Perhaps you’re wondering how a compact crossover like the Mazda CX-5 lands on a list of our favorites. After all, this publication frequently derides and mocks the CX-5’s dull segment. While our values are often at odds with what’s happening in the small-crossover world, we recognize that a growing number of drivers want to sit high in a practical all-wheel-drive vehicle with an attractive price. The CX-5 fits that bill, but it is a 10Best winner because this Mazda is full of the reasons that we love cars.
The CX-5’s sharp styling, handsome interior, and rich paint are visible differentiators in this class, but the driving experience is what elevates it. Mazda set up the CX-5 to drive like a premium brand’s sports sedan. Bend into a corner and the steering gives satisfying feedback that’s aligned with the firmness of the suspension. Lithe and responsive, this crossover comes alive through its controls. The brakes grab as though they were tuned by the same engineer who did the MX-5 Miata’s. While most competitors employ a CVT that surges with rubbery imprecision or a slushbox with more gears than sense, the CX-5’s six-speed automatic never finds itself out of step.
A turbocharged engine with 250 horsepower is on offer, should you want to emphasize the “sport” in sport-ute with a 6.1-second run to 60 mph. The base 187-hp engine won’t set the world afire, but its power delivery is crisp and smooth, two adjectives that elude competitors.
In a segment that doesn’t always share our values, the genius of the CX-5 is that it transcends its kind. It’s imbued with the feel of a performance vehicle, but it’s also practical, refined, and thoughtfully designed. Even the indifferent will notice the difference. Like all 10Best winners, this Mazda opens eyes and gets people to say, “Whoa. So this is why you’re into cars.”