Forget the Mazda CX-50 for a few minutes. Yes, Mazda’s first off-road crossover is grabbing the headlines right now, but the CX-5 – without an “O” – is the brand’s bestseller. And since Mazda continues to offer incremental upgrades to the compact crossover, that’s likely to stay that way.
To kick off the 2021 model year, Mazda added a pair of special editions to the lineup and made some of the nicer comfort features available on lower-grade trims. Midway through the year, a 2021.5 update added an all-new infotainment system on a larger screen, added connected services and gave every level the full i-Activesense driver assistance suite.
Could Mazda have stayed quiet enough for 2022? Sure. Instead, the automaker gave it some slight styling upgrades, tweaked the engine, suspension, and drivetrain, made all-wheel drive standard, and even made the body stiffer than before. All this with the aim of making the CX-5 more pleasant to drive, even if your journey is more on the highway than on the road.
This is the 2022 Mazda CX-5 Sport Design. A new grade added this year, it sits between GT and Full Zoot Signature. Instead of body-color mirrors and matte gray trim on the former or body-color trim and mirrors on the latter, Sport Design has gloss black wheel arches and mirrors and a few red bits in the grille.
Does the glossy black wheel cover look stylish? It’s certain. Does it disappear in most lighting conditions, visually enlarging the gap between fender and tire, making the CX-5 look like it’s on stilts? Yes too. It looked so tall that I checked that no shipping blocks had been left during the pre-delivery inspection.
Sport Design adds a 10-speaker Bose audio system and red stitched accents to the interior, along with traffic jam assist and LED interior lighting. Whatever you want, but with the Signature just $1,000 more and featuring Nappa leather, if you want the turbo engine, you’ll probably want to up the ante. If you don’t want the turbo, this is a great package.
About that turbo engine. The 2.5-liter turbo-four makes a few more ponies for 2022, up to 256 with 320 lb-ft of torque. This is if you want to jump for 93 octane. With gas prices at $2/L, it’s good to know that the engine will run just fine on 87 and make 227 hp with 310 lb-ft that way.
Mazda’s turbo engine is smooth, even though it’s unlike any other engine on the market. It also pulls well at low revs thanks to all that torque. All in all, it’s a great fun engine in a segment where those are rare, and the 10.8 city, 8.7 highway rating is achievable depending on how much power you’re using.
Although Mazda has tweaked it, it’s the transmission programming that puts a damper on the CX-5’s driving experience.
Mazda’s six-speed automatic shifts faster than ever, with upshifts and downshifts satisfying. It’s when they happen that’s the problem. Mazda’s automatics to pull you away from the red line is nothing new, but this time the CX-5 takes the next gear the moment you hit 5,100 rpm, even if you’re using Sport mode. Sure, it’s just above the 5,000 rpm power peak, but just when things get interesting, you shift gears. Everytime.
With a red line taunting you on the perfectly arranged instrument cluster at 6,500 rpm, these changes are disappointing. Manual mode won’t get you much closer, and the paddles are slower than letting the ‘box do the work on its own.
Enough about the transmission, let’s get back to the rest of the CX-5 changes.
The added rigidity of the chassis is noticeable the first time you hit a crater on the highway. While last year was hardly flexible, the 2022 doesn’t squeak, whine or thump when going over bumps.
The stiffness allows the suspension to do its job and still does. The CX-5 has great body control, on the bouncy, sporty side but never harsh. Cornering is also on the fun side of sport, with the geometry and Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control Plus system sending the nose diving through corners. Once you’re in that corner, the body roll puts a damper on the fun, but it’s still great for a mainstream crossover.
With Mazda’s CX-5 Kuro offering red leather and carpeting, the GT’s white leather, and the Signature Cocoa Nappa leather, the Sport Design’s black with red is a bit lackluster. Softer padding on the lower bolsters of the new seats will suit shorter drivers just fine, although if you have long thighs they might still be a bit short.
Mazda’s interior is still one of the tightest in the segment. Sleek, very well put together and easy to use, even the buttons are a pleasure. Placing the wireless charging point on the back edge of the pocket it occupies is also a good idea. Hard braking can throw your phone forward, but the rest of the time it allows you to charge your phone and have room for the random clutter that ends up filling up those bins. The USB ports are under the armrest of the center console, inconvenient if you prefer to keep your phone outside, but also probably handy for you to watch the road.
Aside from some sealing between the center console and the door, it’s a roomy interior with generous headroom front and rear. And while rear legroom isn’t class-leading, it should be enough for most families.
You’ll find 871 liters of cargo space behind the rear seats. Fully fold down the rare 40-20-40 rear seat and Mazda has 1,680 litres. Seats up is good for class, seats down the CX-5 falls behind. The three-way split seat works wonders for convenience, letting you mix passengers and cargo or haul long items like skis while carrying four adults.
The new 10.25-inch display introduced mid-last year is bright and responsive. The system running it also gives you Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. However, you still have to use Mazda’s center console control button to operate it, and while the new system is faster than the old one, navigating using the button is still a hassle. Finding the right spot to press when your phone is paired can take way too long to spin and jog if you’re driving at the same time. Yes, you can change radio stations using voice control, but it’s still more complicated than it should be.
Radar cruise with stop and go, automatic emergency braking systems and pedestrian detection are all standard. Mazda also includes blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert on all trims, features others reserve for more expensive grades. You’ll need Signature to get 360-degree cameras, parking sensors, and rear emergency braking, another plus for the top-end trim.
Mazda’s changes to the 2022 CX-5 take a successful formula and make it a little better in almost every situation. The snappy steering and bolt-on transmission can help make boring commutes a little less tedious, and that’s an impressive feat. If Mazda kept the engine running and made other improvements to the infotainment system, the CX-5 could be unbeatable for drivers who still like to drive but need to move people and luggage. As is, this is still a very impressive set, which will likely continue to be the brand’s best seller.
2022 Mazda CX-5 Sport Design
BODY STYLE: 4-door, 5-passenger compact crossover
CONFIGURATION: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive
ENGINE: 2.5-liter turbocharged inline-four. 256 hp @ 5000 rpm / 320 lb-ft @ 2000 rpm with 93 octane fuel, 227 @ 5000 / 310 @ 2000 with 87.
TRANSMISSION: six-speed automatic
CHARGE CAPACITY : 871 liters behind second row, 1,680 liters behind first row
FUEL ECONOMY: (regular gasoline in L/100 km) 10.8 city; 8.7 highway
OBSERVED FUEL ECONOMY: 9.1L/100km
THE PRICE: Mazda CX-5 GX $30,200, Mazda CX-5 Sport Design $40,150, tested $42,800. Includes $2,200 2.5T engine, $450 Soul Red Crystal Metallic (plus $1,950 destination)