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The CX-5’s upgrades may not mean much to someone off the street, but an existing customer will admire the bells and whistles. (JAMES HALFACRE/MAZDA)
The CX-5’s upgrades may not mean much to someone off the street, but an existing customer will admire the bells and whistles. (JAMES HALFACRE/MAZDA)

ROAD TEST

Review: 2017 Mazda CX-5 offers more comfort and refinement Add to ...

There wasn’t much wrong with the CX-5, but that didn’t stop Mazda from fiddling, making almost 700 tweaks to the 2017 model.

The ride was a bit loud, so now there are better seals and quieter glass. The throttle was a little jerky, so now the response is more linear. The steering and handling was fine, so they left that well alone, though the chassis is now 15-per-cent stiffer.

Smart move – this is the Japanese maker’s most popular vehicle and they don’t want to mess with success. In Canada last year, it outpaced the Mazda3 so that one in four of all Mazdas sold was the CX-5 mid-sized crossover and it’s the same story pretty much everywhere else in the world.

Now, five years after its introduction, the second generation of the CX-5 offers a little more comfort and a little more refinement, as well as the new driver’s assistance technology that buyers are demanding. The vehicle is unchanged in basic size and shape, but inside and under the hood, it’s a whole different story.

I drove the CX-5 here on the noisy interstate and up into the high hills. There are three different trim levels, starting at $24,900 for the basic FWD GX edition, with a manual transmission and 2.0-L engine, but I was in the top-end GT edition with the “Technology Package,” which maxes out at $36,300. It’s loaded with all the bells and whistles, but Mazda expects about 60 per cent of the sales will be the mid-trim GS edition that starts at $29,100.

It was not an exciting drive, but it’s not supposed to be. The 2.5-L engine pegs out at 187 hp, which means you need to step hard on the gas and be patient when you want to overtake, but you’ll get there eventually. (The 2.0-L engine makes 150 hp and is only available at the most basic level of trim.)

It’s not really about making power as much as it is about saving fuel.

Like everything else, the engine has plenty of tweaks to make it a little smoother and more responsive – redesigned piston head edges and oil rings, that sort of stuff. It also now creates Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control, which uses engine torque to adjust the suspension hundreds of times a second to smooth out the ride.

Is the ride now quieter and more relaxing than the old CX-5? I’m sure it is, but there wasn’t an older vehicle here to compare it to, and I don’t remember the previous generation as being all that bad. There were some premium small SUVs, however, which I jumped into and drove on identical loops around the city, and none seemed any smoother or more responsive.

It’s a brave manufacturer that offers comparison drives with an Audi Q3, Lexus NX200T, BMW X3 and Mercedes GLA. Mazda claimed it knows already that the CX-5 gives a better ride than the direct competition of Toyota RAV-4, Honda CR-V and Nissan Rogue, so it wanted to mix things up a bit.

The high-end edition of the new CX-5 is what’s called “Mazda Premium,” with high-quality materials and stitching, but every touchable surface of every trim level is now finished with “craftsmanship you can feel,” Mazda says – if something looks soft, then it really is soft.

The obvious changes to the eye are new standard LED headlights and tail lamps and a newly designed grille – the usual stuff – but more subtle changes are everywhere: The transmission shift lever is 60 millimetres forward to fall more easily to hand; the A-pillar is 35 mm farther back, for better outward visibility; the inside door handle is also farther back and lower, while the outside handle is a little thicker. The back doors open a few degrees wider and the rear seats now recline, and the cabin is as quiet in the rear as the front.

It will be tough for a salesperson to sell all these tweaks to somebody walking into a Mazda dealership, but the ultimate goal is to keep existing customers happy. They may not know why they like their CX-5, with its smooth drive and frugal fuel consumption – they just do.

If a new customer should wander in, attracted by the competitive low price or whatever, then the salesperson will be happy to rhyme off all those little changes that few other people had even thought of. If that new customer is you, then get a coffee first – it could take a while.

TECH SPECS

  • Base price/as tested: $24,900/ $36,300
  • Engine: 2.0/2.5-litre four-cylinder
  • Transmission/drive: Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic.
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.4 city/7.4 highway and 10.2 city/8.3 highway
  • Alternatives: Toyota RAV-4, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Nissan Rogue; Volkswagen Tiguan, Jeep Compass, Kia Sportage, Mitsubishi Outlander

RATINGS

  • LOOKS: Smooth flowing surfaces and attention to detail make all the difference.
  • INTERIOR: Much more refined than you’d expect at this price.
  • PERFORMANCE: Not powerful, but quiet and smooth.
  • TECHNOLOGY: Updated from previous years, but there’s not yet Apple CarPlay or Android Auto available.
  • CARGO: Fairly spacious, and the seats now fold a little flatter than before to make it easier to slide things in.

THE VERDICT

8.0

Capable and comfortable.

The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.

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