2019 Mazda CX-5 Turbo First Drive - Alternative to Italy

Matthew Guy
by Matthew Guy

If a gearhead is asked for car shopping advice, there’s a pretty good chance one of their recommendations will be a Mazda. The little Hiroshima Highway Hawks generally land on the sporty side of the segments in which they compete, whether one is talking about compact cars or SUVs.

For ages, the CX-5 has been a stylish entrant in the compact crossover class and is Mazda’s best-selling vehicle in America. It is a car notable for not being imbued with “Handling by Novocain (TM)” like so many of its competitors. For 2019, the CX-5 gains an optional 2.5-liter turbocharged inline-four, meaning the CX-5 finally has a mouth to match its trousers.

And, oh yeah, the guy in charge captained one of the most prolific racing teams in the 24 Hours of Lemons.

Dave Coleman is Manager of Vehicle Dynamics Engineering at Mazda. Exacting with his explanations and a font of mechanical knowledge, you get the feeling he was one of the driving forces advocating Mazda to endow an all-wheel drive crossover with truck-sized torque.

Why? For starters, the man was engineering editor at Sport Compact Car magazine for eight years, later seeing fit to help create Eyesore Racing, one of the greatest LeMons racing teams of all time. Their fleet included the “Honda CRXdorado Shaftmobile D-Luxe” — an early CRX with Continental kit, leopard-skin landau roof, Cadillac grille, custom license plate reading PIMPN≠EZ, and gold wheels. They later upgraded to the Frankenmiata, a car stitched together from the halves of two wrecked Miatas and ghettocharged with a $95.55 turbo from a Mexican-market Dodge minivan.

Dave’s our kind of guy.

The new 2.5L turbo mill is plucked directly from the CX-9 and is available, for now, in only the top two trims of the CX-5. This means shoppers will have to select either the Grand Touring Reserve or Signature trim (in all-wheel drive, natch) if they want to play with 250 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque.

That’s right, boys and girls, a compact crossover is now available with tri-century levels of twist, edging up into the territory that was once the domain of pickup trucks.

Note well: owners will make that level of power if – and only if – they feed the thing a steady diet of 93 octane fuel. It is tuned to run on the spicy water known as 87 octane (“We learned our lesson with that one,” said Coleman, alluding to occasions when the good stuff was required, much to the chagrin of their customers) but will only make 227 horses. Check out the chart below:

As you can see, the engine loses some of its puff above 4,000 rpm when swilling the bargain juice, with pull taking a hit as well. However, because the engine makes its torque peak way down at 2,000 rpm, that rating remains the same no matter what grade of gasoline is in the tank. When quizzed, the car wranglers on site said they’d been filling the test cars with premium, which is just 91 octane in that part of Canada.

Mazda has designed and installed what it calls a Flow Control Valve to mitigate turbo lag and improve throttle response at very low rpm. This bit of whiz-bang technology restricts exhaust gases at engine speeds just off idle, not opening fully until about 1,500 rpm. Think of putting your thumb over the end of a garden hose to make the water spray further and you’ve got the general idea.

It’s a method that works. The vast majority of folks don’t wring their engines to the redline during a daily commute. When driving at 1,500 – 2,000 rpm, your author found it easy to roll onto the throttle and pick up speed without unnecessary downshifts.

This characteristic explains why Mazda is sticking with a six-speed automatic and not entering the Great Cog War of 2018. The spacing of the ratios paired with the availability of torque negates the needs for more gears. Plus, I’d imagine Mazda doesn’t have enough money to develop a new transmission for this engine. Yet.

Mazda’s sporty ethos even creeps into the way it programmed the all-wheel drive CX-5’s traction control and stability systems. Both the TCS and DSC allowed a bit of slip and spin, respectively, on the snowy British Columbia roads before stepping in with the equivalent of adult supervision. This is great from the perspective of a driver who wants to know what’s going on at the wheels instead of having power unceremoniously cut with little warning.

Fun fact: Mazda has an “off” button for the stability control on its cars but not the SUVs. Blame a higher center of gravity and the laws of physics for that one.

Outside irresponsible hooning, however, the iActiv AWD system works like an attentive butler – it serves up what you want before you’ve had a chance to ask for it. By taking readings from other systems – outside temperature gauge, wiper speed, angle of the car – the AWD system often delivers power to the rear wheels before the front ones slip at all. For example, if the temperature is below freezing and the wipers are on and the vehicle is pointed up a hill, the thing will figure out that you’ll probably need power to all four wheels and gets on with the job of delivering that before you’ve had a chance to roast the baloneys.

Wheeling our way up the hill to Whistler’s Olympic Park, a site buried with snow not 12 hours earlier, our tester easily clawed its way through the white stuff with nary a hint of tire slip, unless provoked with unreasonable amounts of right foot. Hoth-like road surfaces blocked the front radar sensors within 10 miles of our departure.

Mazda shod the battleship grey unit shown here with a set of General Altimax Arctic winter tires in factory sizing, great for traction but making it impossible to render accurate judgement on road noise. The car’s trip computer indicated fuel economy hovered around 20mpg during a day of driving in deep snow and copious amounts of idling. Your results will be better. The EPA rates this power team at 22 mpg in the city, 27 on the highway, and 24 combined.

If you’re a fan of current Mazda interior design, you’ll have no complaints with the 2019 CX-5’s cabin. The car gains Apple CarPlay and Android Auto this year, worth noting since it seems to have taken a herculean effort to do so.

“We’re the last car on the planet with CarPlay. We know it,” said Coleman. This is primarily thanks to Mazda’s decision to hamper the auto industry’s relentless march towards touchscreens. Remember, Mazda’s infotainment only responds to finger jabs below 5 mph. “If I had my way, touch wouldn’t even work then,” groused Coleman. By forcing drivers to use the tactile-based Commander system on the centre console, there’s a better chance they’ll keep their eyes on the road. Such an approach played havoc with Apple and Google’s touch-based programming.

Buying advice? Well, let’s compare apples to apples in the all-Mazda cart. Base AWD CX-5 trucklets (the only power delivery configuration available with the new 2.5L turbo) start at just $25,750, for which one gets the expected amount of kit with cloth seats and a non-turbocharged engine. In your author’s opinion, that’s the pick of the CX-5 litter if one feels they don’t need the turbo.

The turbo is, however, a very tasty proposition. Its 310 lb-ft of torque offers a great amount of shove, pairing very nicely with Mazda’s sporting pretensions. The initial trim level in which it is available is priced a not-insignificant $3,425 walk northward from the most lavish non-turbo model. Compared to itself, the newly-muscular CX-5 seems expensive.

But one does not shop in a vacuum. Or at least they shouldn’t. A glance at the top-tier models in the CX-5’s competitive class reveal machines that are significantly less powerful but similarly priced. The turbo 2019 CR-V produces 190 lb-ft of torque out of its 1.5L mill, while the new RAV4 makes do with even less. The popular CR-V is $34k and change at its upper-rung level, while Toyota’s snazzy new RAV is about five hundred simoleons less than the Honda in comparable spec.

With these looks and this amount of power, the 2019 CX-5 Turbo is a poor man’s Alfa Romeo Stelvio. They’ve similar thrust and bold looks, but the Mazda is at least ten grand cheaper. Plus, there’s a ninety-nine and a bunch more nines percent chance the Mazda will still work in ten years, a forecast no one in their right mind is willing to make for the Alfa.

Well done, Dave. You’ve earned a break. You’re free to go and build some more Miatas shaped like the Starship Enterprise to race in the 24 Hours of Lemons.

[Images: Matthew Guy/TTAC]

Matthew Guy
Matthew Guy

Matthew buys, sells, fixes, & races cars. As a human index of auto & auction knowledge, he is fond of making money and offering loud opinions.

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  • Brodyboy Brodyboy on Dec 21, 2018

    Lots and lots of Mazda chat, ain't they grand? In theory, great vehicles. Really making the effort to break from the pack. Nothing would make me happier than to trade in my 10 year old Benz wagon for one of these. But....the elephant in the room. The rust. Man, do they rust here in the northeast. Did they fix that, do they ever even talk about that? Why does no one mention it here? I was stopped at a light next to a 3 of the same vintage as my completely rust-free 100k mile wagon. I loved that older 3 when they first came out. But like many I have seen, rust everywhere. B-pillar(!), around the rear arches, (open, gaping wounds), on the edge of the trunk. That's really bad. Damn.

    • Madferret9 Madferret9 on Dec 21, 2018

      It's so true. I have a 2007 Mazda 3 and the car is basically rotting. My exhaust has rust and snapped in half. Don't think it has much life left. The wheel wells have rust bubbling out, there's rust around the tail lights starting. Great car and fun to drive but definitely built to be disposable.

  • MiataReallyIsTheAnswer MiataReallyIsTheAnswer on Dec 30, 2018

    One complaint about the article - kind of convoluted discussion of price - such and such is this much more than the highest level of non turbo in order to get turbo........please, just state the prices for the 2 levels with turbo! How hard can it be to give us simple info?

  • Lynchenstein @EBFlex - All ICEs are zero-emission until you start them up. Except my mom's old 95 Accord, that used to emit oil onto the ground quite a lot.
  • Charles The UAW makes me the opposite of patriotic
  • El scotto Wranglers are like good work boots, you can't make them any better. Rugged four wheel drive vehicles which ironically make great urban vehicles. Wagoneers were like handbags desired by affluent women. They've gone out of vogue. I can a Belgian company selling Jeep and Ram Trucks to a Chinese company.
  • El scotto So now would be a good time to buy an EV as a commuter car?
  • ToolGuy $1 billion / 333.3 million = $3 per U.S. person ¶ And what do I get for my 3 bucks -- cleaner air and lower fuel prices? I might be ok with this 🙂🙂