- What’s Good: Styling, styling, engine, styling, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto now standard, styling
- What’s Bad: Still no paddle shifters, infotainment issues
On the surface, it may look like not much has changed for Mazda’s hot-selling CX-5 CUV for 2019.
Truth be told, on the surface, not much has. There are some new 19” wheels and some auto-folding wing mirrors – which, admittedly, I’m not sure constitutes a “new styling addition” or not. Probably not, but they’re nice to have nevertheless, folding as soon as you lock the car or have it lock itself, which happens about two seconds after you close the door. Bit extreme, that.
But oh, never judge a book by its cover and all that. Or do, because styling changes or not, I maintain that the CX-5 is the best-looking vehicle in the mid-size CUV segment; indeed, if it weren’t for the Volvo XC60 or Infiniti QX50, I would say it takes the luxury mid-size CUV segment to the cleaners in terms of styling, too. The head- and taillight treatment is right on, the five-corner grille fits perfectly within the rest of the front fascia and the overall proportions are spot on. I really have a hard time finding anything wrong with the exterior styling of the CX-5.
Actually, that’s not entirely correct in the case of my car’s Eternal Blue Mica paint.
At first, I thought it was elegant enough. After getting a small coating of roadspray, however, I began to think of it more as “dull” and “apologetic”. Doesn’t help that it has to compete on the CX-5’s colour swatch with Soul Crystal Red Metallic, which is one of the best factory colours applied to any CUV, ever. Far as I’m concerned, if Mazda only offered that colour and maybe Machine Grey Metallic for the CX-5, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Inside, things have been updated a little as well, but you have to be eagle-eyed; 2019 sees the addition of cooled seats, which actually has forced the climate control knobs to shrink in order to accommodate the extra buttons. The rear seats also have a slightly different shape for increased comfort but not to worry: they still split 40/20/40, which is one of the features Mazda pioneered with the CX-5 and is still great to have today. Basically, what it means is you can have a child seat back there (as I did), but keep room for an occupied second seat as well as the ability to fit longer items.
“Psshaw”, I hear you saying. “New seats, new climate control – whatever. I want to hear about infotainment.”
Of course you do, because you’re considering a new CUV and if you talk to manufacturers, they’ll tell you that you’re no different from about 90 per cent of their buyers.
In that light, Mazda has become the most recent manufacturer to join the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto train, making it standard on all CX-5 trims. It can also be retrofitted to older CX-5s at the dealer.
Now, I’d say I’m a fair-weathered fan when it comes to Apple CarPlay. It tends to work as advertised from the outset, but the main thing I use it for – that most would, I assume – is music playing. Shouldn’t be a problem except I use Google Play Music, and rare is it, in any vehicle, the app works properly. Online conspiracy theorists are saying that it’s Apple’s way of forcing you to use their music app, and that may be true. All I know is it doesn’t tend to work.
So, it didn’t surprise me when the same issue occurred with the CX-5. What did surprise me, however, was that this was the first time I actually had Apple CarPlay go completely off the rails. I couldn’t scroll through lists, couldn’t make selections – the works. Eventually, after 2-3 minutes of this, the app finally gave up the ghost and shut down entirely, damning me to Mazda’s native interface. Like your pup when he lies down in the middle of a walk, it wasn’t about to start up again, either. I had to turn the engine off, lock the car and get back in. It proceeded to work without a hitch after that (except for the Google Play stuff, but that’s no fault of Mazda’s) but to me it suggests that it’s not so simple to offer these services on a system that has roots in a time before thy existed. Of course, neither app is a for-pay option (unless you’re retrofitting – I own a ’17 CX-5 and after this experience, I won’t be taking advantage of that offer), so at least you know you haven’t spent extra dollars on a somewhat lemony feature. Plus, the sound through the 10-speaker Bose system is good no matter which interface you’re using – Bluetooth, CarPlay, AM, etc. – so it makes it a little easier to forget about all that chicanery.
The big new addition for ’19, however, makes it even easier to forget about those tech issues. You see, for 2019, the GT trim gets an optional ($2,000) turbo engine (standard on the new Signature trim) good for a frankly startling 250 hp (on Premium 93-octane fuel; Mazda says 227 hp with 87 octane) and 310 lb-ft of torque, the peak of which is reached at a lowly 2,000 rpm. That’s a whole heck of a lot of power that puts it ahead of pretty much everything else in the segment, from the Honda CR-V, to the Hyundai Santa Fe, to the Toyota RAV4 and on, and on, and on. Even the Ecoboost-powered Ford Escape can only muster 245 hp and 275 lb-ft. If you want more power in the segment, you have to go for the V6-powered Jeep Cherokee. Mazda clearly had a goal in mind when they set out to shoehorn this motor into the CX-5’s engine bay.
It’s fed to the wheels (all four; you can only have the turbo if you’re good with AWD) through a six-speed automatic, with all the power being metred out by new G-Vectoring Control Plus tech, which aims to get more weight over the front wheels for better turn-in, done so by automatically adjusting engine output. The “Plus” in the name denotes the CX-5’s new ability to brake the outside wheel during cornering, for more stability.
While I’ve always liked the CX-5’s steering response and handling and don’t entirely see the need for even more of it, one thing I’ve always clamoured for is more power, which the ’19 model obviously has. The strange thing, however, is that despite that low rpm peak torque figure, it was during acceleration manoeuvres at speed that I really felt the difference as opposed to accelerating from stop, which I didn’t find felt 63 hp faster, though I was running on 91 Octane as opposed to 93. So much so, that I was genuinely surprised when I attempted my first rig pass at speed. You really do get the sense that you’re riding a wave of torque, and although you can’t hear the turbo whistle unless you really listen – probably for the best, for most owners – you know it’s doing its work, and doing it well.
That acceleration from a stop thing, then, probably has a lot to do with the fact that while the motor is new to the CX-5, the transmission is not. That also means that even for this sportiest of CX-5s – already a sporty vehicle, in its own right – you still don’t get a pair of paddle shifters, and this is one CUV that could use a pair. We saw 12.5L/100 km on the combined cycle, meanwhile, and while this is more than Mazda claims, buyers will just have to decide if that added power is worth the price of admission, especially since the CX-5 turbo runs better on premium gas. Of course, that’s often the case when it comes to more powerful variants on a theme and for me, at 39 grand and change, it absolutely is worth it.
At the end of the day, the CX-5 – already a huge seller, already great – has received a boost in the one area that myself and many of my colleagues were asking for, and in no small way. That’s a big power jump and if ever there was a CUV that deserved it, it’s this one.