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First road test 2017 Mazda CX-5: a premium crossover for all

The rate of speed at which the automotive industry is evolving is plain scary. Car manufacturers have established model update schedules that make basketball game action seem slow and odds are, when rushing, something is bound to be cocked up. The CX-5 has recently become the bestselling Mazda in Canada so one false move could be catastrophic for the Japanese maker.

2017 Mazda CX-5

To Mazda’s credit (this is the CX-5’s third update since 2013 (!)), the new CX-5 is first-class. It borrows heavily from the previous CUV, the good stuff, and considerable improvements have been made where shortcomings used to exist. The end result is a compact crossover that is lovely to drive, versatile and with a refinement level akin to that of a more expensive utility vehicle.

Has it now become the best pick in its category?

A mighty effort must be made in order to find something seriously wrong with the CX-5. The 2017’s platform is identical to the 2016.5’s and thus many mechanical components make a comeback. Despite good brake pedal feel and feedback, potential known durability issues could return. Beyond that, it’s nearly all positive stuff.

The electric steering is precise, quick and gives the driver a sense of involvement. The inclusion of G-Vectoring control plays a huge role here as it manipulates the engine’s torque, which results in better forward weight transfers to the front outer wheel allowing the tire to react appropriately. The explanation is relatively simple but the results are real even if we can’t sense what the sensors are doing.

The SkyActiv 2.0-litre engine stays on as the base engine but can only be mated to a 6-speed manual ‘box and FWD. The reason why it’s still here is for a lower base price. The 2.5-litre 4-cylinder was mildly updated for smoother operation and it now develops 187 horsepower. At the same time, Mazda’s revised both throttle response and the 6-speed automatic transmission’s reaction times for improved driving dynamics.

Fuel consumption numbers have gone up but not because the CX-5 consumes more fuel but as a result of the new 5-cycle testing methods. Official numbers were not shared however our indicated test-day average was of 12L per 100 km, or essentially what you can expect from the majority of its competitors.

On the twisty roads south east of San Diego, the enhancements are noticeable. The engine’s power seems more accessible regardless of the driver’s demands. We feel less inclined to put the hammer down when passing which should have a positive impact on fuel economy.

Let’s move on to how the CX-5 behaves on the road. The only serious change in the CUV’s suspension comes from new front struts that do not damper the Mazda’s otherwise impressive road manners. Thanks in large part to its well-conceived AWD system, the CX-5 dives into curves without hesitating while the chassis maintains serious composure. All of this allows for elevated cornering speeds that instil much confidence.

The person sitting behind the CX-5’s steering wheel obtained the most attention from Mazda engineers. The driver’s cockpit features all of the important controls for easy access. The driving position is ideal and the new steering wheel, borrowed from the CX-9, is plenty grippy. Upgrades have been made to forward visibility and a heads-up display is now available. The new dashboard demonstrates how serious Mazda is about being considered a premium alternative brand. The cabin’s design and the materials used look like they belong in a far more expensive product.

The major gripe with the new Mazda is the navigation system, and the touchscreen’s menus. They’re unchanged since the launch of the CX-5 and these days, good graphics are more than just a nice-to-have. As well, accessories such as Apple CarPlay are a must even if the average buyer is likely to be more than 50 years of age.

Noise, vibration and harshness (NVH), in a premium product, must be disciplined in order to be considered as such. Mazda worked hard to dramatically reduce NVH with loads of sound-deadening materials, acoustic glass, rubber seals and much more. The result is, in a word, quiet. The CX-5 body also received a once-over and it looks great. The front fascia is a hit, endowing the Mazda with street presence and let’s not forget that the new profiled tail lamps can be mounted to an optional power tailgate.

In conclusion and in its category, the CX-5 is the best driver and as far as I’m concerned, one of the better looking to boot. It will be in dealership showrooms by the end of March sporting a starting price of $24,900. And for the enquiring minds, a diesel version is expected by the end of 2017, as a 2018 model-year vehicle.

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