All-New Mazda Cross­over Re­mains Sporty, Adds Sur­pris­ing Lux­ury

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - AUTOS - Derek Price cargaz­

Driv­ing on the coun­try roads that zigzag around plots of farm­land in ru­ral East Texas, one thing is clear about the new Mazda CX-5.

It still car­ries some sportscar DNA.

That’s long been the chief sell­ing point for the CX-5, a fam­ily-friendly ve­hi­cle that has rea­son­able space for baby seats in back yet still feels light, nim­ble and en­joy­able when you flick the steer­ing wheel and zoom by cow pas­tures. It’s per­fect for driv­ers who need prac­ti­cal­ity but also want a hint of the MX-5 Mi­ata’s smile-mak­ing per­son­al­ity.

For peo­ple who know Mazda, that’s no sur­prise. This brand has built its rep­u­ta­tion around sparkling han­dling and Ja­panese re­li­a­bil­ity, sort of like a BMW of the Far East but with­out the lux­ury price tag.

To me, though, the sur­pris­ing thing about the new CX-5 isn’t that it has the best han­dling in its class.

It’s that it has the nicest cabin, too.

I’ve never driven a rea­son­ably priced cross­over that was fit­ted with as much rich, sup­ple, soft-touch ma­te­rial as this one. The leather feels fan­tas­tic. All the touch points are padded and smooth. Ev­ery­thing is stitched to­gether and neatly styled like a fine Italian hand­bag.

To be fair, my tester was a loaded Grand Tour­ing model that rang up at $32,765. The base model’s cabin comes across as Bul­gar­ian, not Italian, but still a nice-try knock­off of the Lexus, Audi and Mercedes in­te­ri­ors that com­mand big bucks.

It’s a cabin that’s try­ing harder, and reach­ing far­ther, than the CX-5 has at­tempted be­fore. That’s im­por­tant if Mazda will ever be able to ex­pand its core buy­ers be­yond a niche that cares re­li­giously about brake feel and body roll.

(Both those are spec­tac­u­lar, by the way, so car geeks like me can re­joice.)

From a styling stand­point, the CX-5 seems to fol­low the same for­mula as many re­freshed CUV com­peti­tors: a big­ger grille, more body creases and a higher belt line. Nearly ev­ery cross­over to­day is fol­low­ing that pat­tern, so this one ends up look­ing con­tem­po­rary but not par­tic­u­larly wild.

It also re­cently joined the rest of the Mazda lineup in be­ing named a “Top Safety Pick+” by the In­sur­ance In­sti­tute for High­way Safety. Its driver as­sis­tance pack­age, called i-ACTIVSENSE, in­cludes all kinds of sen­sors and warn­ings to help you mon­i­tor blind spots and keep you safely in your lane.

It also comes with Smart City Brake Sup­port, which can au­to­mat­i­cally prime and then ap­ply the brakes if a radar sen­sor pre­dicts a col­li­sion when you’re driv­ing un­der 20 mph.

I par­tic­u­larly en­joyed the heads-up dis­play on my tester that rec­og­nizes traf­fic signs and projects that in­for­ma­tion up near the wind­shield. It’s got a spaceage feel to it, sure, but it’s also sur­pris­ingly use­ful for those times you’re driv­ing along and can’t re­mem­ber the cur­rent speed limit. The CX-5 can read the signs and let you know.

Power comes from a 2.5-liter, four-cylin­der en­gine that makes 187 horse­power. It’s tuned for a very fast throt­tle re­sponse that makes it seem more pow­er­ful than it re­ally is, some­thing that’s be­come a Mazda hall­mark in re­cent years. It’s rated for 31 mpg on the high­way even though it drives and sounds like some­thing that ought to be more of a gas-guz­zler.

Other ad­di­tions for 2017 in­clude G-Vec­tor­ing Con­trol to en­hance the han­dling, avail­able radar cruise con­trol, a re­clin­ing rear seat and rear A/C vents with two rear USB ports. That brings the to­tal USB count to four — an im­por­tant num­ber for dig­i­tal-de­pen­dent fam­i­lies.

Pric­ing starts at $24,045 for the base Sport trim, $25,915 for the more welle­quipped Tour­ing, and $29,395 for the lux­ury-ori­ented Grand Tour­ing.

The Mazda CX-5 gets a new design for 2017, in­clud­ing a fresh look for its body. The new ver­sion is 15 per­cent stiffer for bet­ter han­dling and re­fine­ment, Mazda claims.

Abun­dant use of soft-touch ma­te­ri­als makes the CX-5 Grand Tour­ing stand out. Its look and feel mimic more ex­pen­sive lux­ury cars.

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