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Top 12 Things to Know Before You Buy a 2016 Mazda CX-5

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What’s New for 2016?

Fresh styling, an upgraded interior, and newly available safety features. This compact crossover SUV debuted for the 2013 model year and its first updates include a revised grille and wheel designs along with newly LED headlights and taillights. The cabin gets additional storage space, new seat fabrics, and the Mazda Connect infotainment system, which debuted on the 2014 Mazda 3 compact car.

Powertrains carry over as a choice of two four-cylinder engines using the automaker’s SKYACTIV suite of technologies. SKYACTIV debuted on the 2013 CX-5 and is designed to save fuel through the use of high-pressure gasoline direct injection, low-friction mechanical components, and lightweight, yet high-strength structural steel. This combination works: CX-5 boasts some of the highest fuel-economy ratings of any conventional, gasoline-powered crossover. At the same time, it doesn’t lose any of the fun-to-drive character that’s a hallmark of the Mazda brand.

How much does it cost and what sort of deal can I expect?

The 2016 edition reprises base Sport, volume Touring, and top-end Grand Touring trim levels, each available with a choice of front- or all-wheel drive (AWD). CX-5 is unusual in that it’s one of the few SUVs of any stripe to offer a manual transmission, but it’s offered only on the front-drive Sport model.

Base prices for the 2016 range from $22,675 for the manual-transmission front-drive Sport to $30,350 for the AWD Grand Touring (base prices include Mazda’s $880 destination fee). This represents a modest increase of $250 over comparable 2015 models.

Mazda offers few factory incentives and wasn’t offering any on the CX-5 entering the second quarter of 2015. And dealers tend to support the automaker’s policy of strong transaction prices as a means of buoying residual values and brand prestige. Indeed, buying service TrueCar.com reports transaction prices on the ’16 CX-5 running just 2.5 percent below base prices; it cited averages of just $639 off on an AWD Touring. By comparison, they were nearly 8 percent below base prices on the Ford Escape, with TrueCar find an average of $2,212 off on an AWD SE model.

If you’re looking for a better deal, you might consider combing dealer stocks for a 2015 model. It’s essentially the same vehicle but transaction prices are trending about 6 percent below base prices. And dealers should be willing to negotiate to clear inventories now that the updated ’16 is in showrooms.

When will the next big change be?

Figure at least another three years before the next-generation CX-5 hits showrooms. In the interim, Mazda could further improve this vehicle’s already stellar fuel-economy numbers by adding the i-ELOOP engine-idle stop/start system available on the company’s 6 midsize sedan.

What options or trim level is best for me?

Starting at $26,095 with front-wheel drive and $27,345 with AWD, the Touring delivers the best features per dollar. To the Sport model’s array of standard power accessories and Bluetooth connectivity, the Touring adds a power driver seat, 40/20/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, upgraded cloth upholstery, HD Radio receiver, blind-spot alert, and Mazda Connect.

If you want leather upholstery and access to the full suite of available safety assists you’ll need to move up to the Grand Touring. It’s exclusive features include heated front seats, and 19-inch alloy wheels in place of the other models’ 17s. A power sunroof and Bose-brand audio system are also standard (and part of the $1,130 Moonroof/Bose Package on the Touring).

Technology Package, which costs $1,625 on the Touring and $1,505 on the Grand Touring, includes a navigation system, steering-linked LED headlights with auto leveling, and Mazda’s Smart City Brake Support, which can automatically bring the vehicle to a halt from low speeds if sensors detect an impending collision.

To get that complete set of safety assists you’ll need to spend another $1,500 for the Grand Touring’s exclusive i-Activesense Package. Available only in conjunction with the Technology Package, it adds adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, and forward-collision alert. Remote engine start and rear-obstacle detection are available as standalone extras for $550 and $475, respectively. “Soul Red” paint is $300, and Mazda offers a number of dealer-installed convenience and dress-up accessories.

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What engine do you recommend?

All CX-5s except the manual-transmission Sport have a 184-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. Manual-transmission Sports make do with an anemic 155-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder. They’re no longer available with automatic transmission and account for a tiny portion of sales.

The 2.5-liter engine allows CX-5 to get out of its own way well enough, but acceleration is otherwise fairly uninspired for a brand whose tagline is “Zoom-Zoom.” New for ’16 with automatic transmission is a Sport-mode switch on the center console that slightly quickens throttle response and forces the automatic transmission to hold gears for longer. It helps a bit if you need to pull away from a stoplight quickly, but it doesn’t have much effect otherwise.

Thankfully the automatic transmission is an excellent match for the engine, delivering crisp, timely shifts. Manual-type gear control is available via the console shift lever, but no steering-wheel paddles are offered.

How is the fuel economy?

Arguably better than even its strong EPA ratings would indicate. The EPA pegs front-drive CX-5s at 29 mpg city-highway combined in both Sport/manual-transmission form and in 2.5-liter/automatic guise. It rates it and 26 mpg with AWD.

Reports from critics and owners, though, paint a more flattering picture; many claim averaging in excess of 30 mpg, even with AWD and mixed city/highway driving. Credit Mazda’s SKYACTIV technologies for giving this compact crossover the fuel economy of a gas/electric hybrid, without the sticker-price premium.

How does it handle?

This is arguably the best-handling crossover that doesn’t have a BMW or Porsche badge on its tailgate. What the CX-5 lacks in power, it more than makes up for in handling prowess. Steering feel is spot on and responds instantly to driver inputs. Despite a somewhat tall build, The crossover never feels tippy around corners. Braking performance is solid, with good pedal feel.

This is no off-road SUV, but we recommend buyers in snowy climates pony up for the AWD system. Front-drive models aren’t nearly as confidence-inspiring when the pavement starts getting coated with the white stuff.

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Are the controls easy to use?

The ’16 changes bring a step forward for in-vehicle connectivity and a leap backward for usability of its new features. The available Connect infotainment system adds support for voice recognition, SMS text message audio delivery and reply, as well as support for streaming Internet radio through the Aha, Pandora, and Stitcher services.

The interface for the audio and available navigation system consists of a central dashboard touchscreen. It can also be controlled via a dial on the center console, a-la BMW iDrive. Programming the navigation system and setting radio presets are exercises in frustration. Using the console dial is clunky, while the touchscreen in one test vehicle sometimes required multiple virtual button presses in order to activate the function we wanted. The audio/navigation setup in the 2013-2015 CX-5 was far easier to use. We have no complaints about the operation of the climate controls.

Is it comfortable?

The housing of the optional sunroof noticeably cuts into headroom, and there’s no surplus of legroom either front or rear. It’s strange because, on paper, CX-5 boasts more passenger volume than several of its key competitors, including the Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester, and Toyota RAV4. Yet, this Mazda manages to feel more cramped than any of them, particularly the Forester. Seat padding airs on the firm side, which could prove problematic on extended road trips. The Touring and Grand Touring have a power driver seat with lumbar adjustment, which helps. With about 65 cubic-feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded, CX-5 trails the far better-selling Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 by 5-8 cubic feet.

Suspension revisions improve ride quality for ’16, mostly by making a stable system even more controlled. Bump absorption is quite good on the Sport and Touring, thanks to their prudently sized 17-inch tires. Grand Tourings get standard 19-inch rubber, and their shorter sidewalls allow small pavement imperfections to more readily make their way into the cabin. It’s not uncomfortable, mind you, but the experience is notably more firm in the Grand Touring than on other models.

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What about safety?

Mixed results in government crash testing but better news in more demanding evaluations, especially on models equipped with Smart City Brake support.

While it’s little different structurally, the ’16 CX-5 fares slightly worse under the government’s 5-Star Safety Ratings system than the 2013-2015 version. The ’16 receives four stars out of a possible five while the 2015 got the full five stars. Both models received four stars in the government’s rollover test and five stars in the side impact evaluation. In the frontal crash trial, the 2015 took home a five-star score, but the 2016 got four, hence its lower overall score.

In the more demanding tests conducted by the insurance-industry-sponsored Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the 2016 CX-5 fared better, earning the organization’s Top Safety Pick+ designation by virtue of the Smart City frontal-crash mitigation. Overall, it received the institute’s highest score of “Good” in all tested categories.

How’s the reliability and resale value?

Dependability should be about average, residual values above average. Consumer-research firm J.D. Power
has not complied reliability data on any CX-5. J.D. Power says the Mazda brand rates about average for reliability and sales/service satisfaction.

Projected resale values should be quite good. Though data is not available for the 2016 CX-5, tracking firm ALG slots the 2015 model firmly in its four-star (out of five) category. ALG says the 2015 will retain between 36 and 39 percent of its value after five years. That’s below the class-leading Toyota RAV4 (42-44 percent), in-line with the Nissan Rogue (37-39 percent), and better than the Hyundai Tucson (31-34 percent).

Is it better than the competition?

We’re not impressed by this latest version of Mazda’s navigation system: beyond its complexity, it worked only intermittently on one test vehicle. On the upside, you’ll not find many better-handling crossovers at any price, let alone for the less-than $30,000 it will take to get into a reasonably equipped 2016 CX-5 Touring. Fuel economy is another strong point. Don’t go too hard on the gas pedal, and you should easily see 30 mpg on a regular basis, even with the added weight of AWD.

While it will never enjoy the kinds of sales numbers posted by the Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4, the 2016 Mazda CX-5 is well worth your consideration, especially if you find its rivals too mundane.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]