I had some time last Friday, so i went to a couple of local Mazda dealerships and took the CX-5 out for a spin.

Shipments of the CX-5 are just starting to trickle in from Japan (the only place they're manufactured), so supply is limited and demand is high, since this is quite possibly Mazda's hottest product introduction since the original Miata. As a result, neither dealership had a GT (leather, AWD, automatic, sunroof, etc.) available for a drive, so my first drive was in a mid-level GS model, and the second was in an entry level GX model with the technology package. Both had automatics and were front-wheel drive. I had hoped to try one with the 6-speed manual, but no luck there either.

My initial impression is that the vehicle has great presence on the road. It's got an "angry face" (or "Angry Birds Face") that has a menacing (but playful) scowl. But it's not huge. I would describe its overall size as "just right". The body looks athletic, with not too many character lines, creating a chiseled, muscular look.

Opening the driver's side door, getting in was a breeze. The seat cushion is pretty much at "bum height" so scooting into the pilot's seat was a very comfortable slide. There's nice height between the seat cushion and the floor, which is great for someone like me with long-ish legs. Getting a comfortable driving position was easy, thanks to the tremendous seat adjustment range (manual in the GX, power in the GS) and nice meaty tilting and telescoping steering wheel.

One thing i particularly liked was the depth of the seats. Many Japanese cars have seat cushions that are quite short, meaning very little thigh support. This is not the case in the CX-5. The seats were firm, supportive and quite comfortable, with snug side bolsters giving good lateral support without being intrusive or uncomfortable like some sport seats can be. The seat fabric is nice and grippy. I do actually prefer fabric seats (especially heated seats, available on the GS and GT trim levels) but having a golden retriever, the durable and hair-repellent leather is more practical.

All CX-5 models come with a keyless fob and pushbutton start for the engine, which is very cool in this price range. One minor ergonomic complaint is that the "Start" button is situated on the instrument panel, just to the right of the steering column, directly behind the washer stalk. View of the button is completely obscured by the wiper control... i had to peek around the wheel to find it. But i'm sure after a few uses, it would be easily found by feel and/or muscle memory.

The instrument panel itself is textbook sports car: Clean and intuitive, with nice big knobs for the HVAC controls and no explosion of buttons all over the dash. The view is clear and uncluttered, allowing the driver to focus on the act of driving, rather than trying to manipulate all manners of infotainment technology.

The engine is a little raucus on start up, as it revs high and rough while it gets up to its optimal temperature. After that "rude awakening," it settles down, and is wonderfully smooth and quiet. Stomping on the throttle yields a nice throaty exhaust note, but on the highway, cruising in sixth gear, the engine is barely noticeable, emitting only a deep hum as it cranks around 2200 RPM or so. Quite relaxed cruising, indeed. There was a fair amount of wind noise from around the A-pillars, the base of the windshield and the (quite large and heated) side mirrors. Thicker laminated glass and maybe a bit more sound insulation in the pillars would be appreciated here.

Sightlines are very good. The A-pillars are quite thick, but they're tapered toward the driver in such a way that they're not terribly intrusive. The cabin isn't as light and spacious feeling as, say, a Subaru Forester, but it also doesn't have the "deep bathtub" feeling that some newer vehicles have with high beltlines and low roofs, making one feel like they're peering at the outside world through a mail slot. Visibility is quite good all around, and the side mirrors expose blind spots very well. (If you have your mirrors adjusted properly, you shouldn't really have "blind spots" anyway.) The GS and GT come equipped with a rear-view camera that engages automatically when you put the vehicle into reverse gear. VERY handy for those of us used to parking (much) smaller vehicles!

On the road, acceleration was good... not spectacular, but not bad, either. However, for me, a "sporty" driving experience means more than just straight line acceleration. The CX-5 moves pretty decently for what it is, and the economy benefits of the SkyActiv-G engine and transmission strike a satisfactory balance between power and efficiency. More power and torque are always nice (who doesn't want more power and torque?) but i didn't feel outgunned at any point. There was decent passing power, and merging onto the highway felt fairly effortless. The nicely tuned engine note wasn't raspy at all, and i didn't mind dropping the hammer while accelerating down an on-ramp just to hear that throaty growl. That said, i can't wait to try the SkyActiv Diesel engine when it comes to North America, hopefully some time next year.

The 6-speed transmission worked very nicely overall. Upshifts felt smooth and precise, and downshifts nearly imperceptible in relaxed driving. Mashing the "go" pedal resulted in fairly snappy downshifts and a nice squirt of acceleration. Shifting the lever to the left puts the transmission in "manumatic" mode, which worked better than most i've tried. Not quite as rewarding as a manual, but there was very little shift-and-wait for the gear engagement. Using the transmission for engine braking on off-ramps made for some racy engine notes, and it worked as expected. On one cornering move, the gearbox stumbled over itself a little, momentarily hunting for the right gear as i accelerated out of the turn. Had i been shifting it myself, that probably wouldn't have happened, but for an automatic transmission, it did a decent job 95% of the time, and i wouldn't have a problem just leaving it in "D" most of the time.

Handling. All i can say here is, "Yes!" I threw the car into a flat S-turn at about 80 km/h and there was very little body lean. The steering and suspension were very communicative, and definitely inspired confidence. Road feel through the steering wheel was very good, and the vehicle cornered nice and flat, even when pushed. Expansion joints and potholes didn't upset the suspension in hard cornering, which again contributes to a confident, "planted" feel at all times. This was with the 17-inch alloys on both CX-5s i drove. I would imagine with the 19-inch wheel and tire package on the GT, the larger contact patch would provide even more driver engagement.

The turning radius is also excellent for a vehicle of this type. Much tighter than i've experienced in many vehicles that were considerably smaller. Braking felt just a little numb. A bit more pedal feel here would be appreciated, but overall, no issues at all bringing the vehicle to a nice controlled stop.

I didn't spend much time looking at the radio or infotainment features, because they're really not hugely important to me. I do like a good stereo, but it's largely not a huge determining factor in whether i like a car or not.

The rear hatch is quite roomy and versatile, with a comfortable lift-over height.

Cargo space is quite good, with my litmus test being how well it can stow a guitar case or two in the back. I'm happy to say that a standard hardshell guitar case tucks in nicely just behind the rear wheel wells. I might even be able to fit two back there, side-to-side. They also fit diagonally, standing up. Not bad at all. With the seats folded, i'd be able to fit a lot more. On the GX, the seatbacks are split 60/40, but on the GS and GT models, the split is 40/20/40, allowing you to drop just the middle section to carry longer items, while still seating up to four adults. Handy!

Overall, i was quite pleased. The CX-5 was everything i expected, and it did not disappoint. I'm a semi-finalist in Mazda Canada's "Defy Convention" contest, where the winner gets a CX-5. Now that i know the CX-5 more than meets my needs AND is fun to drive, i want to win it even more.

Please vote for my entry by clicking this link, and share it with your friends:


Thanks for reading!