For 2019, Mazda addressed that exact issue with a vengeance. With an all-new 2.5-liter SkyActiv Turbo good for 250 horsepower, the CX-5 not only leapfrogs bestselling rivals like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, but lands squarely in the realm of luxury stalwarts such as the Audi Q5 and BMW X3.
When we drove the 2017 CX-5, we likened the handling to that of a Porsche Macan. Now it has the power to match. Among its direct competition, only the 2019 Toyota RAV4 breaks the 200-horsepower mark, ringing in at 203 (and the Hybrid makes an even more impressive 219 ponies), while the Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester and VW Tiguan all sit between 180 and 190.
Now, to get the full herd you must fill the tank with 93 octane premium, but if you don’t mind leaving a few ponies in the stable you can pump 87 octane for a slight dip to 227 horsepower. The engine adjusts with no ill effects. Even better, torque stays the same no matter what, and the stump-pulling 310 pound-feet of torque comes quick at just 2,000 rpm.
The SkyActiv turbo is full of clever engineering tricks, too. There’s an exhaust port restrictor, for instance, a narrower channel used only at low engine speeds. Mazda engineer Dave Coleman likened it to a thumb over a firehose, making more exhaust pressure at idle to spool up the turbo, and thus delivering more oomph when you take off from a standstill.
Mazdafarians will recognize the mill as the same one that debuted on the 2018 Mazda6. It powers the CX-9 too, Mazda’s highly acclaimed three-row crossover. The 3,825-pound CX-5 has 558 fewer pounds to shuffle around than its larger stablemate, making it downright snappy. However, that extra pep does come with a fuel economy penalty, 22 city and 27 highway mpg versus the naturally aspirated version’s 24 city and 30 highway mpg.
Not only does the CX-5 turbo lay waste to similarly-priced rivals in its class, it out-guns those in the pricier luxury midsize SUV segment as well. The BMW X3 starts at 248 hp, the Mercedes GLC 300 at 241, and the 2019 Porsche Macan at 248. Only the Acura RDX and Infiniti QX50 top the Mazda in power-to-weight ratio, but neither can compete on torque, which is responsible for the pin-you-to-the-seatback feel. And its handling shines even brighter, providing far more road feel than its peers and out-hustling the Acura. The Infiniti’s road manners feel downright sloppy in comparison.
Much of its dynamic prowess comes from the fact that G-Vectoring Control Plus is now offered across all trim levels. A technology exclusive to Mazda, GVC uses engine torque to shift weight onto the front wheels just as turn-in is initiated. That provides more grip on the turning wheels, and while it’s most noticeable in precipitous road conditions, it instills the driver with a calm assurance on the curviest of mountain roads even when surfaces are dry. On top of that, the new-and-improved GVC Plus adds the application of the outside wheel’s brake, and guides the vehicle through twisties with a smooth control typically reserved for sports sedans.
Mazda’s also retuned the suspension on all 2019 CX-5s. The dampers feel a bit more fluid, absorbing road irregularities without compromising road feel — similar to the suspension work the company did on the new 2019 Mazda3. This proves especially helpful in corners, when an errant pothole can jolt a lesser vehicle into losing its composure — not a fun feeling when you’re wheeling nearly 4,000 pounds of crossover. It’ll get you through emergency maneuvers with less drama as well.
The turbo engine has a couple of caveats, though. It’s only offered on all-wheel-drive models, and on two newly introduced trim levels. Grand Touring Reserve starts at $34,870 and takes everything offered on the previous line-topper and adds auto-folding mirrors, wiper de-icers, ventilated front seats, as well as a heated rear seat and steering wheel.
The highest trim level, Signature, begins at $36,890 and includes sumptuous Caturra Brown Nappa leather on the seats, real wood inlays on the dash and doors, and exclusive and snazzy 19-inch wheels. A 360-degree around-view monitor, HomeLink-equipped frameless mirror and LED interior lighting finish out the package.
While performance headlines the 2019 CX-5, the cabin’s also undergone a makeover. Most significantly, the main infotainment display is no longer a touchscreen. The center console’s command dial is now the sole method of controlling its many menus, everything from navigation to vehicle settings.
That’s because Mazda’s internal research shows that it’s impossible for drivers to accurately push a button on a screen without taking their eyes off the road. The command dial, on the other hand, is intuitive and easily navigable by feel. And to wean users off the touchscreen, the entire display has been moved closer to the cowl, out of reach for those with all but the longest arms. As a bonus, the placement reduces the time your eyes require to refocus each time you glance from the road to the menu and back to the road.
Many will be happy to hear that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are at last available on Mazdas. The company says that the delay stemmed from the fact that Apple and Google’s systems only worked with touchscreens initially, and using it with the command dial required a bit of negotiation with the tech giants. Mazda is also working on a software update that would retrofit Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to any car that has Mazda Connect.
The 2019 CX-5 was already a standout in its class, a crossover that’s fun to drive — just as we’ve been saying for years. It doesn’t need the extra power, but that’s been on CX-5 shoppers’ wishlists for a while, and it enhances the car’s natural charms. The upgraded connectivity option and luxurious cabin take the CX-5 upmarket in a natural way — with elegant surfacing that doesn’t rely on cheap gimmicks or hide-away vents. Together, the power and enhanced cabin strip away the excuses we’ve heard from folks on the fence about the CX-5. There’s not much more one can ask for in a modern family vehicle.