One thing that makes Mazda stand out of the pack is that the brand is adamant about building vehicles that are driver-focused and fun to drive. Attending a Mazda media presentation is always instructive for gearheads, engineers are told to speak about metal thickness and tensile strength, exhaust and intake harmonics and injector flow – information rarely shared outright by other manufacturers.
The Mazda CX-5 has always been sold as “sporty” by Mazda. Although it’s been sitting on a well-calibrated chassis, FWD models and low output engines have been contradicting this; it was missing a few bells and whistles to put it up there with the fun-to-drive counterparts. Until today.
A few new changes come with the 2019 Mazda CX-5, starting with a well-deserved engine upgrade. The CX-5 can now be powered by the CX-9’s 2.5 Litre turbocharged SKYACTIV-G engine with 310 lb-ft of torque on trims GT and up.
Engineers also shared details about a chassis dynamics rework. This upgrade includes a suspension retune, i-ACTIV AWD recalibration as well as the addition of the G-Vectoring Control Plus, which improves performance when coming out of corners.
A new Signature trim level is part of the menu for 2019. This new top-of-the-line variant comes with high-end interior features, power folding mirrors and a new wheel design, among other gizmos.
Finally, the CX-5 is now outfitted with the long-awaited integration of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto suites.
On the road
In order to test out the latest iteration of Mazda’s second best selling vehicle in Canada, we headed out to Whistler BC, where the Rockies served us a stiff cocktail of rain, snow and winding roads for us to see how this new engine, reworked chassis dynamics and interior amenities would appeal to the average Canadian SUV shopper.
Right off the bat, we noticed that the new wheel design on our 2019 CX-5 Signature tester where a great improvement over the other wheel design Mazda offers.
A quick look inside shows an easy-on-the-eyes interior with a well-balanced blend of textures, including genuine wood trims and unique stitching on the leather steering wheel. Of course, with its 40,959$ starting price, some interior refinements should be expected with this new Signature trim.
Comfort-wise, the CX-5 hasn’t changed in size so everything is at the same place. The driving position is good, but rear seating can feel a little bit cramped for passengers in the back. Visibility for the driver is also tricky when looking backward – using the rearview camera is the best way to counter this.
Upon tackling the severe conditions on the roads surrounding Whistler on a busy December morning, I quickly noticed that the AWD system and its permissive DSC and TCS systems were letting me glide around quite allowably. This could scare some drivers into braking prematurely in a sticky situation, but it enabled me to manoeuvre much dexterously and with more leeway to get where I wanted to get. Rest assured, the CX-5 always brought me back to place if all else failed.
The G-Vectoring Control on the CX-5 basically helps turning in when turning in. It brakes the engine a tiny bit to put weight on the front tires to help with front traction. But the 2019 model gets GVC+, an add-on that drags the outside front brake to improve response when coming out of the same corner.
The suspension retune includes a new front geometry and revised dampers that Mazda claims reduce roll and understeer – a claim that was tricky to put to the test on 8 inches of fresh and heavy snow. But I didn’t notice any compromise on comfort in the cabin.
When burying the gas pedal, the 310 lb-ft of “early” torque helped me hop out of the snow accumulations lying everywhere on the road, but was also a tremendous help when passing on the highway. The 2019 CX-5’s power output is 227 horsepower when using 87 octane, and 250 horsepower when using 93 octane – a comprehensive spec that Mazda is proud to put on the table. However, it will cost you at least 39,450$ to get a turbocharged CX-5, as it is only available on GT and Signature trims.
Delivery of the cavalry is as smooth as it gets thanks to the 6-speed gearbox. I noted that this choice of transmission was quite refreshing compared to the CVT used in comparable rivals like the Nissan Rogue or Toyota RAV4 – from an “enthusiast-driver” standpoint. Unfortunately, the 6-speed manual gearbox was dropped on the GX, which is kind of counterproductive on a “sporty” SUV marketing pitch.
The Mazda CX-5 finally gets the “sport” attributes it was supposed to get; a powerful engine and a reworked AWD system with G-Vectoring Control Plus, as well as permissive DSC and TCS systems that focus on driving pleasure. Understanding what people love about driving and the connection with the road might not be the only key to success in the compact SUV race, but it certainly makes Mazda and the 2019 CX-5 stand out of the crowd in that respect.