STEVENS PASS, WA.
– It’s early morning, as we swing and swoop along mountain roads through the Cascades. The post-dawn sun peers over the peaks, burning off the last vestiges of ground mist and stabbing shifting rays into dark stands of Douglas Fir and Sitka Spruce, the interplay creating elusive dances of light and shadow.
Hey, something moving in there?
Nah, no sign of Bigfoot, here in his supposed home range. At least, not until we spot Sasquatch statues at Espresso Chalet, our pit stop for Americanos, also a former movie location for “Harry and the Hendersons”.
But rather than search for shadowy signs of cagey cryptids, I pace a slow circle, sip my coffee, and gaze at the very real, very sharply delineated form of our 2023 Mazda CX-5, trimmed in top-of-the-line Signature level and resplendent in a new-for-2023 brilliant shade of Rhodium White Metallic.
Yes, the CX-5 has been around for a while, making its North American debut at the 2012 L.A. Auto Show, but it is still selling strong in second-generation form. The rounded rear quarters may seem less current and edgy than the jagged styling lines of newly minted competitors but the sharp nose and overall minimalist style still resonates. The novelty might have worn off a tad but the Kodo design still catches the eye. And catches customers too, with the CX-5 still the consistent best-seller for Mazda both in Canada and globally, approaching four million worldwide sales.
The 2023 CX-5 offers six trim levels ranging from around $31K - $44K. The lineup starts by harnessing a 2.5-litre Skyactiv-G four-cylinder engine, now coming standard with cylinder deactivation, and making 187 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque with a 9.8L/7.9L/100km (city/hwy) fuel economy rating.
Our high-end Signature tester is the only trim to come standard with a turbocharged version of the 2.5-litre four-banger, achieving a stronger power level of 227 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. Drivers looking for a little extra kick can tweak the output with 93-octane fuel, boosting power to 256 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque.
Both engines come mated to six-speed automatic transmissions and both offer the same 907 kg (2,000 lb) tow rating. But the turbo powertrain, even while adding 63 kg (139 lb) of extra mass to the curb weight rating, bumps up the power-to-weight ratio and seat-of-the-pants performance significantly.
There’s a minor fuel economy penalty to pay for that extra get-up-and-go with a rating of 10.8L/8.7L/100km (city/hwy). But our real-world results, including four-passenger shuttling, came in at a very respectable 8.6L/100km (comb).
All CX-5 models come with G-Vectoring Control Plus and the i-Activ AWD system and, for 2023, Mazda Intelligent Drive Select (Mi-Drive) has been added across the lineup, offering Normal, Off-Road and Sport modes selected through a rocker switch on the console.
A healthy list of engineering and safety features includes all the latest safety nannies and driver aid, and our Signature model tops that list with bigger front brakes to counter the added turbo power, i-Activsense 360 degree View Monitor with front and rear parking sensors, Smart City Brake Support Rear, Traffic Jam Assist and the nagging nanny Driver Attention Alert.
Inside, it’s the same premium story for our top-of-the-line Signature model - Cocoa Brown Nappa leather trim on the seats, shifter boot and armrests, Abachi wood on the doors and dash, a black headliner, silver highlights and a rocking 10-speaker Bose Audio system inside a compact but comfortable interior.
Up front are all the expected apps and amenities, with driver info on the 7-inch digital dash and infotainment displayed on a slim 10.25-inch colour display controlled by a command wheel on the console. The whole command wheel idea feels dated and more distracting than a touch screen but, thankfully, the HVAC controls are simple dials and buttons on the dash and, of course, other functions can be accessed through the steering wheel controls.
Our trek down the West Coast included a family visit and some shopping trips. Rear seating is doable with some seat adjustment compromise and the middle part of the 40/20/40 second row flops down, in our case to allow the pass-through of a long bird feeder pole, or to open up to cupholders, storage and USB ports.
The Signature’s power liftgate opens to an 871-litre cargo space that expands to 1,680 litres with the second row folded and includes side cubbies, tie downs, underfloor storage bins, second-row seat releases, a 12V outlet, lighting, and a tonneau cover.
Yes, the 2023 CX-5 rounds out as a pretty complete package, especially in fully-outfitted Signature form, and is still competitive in a busy market niche that includes the Honda CR-V
, Toyota RAV4
, VW Tiguan, Ford Escape/Bronco Sport, and even Mazda’s own, next-generation CX-50
Some have wondered if Mazda’s new CX-50 might be angling to replace the CX-5 but the CX-50’s slightly Subaru-ish, more off-roadish styling shows it positioned for a different market and, with the CX-5’s strong sales record, the two will probably co-exist for now.
New 2024 CX-5 models will appear soon, carrying over unchanged for the most part with an inflationary uptick in pricing (+$700 - $2,900, depending on model) and adding a uniquely coloured Suna model just beneath the Signature level.
And, looking further down the road, Mazda has affirmed that by 2030 all of their vehicles will be electrified in some way, with a new fleet including EVs, hybrids, mild hybrids and PHEVs.
But that’s all in the future. For the present, focusing on the mountain roads and the steering wheel in my hands, it was obvious that, like all Mazda vehicles, the CX-5 felt just a little more dialed-in than other SUVs, combining athletic prowess and near-lux appointments, tracking seamlessly through the esses and hairpin curves and putting a smile on my face with its driver-centric focus, ride and handling.
Yeah, we may not have found Bigfoot in the Cascades but it was plenty interesting enough to rediscover the 2023 Mazda CX-5.
2023 Mazda CX-5 Signature
BODY STYLE: four-door five-passenger compact SUV
DRIVE METHOD: 6-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
ENGINE: 2.5-litre Skyactiv-G T four-cylinder (227 hp, 310 lb-ft) (256 hp, 320 lb-ft with 93 octane)
FUEL ECONOMY: 10.8L/8.7L/100km (city/hwy). As tested 8.6L/100km (comb).
CARGO VOLUME: 871 litres, 1,680 litres behind front row.
TOW RATING: 907 kg (2,000 lb)