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Mazda’s CX-5 Grand Touring AWD: The Mama Bear is laid bare

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Mazda’s CX-5 Grand Touring AWD: The Mama Bear is laid bare

The Mazda CX-5 stands in the middle ground of Mazda’s crossover lineup, between the subcompact CX-3 and the 3-row CX-9. That means the CX-5 is small enough to avoid proximity anxiety in parking lots, big enough to seat five people comfortably and capable enough for adventure-seeking lifestyles.

During my week with the redesigned 2017 Mazda CX-5 – in Grand Touring AWD spec – I became very familiar with how capable this compact CUV actually is. I also became familiar with its drawbacks, preventing it – in my view – from rising to the top in this already-crowded category.

INTERIOR: The quality of Mazda’s interiors looks and feels way more upscale than they actually are. The model tested in this review was the top-of-the-line Grand Touring AWD, fully equipped with all the bells and whistles, including parchment leather interior with heated seats up front, adjustable lumbar (an appreciated feature on any vehicle) and a Bose 10-speaker audio system to crank the ‘70s on XM Channel 7.

This new 2017 Mazda CX-5 may look similar to the earlier CX-5, but Mazda went through every inch of this vehicle to create a completely redesigned midsize crossover. And the devil is in the details, like lowering the interior door handles to reduce the amount of arm movement, thereby making it more comfortable. Or the addition of reclining rear seats, so passengers can take power naps on long drives. They even raised the center console to allow you to use it as a proper arm rest. Little details that one might never notice show the level of Mazda’s dedication to build quality.

Higher trim levels get Mazda’s Active Driver Display, which is a digital display on the windshield – and will inform you of the speed limit on the road you’re on in real time. The 7-inch infotainment display is easy to read, and once you get used to using the dial on the center console to navigate through screens it can be very user-friendly. The dial feels like a combination lock on a new bank vault; each click being a different option on the screen.

EXTERIOR: In 2010, Mazda announced a new direction in their vehicle design. At the Paris Auto Show Mazda debuted KODO – the Soul of Motion as their new design language. Essentially, KODO is the art of potential energy in stationary forms, like when someone describes something as looking fast just standing still. Mazda’s 3-word description was Speed, Tense, and Alluring. And over the last seven years Mazda has been designing some of the most attractive, affordable vehicles on the market. The Mazda CX-5 was actually the first production vehicle to get the KODO treatment.

Like the interior, the 2017 CX-5 was redesigned in the details. The A-pillars, the part of the roof that holds the windshield in place, were pushed back 35mm to reduce the forward blind spots for pedestrian safety. The windshield is thicker and now comes with a de-icer on Grand Touring trim levels. And an automated tailgate can be operated by a button on the dash and the height can be adjusted to the owner’s specific reach.

The CX-5 looks aggressive without being intimidating – think Jack Russell Terrier. Soul Crystal Red allows you to see the flowing lines inspired by KODO design, which are meant to make it look like its moving when parked. The CX-5 can stand confidant in a parking lot next to more expensive CUV’s from Germany, while never being mistaken for an Infiniti or Lexus. It’s the CUV that can follow the crowd, yet stick out like a sore thumb with a nice shade of red nail polish.

SPECS AND PERFORMANCE: There’s but one engine option for the CX-5 – the SKYACTIV-G 2.5 liter four cylinder engine producing 187 horsepower. The front wheels drive the CX-5 forward through a 6-speed transmission, while All Wheel-Drive is available.

Initial driving impressions of the CX-5 suggested a need for more power. The steering is responsive and quick to your every move. The AWD system works beautifully, as I found out by testing it on the muddy roads near my ranch. These are dirt roads where oil field trucks and semi-trucks often pass through, leaving massive holes and ruts. The CX-5 AWD managed to drive through flooded roads, mud puddles, and thick mud with ease and relatively high speed. I took the CX-5 on roads I did not expect to get out of, just to see how far I could push it. The CX-5 made me look silly, not even spinning its wheels. This is a very capable crossover if you enjoy mild off-roading to get to your favorite campsite or park.

My main problem with the CX-5 AWD is ride quality. During a road trip, passengers in the rear found the ride bouncy. The responsive steering meant they also felt the slightest movement in the wheel. On the highway I was feeling every bump on the road and felt that the CX-5 was top heavy – like many crossovers – in the turns, even at low speeds.

Gas mileage is average for a CUV. The CX-5 can squeeze a 330 mile range out its tank and gets 23 mpg in the city, 29 mpg on highway, for a combined average of 26mpg. During my week with CX-5 I averaged 25 mpg, adequate – but not great – for a vehicle of this size.

VALUE: Pricing for the 2017 CX-5 starts at $27K, and the Grand Touring AWD tested in this review had an MSRP of $34,380. The Mazda CX-5 is a great all-rounder compact CUV. It does feel underpowered at times, and the ride is rougher than expected. On the other hand, the CX-5 is capable off-road, reaches levels of style that surpass its MSRP, and offers an array of safety features, like radar cruise control and autonomous braking at low speeds. The CX-5 is a compact crossover with a charming exterior, inviting interior, and a pedigree of handling.

Jesus Garcia

A creative writer who happens to only be interested in writing about cars. Youngest member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, and project car collector. A millennial only by age. - On Instagram - On Twitter

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