BOSTON — These days, just about every carmaker sells a whole range of crossovers. There’s a simple explanation for it of course: people buy them by the truckload. But strip the badging off and line them all up and it’ll be hard to tell them apart. To the non-enthusiast, the Ford whatsit is just like the Chevy whatsit which looks like the Honda whatever or is that the Toyota whatever? I can’t tell.
They’re alike on the inside, too. Steering wheel, high seating position, all-wheel drive (maybe), some luxury accoutrements depending on where it fits in the segment, leather, rinse, repeat.
Does it matter which one you buy? At once, absolutely and absolutely not. The Ford whatsit might come from a great dealer, in which case, go buy that. Or Kia might have a great Cyber Wednesday deal running or you might inexplicably like the shift knob in the BMW X# Competizione M Sport GranTurismo.
Or maybe you just want a crossover with luxury features that’s comfortable, has terrific handling and performance, and great design, in which case you should head straight to your local Mazda dealer and plunk down thirty-thousand-and-something dollars for a Mazda CX-5 and skip all the other stuff. That’s what I’d do.
Mazda is the rare carmaker that makes excellent vehicles across the entire range, so you can’t go wrong. My tester CX-5 came in an intoxicating Soul Red Crystal Metallic with a Caturra Brown interior. I don’t know what makes Soul Red different from regular red, or what a Caturra is, but Mazda’s built a fetching crossover here. The new Mazda3 is a looker and the CX-5 has the same lineage.
It’s aggressive but not shouty, taut but not tense. It’s sporty and luxurious. It’s driver-focused but refined for everyone else too. It is, to put a point on it, all things to all people.
Except for that infotainment screen. It’s a weak point, I’ll admit — and so will Mazda, I suspect. It sticks out of the center of the dash, which is fine. It’s a good size, and CarPlay looks great on it. You can just reach it, but it’s not a touch screen (except when it is). And the stock infotainment system is incredibly annoying.
Generally you control it with a knob and button setup down in the center console behind the shifter (the volume knob is down here too, which is annoying for five minutes and then kind of delightful). It’s not the best way to control an interface, but it’s serviceable and much preferred to the horrendous touchpad that Lexus insists on installing in all its vehicles these days. But then, once in a while, and only in CarPlay, it works as a touchscreen. But not always.
Yet, this is a mere quibble because the rest of the car is fantastic. My tester priced out at $38,655 in the Signature trim and is filled with nearly every feature on my must-have list, including 360-degree camera, parking sensors, heated and ventilated front seats (and heated rear seats, too), a terrific heads-up display, adaptive cruise, an active lane-keeping assist, and a bunch more.
The Signature also includes standard AWD and a 2.5-liter four-cylinder, 250-horsepower and 310 lb-ft engine that is a total peach. It even runs on standard fuel, although derated to 227 horsepower. Fuel economy with the bigger engine is hurt a little bit, running 22/27 city/highway, while the smaller non-turbo variant runs 187 hp and 186 lb-ft, but at 24/30 city/highway in AWD trim.
A few weeks ago, I tested a 2019 Mazda3 hatchback around the racetrack at the Monticello Motor Club and it was a riot. A note to those who love powerful cars: it’s way more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow. The Mazda3 was controllable and predictable — exactly what you want in a performance vehicle, and the CX-5 has the same sort of feel. It’s much more car than SUV, and in this trim, is part sports car too.
It reminds me of a budget Porsche Macan a bit. Sporty luxury with quality and refinement to spare, only at a much more reasonable price. All those other crossovers might seem basically the same, but the CX-5 stands out. I guess that’s why Mazda is selling so many of them.
The Mazda CX-5 is available at your local Mazda dealer.