Faster, fancier, more frugal: what’s ahead for 2019 Mazda CX-5?

2019 Mazda CX-5

2019 Mazda CX-5

What changes will make the 2019 Mazda CX-5 different?

Long-awaited diesel and high-performance gasoline engine options, updated feature packaging, a new flagship trim level — and higher asking prices. That seems a lot, considering Mazda’s compact crossover was significantly refreshed for model-year 2017. But annual updates to drivetrains, comfort, convenience, and safety features are becoming a staple for this Japanese automaker as it repositions itself to appeal to more affluent buyers.

Moving its lineup upmarket — particularly its crossovers – seems a wise strategy for the brand. Mazda is a comparatively small, independent automaker that doesn’t heavily incentivize its vehicles. It attracts a relatively upscale demographic, and its buyers tend to favor its higher-end trim levels. More than 50 percent of CX-5 owners, for example choose the current top-line Grand Touring grade.

The move upscale began a few years ago and is apparently bearing fruit. The first month of 2018 marked Mazda’s best January sales performance in 24 years. The CX-5 led the way, with sales of more than 13,000 units. Sure, that pales against demand for compact-crossover rivals such as the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, and Toyota RAV4. But the CX-5 outsells competitors from a host of larger brands, including the GMC Terrain, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Compass, Kia Sportage, Subaru Forester, and Volkswagen Tiguan.

Why should I wait for the 2019?

To see if the new engines, features, and flagship model are more than wishful thinking. Mazda’s diesel has been nearly a decade in development and finally seems poised for introduction to the North American market. It was originally scheduled to debut in the Mazda 6 midsize sedan in 2014. Around that time, we had the opportunity to sample a prototype version of the diesel, and it had a lot of potential. It was powerful and surprisingly smooth and quiet. Delayed by factors both within and outside Mazda’s control, it may finally see the light of day in a model-year-’19 production vehicle.

Even if the diesel is postponed yet again, there are other reasons to wait for the 2019 CX-5. The high-output turbocharged four-cylinder available in the Mazda 6 and larger CX-9 crossover could come to the CX-5. That would be a welcome addition, finally giving the CX-5 power to rival that available in the Escape, Cherokee, and Forester.

With Signature trim levels of the Mazda 6 and CX-9 proving popular, Mazda could well introduce one as the 2019 CX-5’s new top-drawer model. Situated above the Grand Touring, the Signature would have exclusive design touches, upgraded upholstery, perhaps authentic wood interior trim, and probably come standard with either the diesel or turbocharged gas engine and all-wheel drive (AWD). It would join a 2019 CX-5 lineup returning entry-level Sport, midgrade Touring, and uplevel Grand Touring models, all again available with a choice of front-wheel-drive or AWD.

Should I buy a 2018 model instead?

Yes, if you don’t care for turbo or diesel power and want one of the best-looking, best driving, and most fuel-efficient compact crossovers. With the model-year-’18 addition of more standard and optional features, the CX-5 is also one of the most compelling values. Granted, some rivals are faster, and a few are roomier. But buying an ’18 would let you sidestep model-year-’19 price increases for a CX-5 that won’t be fundamentally different.

For 2017, Mazda added its Smart City Brake Support that can automatically stop the CX-5 to avoid a low-speed frontal collision. It expanded safety features again for 2018, with blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection made standard on all CX-5 models. In addition, the automaker’s i-ACTIVSENSE suite of driver-assistance features was made standard on the Touring models and newly optional on the Sport. Already standard on the Grand Touring, this encompassing package includes autonomous emergency braking that operates at speeds above 19 mph. It also equips the CX-5 with automatic high-beam headlights, lane-departure warning, lane-maintaining automatic steering correction, adaptive cruise control to maintain a set distance from traffic ahead, and rain-sensing windshield wipers.

Wheel diameter on the Touring increased to 19 inches from 17. And newly standard on the Grand Touring are driver-seat memory and a power front-passenger seat.

Will the styling be different?

Most likely not. Should the new Signature grade come to pass, it would likely distinguish itself from the other models with unique wheels, extra exterior lighting tricks, and nicer cabin décor; if that décor included real wood trim, that would be a true rarity in this segment.

Otherwise, the other 2019 CX-5s should continue with the model-year-2017 changes that were the first styling updates since their model-year 2013 redesign. The changes included narrower headlights that accentuate the large, stylish grille. LED headlights became standard across the board, and designers cleaned up the look of the tail and gave each model dual exhaust outlets.

Inside, the instrument panel and center console area got a welcome new look. All grades received a 7-inch tablet-like infotainment display mounted atop the center of the dashboard. Rather than a touchscreen, its functions are governed by a console-mounted knob, flanked by a few buttons. It’s similar in concept to BMW’s iDrive, and in the Mazda the system generally works well. Discrete radio preset buttons would be nice, as would support for Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto, as currently the only way to get GPS mapping is to use the imbedded navigation system that’s standard on the Grand Touring and optional on the Touring.

CX-5’s seats emphasize support over outright comfort. Those wider of frame might find the front bucket seats a bit confining. The design of the rear bench seat may have you feeling a bit submerged. It helps that legroom is quite generous, and the backrest is adjustable. Cargo volume shrunk slightly to a bit below the class average as part of its 2017 freshening. There’s 30.9 cubic feet behind the rear seatbacks and 59.6 with them folded. Mazda is thoughtful enough to allow the seatbacks to fold in a 40/20/40 configuration instead of the usual 60/40 split.

Any mechanical changes?

Yes, if Mazda expands the engine lineup beyond today’s sole choice, a 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque. That output is competitive with most base engines in the compact-crossover class. And the CX-5 is one of the lightest vehicles in the segment, so acceleration is more than adequate for most situations.

Bucking the trend toward continuously variable automatic transmissions, Mazda should continue to equip all 2019 CX-5s with a conventional 6-speed automatic; it’s a smooth, prompt shifter that helps get the most from the 2.5-liter.

Mazda says more than half its crossover buyers choose all-wheel drive, and we’d recommend you do, too. The CX-5’s system, which isn’t intended for off-roading, enhances grip on both dry and wet surfaces and doesn’t exact a significant fuel-economy penalty.

The new diesel engine would likely be a 2.2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder producing around 173 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. It would likely be available only with AWD. Expect the same for the possible gasoline turbo engine, which would be a 2.5-liter unit with about 250 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque.

First-rate handling would continue to be part of the mix regardless of what is under the hood. Steering feel is precise, and the body doesn’t lean much in fast turns thanks to Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control, which lightly brakes the engine for sharper turn-in. The 19-inch tires on the Touring and Grand Touring furnish very good grip. The only thing we’re a bit wary of is those tires causing some deflection in fast, bumpy corners. They also contribute to a ride that’s on the firm end of the compact-crossover spectrum, but it’s never punishing. Overall, only the Honda CR-V meets the CX-5 for road manners.

Will fuel economy improve?

Yes, if the diesel engine becomes available. Already is one of the more efficient compact crossovers, the CX-5 got a bit better for 2018, thanks to addition of cylinder deactivation. At cruising speeds, the CX-5 can idle two cylinders to conserve fuel. Deactivation of cylinders is technology common to large pickups and SUVs with V-8 engines, and is used on some V-6 crossovers, but this was the first time it had been applied to a production four-cylinder engine.

EPA ratings for the 2018 CX-5 were 25/31/28 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive and 24/30/26 with AWD. We don’t expect those numbers to change for ’19. (By comparison, the 2017 ratings were 24/31/27 with front-drive and 23/29/26 with AWD.)

Assuming the diesel engine comes only with AWD, figure on fuel-economy ratings of about 27/34/30 mpg. The turbocharged gas engine would be the least efficient, rating somewhere around 22/28/26.

Will it have new features?

Possibly. Mazda deserves kudos for making its i-ACTIVSENSE suite available on the Sport model, but it would be nice if it were standard instead of optional. That might happen for 2019. A Signature grade would probably come fully loaded with all the Grand Touring’s standard and optional equipment.

CX-5’s feature set should otherwise carry over. Included on the Sport would be keyless entry with pushbutton ignition, HD Radio receiver, LED headlights, blind-spot alert with rear cross-traffic detection, and cloth upholstery. Also standard is Mazda’s Smart City Brake Support, which is a form of autonomous emergency braking that operates at speeds less than 19 mph and can fully stop the vehicle to prevent a rear-end collision.

The Touring grade would add i-ACTIVSENSE with Smart Brake Support that can attempt to stop the vehicle at speeds greater than 19 mph, 19-inch wheels, power driver’s seat, heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, rain-sensing windshield wipers, leatherette upholstery, and a pair of USB charging ports for rear-seat occupants.

Grant Touring models would add heated exterior mirrors, LED fog lights, LED taillights, steering-linked headlights, programmable power rear liftgate, memory driver’s seat, power front-passenger seat, leather upholstery, Bose-brand audio system, power sunroof, and imbedded navigation.

A Signature model would probably include everything that’s in the Grand Touring’s optional Premium Package: a head-up instrument display, heated outboard rear seats, a heated steering wheel, and windshield wiper de-icer.

How will 2019 prices be different?

They’ll certainly increase, especially if Mazda includes i-ACTIVSENSE on the Sport model and adds the Signature. Note that our pricing estimates include the manufacturer’s destination fee, which was $975 on the 2018 CX-5.

For models with front-wheel drive, estimated base price is $25,500 for the 2019 CX-5 Sport, $27,500 for the Touring, and $31,000 for the Grand Touring at $31,000. Add $1,300 to each for all-wheel drive.

Should i-ACTIVSENSE remain optional on the Sport, expect to pay $625 for that package. Returning would be the Touring’s $1,200 Preferred Equipment Package that adds a built-in garage door transmitter, Bose audio, imbedded navigation, sunroof, and power liftgate. The Grand Touring Premium Package, whose features we mentioned above, would be $1,395.

The diesel or turbo gas engine would likely be available only on the Grand Touring and command a premium of at least $2,500. We predict the Signature will be AWD only and depending on drivetrain, it will have a base price around $34,000-$36,000.

When will it come out?

Release date for the 2019 CX-5 is expected in fall 2018.

Best competitors

Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, GMC Terrain, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Cherokee, Jeep Compass, Kia Sportage, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4, Volkswagen Tiguan

What change would make it better?

The addition of i-ACTIVSENSE across all models and new engine choices would go a long way toward making the CX-5 stand out even more in what is now the most competitive automotive market segment.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to 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, 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]