Forget about the Mazda CX-50 for a few minutes. Yes, Mazda's first off-road-intender crossover is grabbing headlines right now, but the CX-5 – with no ‘O’ – is the brand's best-seller. And since Mazda keeps giving the compact crossover incremental upgrades, it's likely going to stay that way.
To start the 2021 model year, Mazda added a pair of special editions to the lineup and made some of the nicer comfort features available on lower-grade trims. Halfway through the year, a 2021.5 update added a completely new infotainment system on a larger screen, added connected services, and gave every grade the full i-Activesense driver assistance suite.
Could Mazda have left well enough alone for 2022? Of course. Instead, the automaker gave it some mild styling upgrades, tweaked the engine, suspension, and transmission, made all-wheel drive standard, and even made the body more rigid than before. All in the name of making the CX-5 more enjoyable to drive, even if your commute is more highway than parkway.
This is the 2022 Mazda CX-5 Sport Design. A new grade added this year, it sits between GT and full-zoot Signature. In place of the body-colour mirrors and matte grey trim on the former or body-colour trim and mirrors on the latter, Sport Design has glossy black wheel arches and mirrors and some red bits in the grille.
Does the gloss black wheel trim look fancy? It sure does. Does it disappear in most lighting conditions, visually extending the gap between fender and tire making the CX-5 look like it's on stilts? Also yes. It looked so high I checked to make no shipping blocks had been left behind during the pre-delivery inspection.
Sport Design adds a 10-speaker Bose Audio system and red-stitched accents inside, along with Traffic Jam Assist and LED interior lighting. All stuff you're going to want, but with the Signature just $1,000 more and boasting Nappa Leather, if you want the turbo engine you'll probably want to step up all the way. If you don't want the turbo, this is an excellent package.
About that turbo engine. The 2.5-litre turbo-four makes a few more ponies for 2022, up to 256 along with 320 lb-ft of torque. That's if you want to spring for 93-octane. With $2/L gas prices, it's nice to know the engine will run just fine on 87 and make 227 hp with 310 lb-ft that way.
The Mazda turbo engine is smooth, though it sounds like no other engine on the market. It also pulls well from low RPM thanks to all of that torque. All-in-all, it's a very fun motor in a segment where those are few and far between, and the 10.8 city, 8.7 highway rating is achievable depending on how much of the power you use.
Though Mazda has tweaked it, it's the transmission programming that puts a damper on the CX-5's driving experience.
Mazda's six-speed auto shifts more quickly than ever, with both up and downshifts cracking off satisfyingly. It's when they're happening that is the problem. Mazda's automatics keeping you away from redline is nothing new, but this time the CX-5 is grabbing the next gear by the time you hit 5,100 r.p.m., even if you're using Sport mode. Sure, that's just above the 5,000 r.p.m. power peak, but just when things get interesting you're shifting. Every single time.
With a redline taunting you on the crisply laid-out instrument cluster at 6,500 rpm, these shifts are disappointing. Manual mode won't get you much closer, and the paddles are slower than letting the ‘box do the work by itself.
Enough about the transmission, back to the rest of the CX-5's changes.
The extra rigidity in the chassis is noticeable from the first time you hit a crater on the highway. While last year's was hardly flexible, the 2022 doesn't creak, groan, or bang when you go over bumps.
The stiffness lets the suspension do its work and does it ever. The CX-5 has excellent body control, on the bouncy side of sporty but never harsh. Turn-in is also on the fun side of sporty, with the geometry and Mazda's G-Vectoring Control Plus system sending the nose diving into bends. Once you get into that corner, body roll puts a damper on the fun, but it's still great for a mainstream crossover.
With Mazda's CX-5 Kuro offering red leather and carpeting, the GT's white leather, and the Signature's cocoa Nappa leather, the Sport Design's black with red is a little dull. Softer padding on the bottom bolsters of the new seats will be great for shorter drivers, though if you've got long thighs, they might still come up a little short.
Mazda's interior is still one of the tightest in the segment. Stylish, very well put together, and easy to use, even the buttons are a joy. Putting the wireless charge point on the trailing edge of the pocket it occupies is also a nice touch. Hard braking might toss your phone forward, but the rest of the time it lets you charge your phone and have some room for the random clutter that ends up filling these bins. The USB ports are under the armrest in the center console, inconvenient if you'd rather keep your phone out but also probably handy for keeping you looking at the road.
Aside from some tightness between the centre console and door, it's a spacious interior with generous headroom front and rear. And while legroom in the back isn't class-leading, it should be enough for most families.
You'll find 871 litres of cargo space behind the rear seats. Fold the rare 40-20-40 rear seat fully down and Mazda has 1,680 litres. Seats up, those are good for the class, seats down the CX-5 falls behind. The three-way seat split does wonders for convenience, letting you mix passengers and cargo or hauling long items like skis while still transporting four adults.
The new 10.25-inch screen introduced halfway through last year is bright and responsive. The system that runs it gives you Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as well. You still need to use Mazda's centre console control knob to operate it, though, and while the new system is quicker than the old one, navigation using the knob is still complicated. Finding the right spot to press when your phone is paired can take far too much frustrating spinning and jogging if you're driving at the same time. Yes, you can change the radio station using voice control, but it's still more complicated than it should be.
Radar cruise with stop and go, automatic emergency braking systems, and pedestrian detection are all standard. Mazda also includes blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert on all trims, features others reserve for more expensive grades. You will need Signature to get 360-view cameras, parking sensors, and rear emergency braking, another point for the top-spec version.
Mazda's changes to the 2022 CX-5 take a successful formula and make it just a little bit better in almost every situation. The snappy steering and bolt-action transmission can help make boring commutes a little less tedious, and that's an impressive feat. If Mazda would let the engine rev, and make some more improvements to the infotainment system, the CX-5 might be unbeatable for drivers who still enjoy driving but need to move people and some luggage. As-is, this is still a very impressive package, one that's likely to continue to be the brand's best-seller.
2022 Mazda CX-5 Sport Design
BODY STYLE: 4-door, five-passenger compact crossover
CONFIGURATION: Front-engine, all-wheel drive
ENGINE: 2.5-litre turbocharged inline-four. 256 hp @ 5,000 r.p.m./ 320 lb-ft@ 2,000 r.p.m. with 93 octane fuel, 227@ 5,000/310@2,000 with 87.
TRANSMISSION: six-speed automatic
CARGO CAPACITY: 871 litres behind second row, 1,680 litres behind first row
FUEL ECONOMY: (regular Gasoline in L/100 km) 10.8 city; 8.7 highway
OBSERVED FUEL ECONOMY: 9.1 L/100 km
PRICE: Mazda CX-5 GX $30,200, Mazda CX-5 Sport Design $40,150, as tested $42,800. Includes $2,200 2.5T engine, $450 Soul Red Crystal