream Japanese brand.

The CX-5 won’t necessarily fill your neighbors with envy after a glance, but the SUV can turn any boring task into an enjoyable, fun experience. For instance, just as the coronavirus went into full swing and N95 masks became $100 items on Amazon, I had to take a trip down to Washington, D.C. to get some much-needed, handmade masks.

Normally, I would begrudgingly complete this trip. Getting into the nation’s capital is a nightmare. Traffic is always terrible, there’s no other way to get there except in a straight line (in a reasonable amount of time), and no matter how fast I manage to go, I’m always looking at spending at least an hour and 15 minutes in the car. Clearly, this wasn’t a trip I wanted to go on, because in a normal compact SUV, it would be like any other tedious commute. In hindsight, I didn’t have anything to worry about.

Leaving Baltimore with Washington, D.C. programmed into Google Maps reveals that there’s traffic on I-95 S. What a surprise. Cockroaches and Twinkies aren’t the only things that will be around in the case of an apocalypse; traffic will be around, too.

Even if there’s traffic, the CX-5’s cabin is such a nice place to spend some time, you won’t really mind that the 55 mpg speed limit seems like a cruel joke. Other compact SUVs feature rough plastics, peculiar designs, and strange button layouts as the primary method for standing out. Forget about all of that malarkey. The CX-5, especially in the range-topping Signature trim we tested, trades all of that stuff for the real deal. You’re getting real Nappa leather upholstery, genuine layered wood trim, and a black cloth headliner. Crisp dials, stylish air vents, and buttons that feel like they’ve been plucked from a far more expensive vehicle further help the CX-5’s credentials as a real luxury SUV.

Luxury isn’t the only thing the CX-5 gets right. The darn thing performs like something alien to the compact SUV class. The CX-5 Signature is only available with the turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that cranks out 250 horsepower. To get that power, you’ll have to use 93 octane fuel, but it’s worth the extra few cents. Even more impressive than the CX-5’s horsepower figure is the amount of torque it generates: a stout 320 pound-feet.

On the good stuff, the CX-5 feels quick. Not just quick for a compact SUV, but downright quick. Small gaps in traffic rapidly close with a quick thump on the throttle. Mazda stuffed a boisterous engine into a luxurious package to ensure you have one heck of a good time.

After a long yet comfortable jaunt down, Washington, D.C. finally comes into sight. Driving through the empty city doesn’t feel right in the sense that it’s nearly abandoned. The Ulysses S. Grant Memorial keeps a watchful eye over an empty National Mall. The Smithsonian buildings are closed, parking is abundantly available by the Capitol, and no one’s enjoying the splendor of the cherry blossoms in full bloom. It’s all so strange.

The CX-5 doesn’t seem to mind. Zipping between lights, drawing the eyes of a few onlookers and police officers on cruisers left to patrol the near-empty streets. It has to be the gorgeous shade of Soul Red Crystal Metallic, which happens to be one of the best reds on the market.

A quick pit stop later and masks in hand, we swing the SUV’s nose around to head back to Baltimore. This time, I’m not dreading the journey, but looking forward to being able to spend more time in the CX-5, even finding odd times to engage the vehicle’s Sport mode on off- and on-ramps.

More time also means taking a closer look at the CX-5, which does reveal a few flaws. The cargo area, which is now carrying a few boxes of shelf-stable and frozen food, is just shy of being able to hold pandemic shopping sprees at Costco and Harris Teeter. The infotainment system needs a major update, especially the part where the touchscreen feature is locked out while the car is in motion, requiring you to control the system with a troublesome dial and irritating buttons. We’d hardly call these deal breakers, but small blemishes.

The CX-5 is the kind of car that spoils everything else for you. After driving one, or even catching a glimpse of one in a decent color, everything else in the segment becomes a disappointment. No other compact SUV excites, pampers, or feels as special as the CX-5. With a few tweaks, it very well could move up to fight alongside the big boys from Germany in the luxury segment. You almost start to wonder whether Mazda purposefully made a few errors along the way with the CX-5. If it didn’t, the SUV would certainly be the automotive equivalent of perfection for eight out of 10 drivers.

Editors' Recommendations

Joel Patel
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Joel Patel is a former contributor for The Manual. His work has also been featured on Autoweek, Digital Trends, Autoblog…
Report: The car brands that cost the least (and most) to maintain
Turns out Teslas aren't just cheap on fuel
Red Tesla Model 3 Performance facing straight on parked on dark metal plates with a dark wall in the background.

Buying a car can be expensive, but the costs don’t stop when you drive one off the lot. You also need to spend a significant amount keeping that vehicle in good working order. However, some brands cost less to maintain than others, and it turns out that Tesla produces some of the cheapest vehicles on the road as far as long term expenditure is concerned.

A study by Consumer Reports discovered that Teslas only cost the average owner just over $4,000 in maintenance over a ten-year period. In the first year, maintenance costs are expected to set owners back around $580, while they can expect to have spent around $3,455 keeping their vehicle in good condition after five years. You’re also unlikely to be hit with a heavy repair bill early on as Tesla, like most other manufacturers, has a warranty covering the first few years of a vehicle’s life.

Read more
The Ineos Fusilier: What you need to know
This BEV offroader has a gas-powered safety net
Ineos Fusilier in Yellow

U.K.-based off-roader manufacturer Ineos has a third vehicle on the way in the form of the Fusilier -- which looks a lot like a Mercedes G-Wagon. The Fusilier carries on from the likes of the Grenadier, which itself was heavily inspired by classic Land Rover Defenders.

It’s unknown if British manufacturer Ineos is primarily focused on providing modern takes on classic European offroaders, or if it is setting its sights globally. However, there are few who wouldn’t welcome another take on the Toyota Land Cruiser into the world. Ineos’ other confirmed line continues with the military role naming theme. The “Quartermaster” is the company’s take on the pickup truck.

Read more
What we know about Toyota’s new MR2 so far
The new MR2 is not for you
Second generation Toyota MR2

While it may be known for its pickup trucks and hybrids, Toyota also produces world-leading sports cars like the Supra. In 2026, it’s set to revive one of its best-loved mid-engine sports coupes after nearly 20 years. The MR2 was last manufactured in 2007, but a new version will be on sale in Japan in the near future. Here’s what we know about it.

Japanese motoring website Best Car seems to be the main source of information on the upcoming MR2 as things stand. It seems to believe that the coupe will pack 316 horsepower and 304 lb-ft of torque courtesy of the same 1.6-liter turbocharged inline-three engine you’ll find in both the GR Yaris and the GR Corolla. In terms of transmission choices, purists will undoubtedly be pleased that there is a six-speed manual option available. For those uncomfortable with a stick shift, you can still opt for an eight-speed automatic.

Read more