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The redesigned Honda CR-V stole headlines this year, with the segment king fighting to continue its reign. But quietly, and without the attention of the public, Mazda released one of the best crossovers on the market, the CX-5.
It's easy to forget about Mazda, because it tends to do the same thing over and over. Great tech, stellar looks and a price point that shows it isn't messing around.
After a week with it, I have some advice: Don't.
For 2017, Mazda took the already-stellar CX-5 and sent it to finishing school, giving the crossover subtle tweaks that cement the CX-5 as the best-looking crossover in the world, bar none.
The most notable departure from the old CX-5 is the new concave, black grille. The old grille could look a bit cheap, but the new one is a great example of what a corporate face should be.
Many of the cars in this class look like automakers tried and failed to put their sedan-based styling language on a bigger, fatter canvas. Mazda, though, debuted the new iteration of its signature "KODO" styling. Expect to see more manufacturers follow their lead in launching styling languages on SUVs rather than cars, as that's the direction in which the market winds are blowing.
Inside, you can see that the Japanese have started learning German. I had the happy coincidence of receiving this CX-5 just after I spent considerable time in an Audi Q5, and it's not hard to tell that's where Mazda got inspiration. Audi has nearly perfected the modern-but-attractive interior, with cutting-edge technology sandwiched between high quality controls and materials.
Mazda's followed the lead of the folks in Ingolstadt, bringing a very appealing interior that puts all essential controls within close reach. Even little details, like the volume knob being down by the shifter instead of on the dash, are borrowed from the Q5.
Material quality, of course, isn't on par with the high-dollar German competition. Things that look metal in the CX-5 are actually just plastics playing dress-up, and controls don't have the satisfying, industrial click-clack feel to them like they do in a Mercedes.
If it seems unfair that I'm comparing a $33,765 Mazda with Audis and BMWs, that's because I find the Mazda's interior to be so far above its price point that comparing it with other mainstream crossovers seems trivial.
Every piece of the interior feels higher in quality than what you get in your neighbor's Chevy Equinox. It's a passable steak on a burger-shack budget.
Design-wise, it's a smash hit. The CR-V is filled with clever cubbies and lots of passenger space to satisfy the needs of parents doing carpool duty, while the CX-5's focus on style makes it a bit less usable in day-to-day operation.
The CX-5 is quite a fun thing to toss into corners. It's not accomplished with brute force, as a 187-horsepower four-cylinder engine powering a car this big is anything but fast. While competitors give you as many as nine cogs to swap, the CX-5 is left with a six-speed automatic that's plenty smooth but doesn't have enough ratios to get the best performance out of the engine.
Toss the CX-5 into a bend, and you'll see where the engineers spent their time. It has some body lean that can be disconcerting if you're not expecting it, but on the backroads of Westchester County the CX-5 can corner at a pace that will utterly terrify and possibly sicken your passengers. Don't ask me how I know.
While the CX-5 definitely doesn't have the pillowy softness of some of its beiger competitors, it handles bumps and potholes with total competency. Noise was an issue with the previous generation SUV, but Mazda's added significant sound insulation and eradicated the issue.
The CX-5 looks, drives and feels better than anything else I've driven in the class.
There are cars that cost $25,000 more that the CX-5 can run with in terms of equipment and refinement, though its engine isn't as powerful.
This is a car mainly for young professionals and families, so it's important that it's a good value. At $33,765, my tester had lovely white leather and a slew of collision avoidance and active safety tech. It had a solid heads-up display that beamed speed, speed limit, navigation and even blind-spot monitoring information directly onto the windshield. Apple CarPlay is on offer, but annoyingly Android Auto isn't.
The Mazda doesn't have the cargo and passenger versatility to match the CR-V's superhero-level hauling capacity. The navigation system is slow to boot and the blind-spot system kept telling me cars two counties away were an immediate threat. Given that Mazda tends to upgrade cars throughout their life cycles, not just during major redesigns, I hope they can correct these oversights for 2018.
Even if Mazda never does fix those problems, the CX-5 is an extraordinarily impressive machine. A crossover that drives this well, looks this good, feels this luxurious and costs this little is an absolute kingslayer. It's a shame that most people may opt for the competition anyway.
Exterior: 5 stars
Interior: 4 stars
Drive Experience: 4 stars
Value: 4.5 stars
Rating: 4.5 stars
Price as configured: $33,765