Take it all with you - including your soul.
– Montreal, Quebec
Mazda seems to have its finger on the pulse of what Canadian families are looking for in a small and efficient automobile, and perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than with the 2016 Mazda CX-5. This compact SUV doesn't just hit all the high notes expected out of a practical daily driver - reams of cargo space, a comfortable second row, and relatively frugal performance at the fuel pump - but it manages to do so without losing the soul of what has made Mazdas so enjoyable to drive, whatever their size.
This is no small accomplishment. Few would argue that the world of sport-utility vehicles is packed with examples that place fun first, and it's become almost a cliché to dismiss this entire class of automobiles as task-focused dullards in the vein of the minivans they have essentially replaced. There are a handful of exceptions to this general rule, however, and a disproportionate number of them happen to wear a Mazda badge on the tailgate.
The chassis saves the hauler from the same forgettable fate as well-intentioned, but ultimately tepid rivals.
It all begins with the 2016 Mazda CX-5's chassis, which has been tuned to walk the line between not cracking the eggs you've got sitting in the hatch area yet still delivering the kind of road feel that suggests the driver isn't merely along for the ride. Although you won't confuse the CX-5's dynamics with Mazda's much-lauded MX-5 Miata roadster, the fact that any thought at all has been given to the crossover's handling chops is much appreciated, and it saves the hauler from the same forgettable fate as well-intentioned, but ultimately tepid rivals like the Toyota RAV4 and the Honda CR-V.
If all the Mazda CX-5 did well was raise your hackles during the occasional back road sojourn, it wouldn't be nearly as compelling of a package. Fortunately, the key to the SUV's enduring popularity has been the no-compromise aspect of its personality, which dares to declare that fun and function don't have to be mutually exclusive. This is demonstrated the first time you open the door to access the CX-5's cabin, which offers a simple, yet respectably-appointed environment for occupants front and rear. Materials used throughout the vehicle are of a high enough standard to feel worthy of the $25k-$37k price range that you'll encounter at the dealership. The forward seating position accentuates the driver-focused personality of the SUV, while at the back there's no dearth of legroom even for adults asked to shoulder the burden of a longer trip.
Class-competitive cargo space is standard with the CX-5.
The same is true with the liftgate popped open. It's become a common weakness for the current crop of small SUVs to barely match similarly-sized hatchbacks when it comes to the amount of available interior storage space, but the Mazda CX-5 deftly sidesteps this flaw by delivering 1,834 litres of cargo room with the back row folded forward. This sees the vehicle trail just behind the segment leaders while keeping itself above the hatchback fray.
Of course, not all aspects of the 2016 Mazda CX-5's cabin experience are perfect. We're not the biggest fans of its dash display, which leans heavily on the old-school LCD look that has more in common with 1990s digital clocks than a modern crossover. The Mazda Connect infotainment system is also somewhat less than intuitive to use, what with its deep menus, the ability to access its touchscreen only when the vehicle has come to a halt (required a rotary control knob the rest of the time) and a lack of hard buttons for radio and navigation favourites. The expected amenities - such as a sunroof and heated seats and steering wheel - are of course available, but don't expect the Mazda to feel luxurious, even when targeting the top-tier GT trim level.
All-wheel is exclusively paired with the 2.5-litre unit.
We're also not bullish on the entry-level engine offered by the CX-5, a 2.0-litre 4-cylinder mill that generates 155 horsepower and 155 lb-ft of torque. When faced with the Mazda's bulk, not even the six-speed manual gearbox (available with front-wheel drive editions of the SUV) can help the small motor feel peppy. Fortunately, thanks to Skyactiv direct-injection technology, there's really no fuel efficiency penalty to speak of if you choose to move up to the optional 2.5-litre engine, which brings with it a stout 184 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque (but forces the six-speed automatic as the only transmission choice). It's important to note that all-wheel is exclusively paired with the 2.5-litre unit, which was how our tester was spec'd, and this is how we'd order the vehicle if it were our own money on the line.
Small SUVs have swarmed over the Canadian marketplace like cargo-schlepping zombies, staking out a claim as one of the fastest-growing segments of the entire market and threatening to put traditional sedans out to pasture as the family conveyance of choice. We're heartened by the fact that in this sea of occasionally faceless, if well-meaning automotive options, there are still choices like the 2016 Mazda CX-5 that prove you don't have to give up on driving as anything more than a chore when buying a vehicle that can keep everything under a single roof (without breaking the bank in the process).