Behind the Wheel

2020 Mazda CX-5 Review: A two-row crossover that makes an engaging, budget-friendly statement

The 2020 Mazda CX-5 has a lot to like.

Photo courtesy of Mazda North American Operations

These days, just about every carmaker sells a whole range of crossovers. There's a simple explanation for it of course: people buy them by the truckload. But strip the badging off and line them all up and it'll be hard to tell them apart.

To the non-enthusiast, the Ford whatsit is just like the Chevy whatsit which looks like the Honda whatever or is that the Toyota whatever? I can't tell.

They're alike on the inside, too. Steering wheel, high seating position, all-wheel drive (maybe), some luxury accoutrements depending on where it fits in the segment, leather, rinse, repeat.

2020 Mazda CX-5 The model's sculpted exterior is most different from other crossovers at the front, but it's back is not unattractive.Photo courtesy of Mazda North American Operations

Does it matter which one you buy? At once, absolutely and absolutely not. The Ford whatsit you wouldn't hate having might come from a great dealer, in which case, go buy that. Or Kia might have a great Cyber Wednesday deal running or you might inexplicably like the shift knob in the BMW X# Competizione M Sport GranTurismo and that's what turns your head.

Or maybe you just want a crossover with luxury features that's comfortable, has terrific handling and performance, and great design, in which case you should head straight to your local Mazda dealer and plunk down thirty-thousand-and-something dollars for a Mazda CX-5 and skip all the other stuff. That's what I'd do.

Mazda is the rare carmaker that makes excellent vehicles across the entire range, so you can't go wrong. My tester CX-5 came in an intoxicating Soul Red Crystal Metallic with a Caturra Brown interior. I don't know what makes Soul Red different from regular red, or what a Caturra is, but Mazda's built a fetching crossover. The new Mazda3 is a looker and the CX-5 has the same lineage.
It's aggressive but not shouty, taut but not tense. It's sporty and luxurious. It's driver-focused but refined for everyone else too. It is, to put a point on it, all things to all people.

Except for that infotainment screen. It's a weak point, I'll admit — and so will Mazda, I suspect. It sticks out of the center of the dash, which is fine. It's a good size, and Apple CarPlay looks great on it. You can just reach it, but it's not a touch screen (except when it is). And the stock infotainment system is incredibly annoying.

2020 Mazda CX-5 The touch points of the CX-5 tester were more premium than the price of the SUV would let on.Photo courtesy of Mazda North American Operations

Generally you control it with a knob and button setup down in the center console behind the shifter (the volume knob is down here too, which is annoying for five minutes and then kind of delightful). It's not the best way to control an interface, but it's serviceable and much preferred to the horrendous touchpad that Lexus insists on installing in all its vehicles these days. But then, once in a while, and only in CarPlay, it works as a touchscreen. But not always.

Yet, this is a mere quibble because the rest of the car is fantastic. My tester priced out at $38,655 in the Signature trim and is filled with nearly every feature on my must-have list, including 360-degree camera, parking sensors, heated and ventilated front seats (and heated rear seats, too), a terrific heads-up display, adaptive cruise, an active lane-keeping assist, and a bunch more.

The Signature also includes standard AWD and a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 250-horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque engine, and is a total peach. It even runs on standard fuel, although derated to 227 horsepower. Fuel economy with the bigger engine is hurt a little bit, running 22 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway, while the smaller non-turbo variant that comes standard in the CX-5 runs 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque but at 24/30 city/highway with all-wheel drive.

2020 Mazda CX-5 Buttons, knobs, and the steering wheel are all easy to reach from the driver's seat.Photo courtesy of Mazda North American Operations

A few weeks ago, I tested a 2019 Mazda3 hatchback around the racetrack at the Monticello Motor Club and it was a riot. A note to those who love powerful cars: it's way more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow. The Mazda3 was controllable and predictable — exactly what you want in a performance vehicle, and the CX-5 has the same sort of feel. It's much more car than SUV, and in this trim, is part sports car too.

It reminds me of a budget Porsche Macan a bit. Sporty luxury with quality and refinement to spare, only at a much more reasonable price. All those other crossovers might seem basically the same, but the CX-5 stands out. I guess that's why Mazda is selling so many of them.

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Nuts & Bolts

 
 

Photo courtesy of Ferrari

The Ferrari Omologata comes from a strong family tree filled with performance and Italian beauty. It's a one-off model that takes its DNA from seven decades of Ferrari GT tradition. The model has been crafted by a European client.

It's taken two years to complete the model since the presentation of the initial sketches. It's a model that took its inspiration from a variety of sources: racing heritage, sci-fi, and modern architecture.

A Ferrari 812 Superfast is the underlying package of the car, but the designers kept just the windscreen and headlights from the body. They set forth to create a model with smooth volume and undulating reflections. The car's front end is tapered and faced by a flattened oval grille. At the back, the car takes a more muscular stance, has deeply set taillights, and is finished off with a prominent spoiler.

Ferrari Omologata

Photo courtesy of Ferrari

Dressed in a triple layer of Ferrari's Rosso Magma paint and a racing livery the car combines track day prowess with daily drivability.

Inside, the car sports electric blue seats finished in a combination of leather and Jeans Aunde fabric with four-point racing harnesses. The rest of the interior is finished in black.

Unlike modern vehicles, the Omologata does not have a screen in the center of the vehicle, giving the model. a historic tinge. Metal parts on the dashboard and steering wheel are finished with the crackled paint effect associated with the great GT racers of the 1950s and 1960s as well as with Ferrari's engine cam covers. A hammered paint effect so often used in cars such as the 250 LM and 250 GTO finds its way on details such as the inner door handles and on the Ferrari F1 bridge.

The mid-engine car has a 6.5-liter V12 engine, harvested from the 812 Superfast. In that car is generates 789 horsepower and 530 pound-feet of torque. The engine is paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

Ferrari isn't divulging the price of the Omologata.

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The Mazda MX-5 RF is one of the better-rounded sports coupes you can buy.

Photo courtesy of Mazda North American Operations

Mazda loves to remind us that it makes the best-selling two-seater sports car in history. The company mentions this in just about every press release it issues on the Miata. It's even certified by the Guinness Book of World Records.

With more than a million units sold over the past thirty years, the Miata — or MX-5 in the rest of the world — has been a reliable pick for folks looking for an authentic sports car experience at an affordable price. Lotus founder Colin Chapman said his theory on race car design was to "simplify, then add lightness". Mazda's engineers have remained more-or-less faithful to that idea over the years when it comes to the MX-5.

2020 Mazda MX-5 RF The fierce design and unique drivability of the MX-5 help make it a desirable commodity.Photo courtesy of Mazda North American Operations

Small cars don't need a ton of power, and they're a joy to drive. The 2020 MX-5 sports a 181-horsepower, 151 lb-ft four-cylinder engine paired to a six-speed manual (or a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters, but what you really want is the manual). My test unit this week — a luxury-focused MX-5 Grand Touring — came with a limited-slip differential, a sport-tuned suspension with Bilstein shocks, front- and rear-stabilizer bars, and, of course, rear-wheel drive. It's not necessary to understand what all that stuff does to enjoy the car, though it's an impressive list of tech.

There's a running joke in car journalism that when someone asks which car they should buy, the answer is always "Miata" regardless of whether the buyer is a 70-year old retiree or a housewife with three kids. I don't know if that's strictly true, but the MX-5 will put a smile (and a sunburn) on your face regardless of who you are.

My fully-loaded manual transmission Grand Touring RF test unit priced out at a a whopping $35,345, but included a wide array of luxe features like automatic windshield wipers and high beams, leather everything inside the (tiny) cockpit, and a nine-speaker Bose stereo system that included speakers built-in to the headrests so you can hear your tunes even with the top down.

2020 Mazda MX-5 RF The hard top of the MX-5 RF gives the convertible a sleek look.Photo courtesy of Mazda North American Operations

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support is new for 2020, though there's no good place to put your phone. Or a cup of coffee. Or a handbag or really anything else except for two humans. It's really tight in there. The cupholders are two bits of plastic that go behind your elbow on the center armrest, requiring a stretching maneuver that wouldn't be out of place in a yoga studio to retrieve your beverage. There's also a diminutive "glove box" behind the cupholders that's good for holding a tube of sunscreen, your car registration, and very little else.

The trunk isn't spacious but it'll swallow a rollaboard suitcase easily enough, and the RF's hardtop doesn't affect the trunk at all which is a big plus.

The ride is firm but pleasant, with a far smoother and more refined ride than the similarly sized Toyota 86. This is the car for people who think comfort is a feature, and are willing to trade a bit of time in the slalom or on the skid pad to not have their spine ruined.

The six-speed manual transmission is a delight, reminding me why it's fun to have a stick shift. Not many folks will use their MX-5 as a commuter car, so there are almost no downsides to the manual tranny. Gear changes are quick and easy, and the clutch is incredibly forgiving. Third gear is particularly wonderful, as is the rev-happy naturally aspirated Skyactiv-G engine that scores an EPA-estimated 26/34/29 city/highway/combined.

2020 Mazda MX-5 RF The interior of the MX-5 is well-designed, but cramped.Photo courtesy of Mazda North American Operations

The exhaust isn't noisy, but it make a nice burble, particularly with the top down. And I do have to call out that top. The RF — or Retractable Fastback — is the MX-5 to buy. Not only is it stupidly good looking, but you get the best of both worlds: When the top is down, you get 93 million miles of blue sky. But when you put it back up, you're in a sports coupe that's almost quiet and refined.

The roof can open and close in just 13 seconds, though you do need to be stopped for it to operate. It looks especially good in Mazda's Polymetal Gray paint scheme.

2020 Mazda MX-5 RF The Mazda MX-5 RF has the same design attributes as the MX-5, just with a hard top.Photo courtesy of Mazda North American Operations

I love convertibles. I love the MX-5. I love the RF. I love 93 million miles of blue sky. And if you go take one for a test drive, I promise you'll love it too.

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