By on December 20, 2018

2019 Mazda CX-5

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.

2019 Mazda CX-5

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.

2019 Mazda CX-5

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.

2019 Mazda CX-5

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.

2019 Mazda CX-5

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.

2019 Mazda CX-5

“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.

2019 Mazda CX-5

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.

2019 Mazda CX-5

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]

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53 Comments on “2019 Mazda CX-5 Turbo First Drive – Alternative to Italy...”


  • avatar
    open country

    This is the best looking small CUV on the market, and with that torque curve I’d imagine the best to drive in daily situations as well. It’s a shame Mazda limits the new turbo engine to the higher trims (on this and the 6), as this MSRP is in gently used Lexus RX territory.

    • 0 avatar
      carguy

      The “gently used” argument can be used against pretty much all new cars.

      Compared to its mid-sized competition its priced competitively. A new 2019 RAV4 can be north of $40K as can the Equinox.

      From my last drive in one, the main drawbacks to the CX-5 are that the cargo area is somewhat small for this segment, the brakes pedal felt very sloppy and that the seats needed more support in the lower back area. Apart from that, its an outstanding CUV.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        The “gently used” argument can be used against pretty much all new cars.

        Yup.

        Why buy a (midsize) when an off-lease (full size) is only ($$$$$)?

      • 0 avatar
        Oberkanone

        2019 RAV4 with AWD in most expensive trim with most expensive package (Limited) is $37,720 plus destination. South of $40K.
        Even a Lexus UX hybrid starts at $34K which is very south of $40K. Gently new, not used.

      • 0 avatar
        thegamper

        @carguy

        I rented one of these for a week. Great little trucklet expecially when well optioned. My main point of contention though wasnt the cargo area, it was the cupholders. I am 6 foot tall, so I had the seat at least a bit further back than most and I had to practically reach behind me every time I picked up my drink. The cupholder was roughly even with the seatback. Granted, most people probably arent buying for the cupholder experience. But it is one of this gripes that will annoy you every single time you get behind the wheel, it definitely did for me and it is one of the main takeaways from my week with the vehicle. If I owned one, I would certainly invest in some sort of aftermaket cupholder system and hopefully problem solved, but it is a ridiculous placement necessitated by the somewhat snug cockpit.

      • 0 avatar
        open country

        @carguy and @PDan

        Fair enough, I guess I didn’t know this segment well enough to see that prices were nearing $40k on the top trims already. Crossing that 40k threshold made me think of all of the 1-2 year old/CPO luxury brand models that can be had in the same ballpark.

      • 0 avatar
        doggydave

        If you wanted a more cargo area, while still having decent performance, what would your next choice be in this segment?

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      RX is an elephant in china store

  • avatar
    mechimike

    Excellent. Now, shove this mill and turbo into the new 3. Offer an AWD variant and have the WRX eat your road dirt.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I’d take a Mazda over an Eye-talian brand in a heartbeat.

    So since the CX-5 is Mazda 3 based, Mazda just proved that the 2.5 turbo will fit in the Mazda 3…

    Just sayin’…

    • 0 avatar
      TrailerTrash

      YES!
      And this might be happening since I read an awd was in the works

      https://www.caranddriver.com/news/a25295615/2019-mazda-3-sedan-hatchback-photos-info/

    • 0 avatar
      donatolla

      Pretty sure that’s a thing Mazda has neither confirmed, nor denied. We all know the turbo 2.5 is the same size as the non turbo version. Just one of those smart things a company with limited resources does. They have been pretty clear there won’t be a Mazdaspeed 3 anytime soon though.

      I do wonder if there will be a premium trim Mazda 3 with the turbo engine and AWD. I’d go for that.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    Great looking SUV, as good looking as the Jag SUV. Torque, I love torque. Torque is why I am driving my Lexus GS with V8 as long as possible. I love the effortless surge in speed without a noisy and annoying downshift when I accelerate on the highway. Torque, the new comfort food!

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Have to agree re the General Altimax Arctic winter tires road noise. Have a set on one of our rides and they are perhaps the loudest tires I have ever ridden on.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      I have altimax arctics on my 4Runner, they don’t stand out as particularly noisy, certainly noticeably quieter than the Grabber AT2s I run in the summer. My Audi has Hankook Winter iCepts and they’re louder than the Altimaxs IMO. I had Firestone WinterForces on my ES300 and holy cow THAT is loud (just look at the wide spaces between the lugs).

    • 0 avatar
      brettc

      I’ve used Altimax Arctics in the past. I now have a set of Firestone Winterforce tires that would drown out a set of Altimax Arctics. Holy crap they’re loud. They came with the car though so I’m trying to use them up.

      My wife’s car has a set of Pirelli winter Cinturatos. The Pirellis are very quiet for a winter tire.

      • 0 avatar
        jack4x

        I’ve been very impressed with a set of Michelin X-Ice 3s this winter, both for road noise and performance.

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          1) Sorry it is the Goodyear Nordics that are the noisiest. Not the Generals. Got my vehicles/tires mixed up. Not that hard to do at my age, and while maintaining 5 vehicles. One more in my name, and I have been told that by provincial law I have to register as a dealer.
          2) Have X-Ice 3’s on another vehicle and they do ride and sound much like my all seasons. They are good in icy conditions, however I find that they are lacking in deep snow.

        • 0 avatar
          tankinbeans

          That’s strange. I’ve been using Michelin X-Ice 3s for a couple seasons, and I don’t notice that they’re especially good at anything. Perhaps they’re just wearing out, even though the tread is still pretty deep at 5/32.

          That said, I did have an opportunity to drive my car with the Michelins, my friend’s Mazda3 with the factory Dunlops (same as came on my car), and a car with cheap Thai rubber donuts on the same day, a fairly buttery day following an ice event. I did notice a minor improvement with the Michelins over the Dunlops, but nothing major.

          Perhaps my expectations are misaligned. I think next time I’ll shoot for Blizzaks.

          Note: my Dunlops are on 19s while the Michelins are on 17s. 2017 Mazda6 Touring

        • 0 avatar
          tankinbeans

          My X-Ice 3s are a bit crap. They must be wearing out even though the tread depth is still fine. This is the third season I’m running them though, and the wheels are a -2 diameter from stock on the Mazda (17s with the Michelins versus 19s with stock Dunlops).

  • avatar
    gtem

    I drove a high-trim CX5 as a rental and was very impressed with how expensive it felt/drove but came away with the desire for more motor to round it out. This addresses that perfectly.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    I want to like it. But I hate that Mazda now wants you to sit on leatherette as soon as you want power, or something else. They also stick you with these 19″ wheels. My Highlander rides on 17-inchers with no issues.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    This is a nice car.

    Not a beef with Mazda specifically, but I’m getting a little tired of the 87/93 distinction. They advertise the power but then act like it doesn’t require premium. Not only that but as mentioned here, large parts of the USA, and apparently Canada, you can only get 91 octane. So what does the power look like with that stuff?

    I’d also like to know if it affects fuel economy.

    Also, my experience in a NX with turbo 4 is that the car gets AWFUL mpg. under city rating on the highway. I hope this Mazda can do better than the 21-22mpg I get on the highway in the NX. A Suburban and its giant V8 can pull a few MPG better.

    So yeah, call me a skeptic on crossovers and their “almost sedan-like mpg”.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    The Ford Escape offers a 2.0 Turbo 4, 245hp, 270 lb.-ft. of torque, AWD in the low $30s

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      CX5 will be a second quicker

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        Before I get another Escape I will check out the CX-5

        • 0 avatar
          EAF

          What about the new Passport? Earth Dreams J35 V6 makes figures in the same ballpark without a turbo. I don’t think Honda has announced an MSRP but I’d bet it will be less pricey than the CX-5 turbo.

          Just something to consider, I don’t believe it uses a CVT either, prob a 9 or 10 speed.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            The Passport is 3-row and a good $10K more

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            Passport is supposed to be a two row Pilot that starts under $30K. It’s probably a few thousand more comparably equipped, but you also don’t have to buy every option to get the powerful engine. Is VCM any less bad for an engine’s long term prospects than a turbo? That’s the big question.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            You’re right, my bad, I got Passport and Pilot mixed up, but I’m sure the Passport will still be more then the Escape if for no other reason the lack of discounts on a new model Honda compared to a long-in-the-tooth model Ford

          • 0 avatar
            slavuta

            Its going to have its own issues- front heavy, wheels too large, stupid drive shifter and dash. I mean, honda advertises it as go-anywhere but puts low profile tires. One thing I like Mazda better that honda for – mazda puts in more useful equipment for money.

    • 0 avatar
      N8iveVA

      And the 2.0 Ecoboost only looses 5 horsies with regular gas.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    I’d like to see a comparison test b/w the CX5 on 87 (which most drivers will fill it with) and the 19 Rav4 hybrid, me thinks acceleration wouldn’t be too far off between the two considering how not-scorching the 6 was with the 2.5T
    I’m sure the CX will handle better though.

  • avatar
    kefkafloyd

    ““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.”

    This is complete garbage and he knows it. CarPlay has supported touchpads, joysticks, and rotary knobs for three years now. Other manufacturers have used CarPlay with non-touch inputs perfectly fine results for years. Mazda is just late to the party and blaming others.

    It’s not stopping customers from using hacked firmwares that disable the touch screen check, either.

  • avatar
    NutellaBC

    How does it compare to the Volvo XC40 which offers much better gas mileage and better seats with similar power ?

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      youtube alex on autos has both reviews and “much better gas mileage” will be 1 mpg of premium. The seats he gave 10/10 to volvo and 8/10 to mazda because mazda had no 4way lumbar and tight extensions. But you will have to deal with iPad controls in Volvo. And then, Mazda will be made by some of the best workers in the world, while XC40 in Belgium will be built by some Turkish immigrants. Belgium plant never produced good quality cars.

      Yea… and xc40 will be way more expensive by the time you make an equal package

  • avatar
    SilverCoupe

    “With these looks and this amount of power, the 2019 CX-5 Turbo is a poor man’s Alfa Romeo Stelvio.”

    If I got a Stelvio (not that I have any intent to buy a crossover), it would be for the headlight graphics at night. The Mazda does not compare.

    How it actually functions is not important (kidding).

  • avatar
    dougjp

    What the hey is the point of giving only 87 and 93 octane numbers when 91 is premium in many places? At least its more informative than Ford, who publish on the Fusion sport numbers that are based on….presumably avgas, or 94 or? Then fudge mumble about non existent numbers for lower octanes….

  • avatar
    Jim52

    24 hours of Lemons. How about a nice proof read before placing an article online. As for the CX5. Wonderful job Mazda.

  • avatar
    bullnuke

    Good for Mazda. Finally releasing another something they promised a ways back. Along with the extra 100 or so Mazda6’s they’ll sell with the turbo they’ll likely see an increase of 8 or 9 dozen of these turbo CX-5’s over a 12 month period. They’re creeping up toward BMW-level sales and may even pass them up to rise to 14th rank in US sales.

  • avatar
    brodyboy

    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.

    • 0 avatar
      madferret9

      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.

  • avatar
    MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

    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?


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