Why The 2015 Mazda CX-5 Keeps Its Crown

Front 3/4 view of 2015 Mazda CX-5
The 2015 Mazda CX-5.

There are very few constants in life. One of them, at least for the nearly six years of TireKicker's existence (and the 11 years as an automotive journalist before I founded it) is:  Mazda doesn't make bad cars.  In fact, they usually make cars that are arguably better and more involving for a driver than everything else in their class. Mazda 2Mazda 3, Mazda 6, MX-5 Miata, the CX-9...about the only Mazda that never won us completely over was the departed RX-8 (though that one got better near the end).

Mazda's small crossover is the CX-5.  Playing in an intensely competitive segment (Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Ford Escape, Chevy Equinox, Jeep Cherokee, Volkswagen Tiguan and others), it needs to stand out, and does...if you equip it right.

Rear 3/4 view of 2015 Mazda CX-5
2015 Mazda CX-5.
There are three trim levels: Sport ($21,545),  Touring ($24,965) and Grand Touring ($27,970).  Each step up buys you a bit more comfort and more standard features (you can compare them here).  Any of the three is fine.  Just make sure you get the SKYACTIV-G 2.5-liter four.  Compared to the 2.0-liter four (also branded SKYACTIV-G), you lose very little in the way of gas mileage (one mile per gallon in the city when comparing automatic transmission front-wheel drive models...26 city/32 highway versus 25 city/32 highway), but gain 29 horsepower.  And that makes a huge difference.

Of all the small crossovers we've driven, the CX-5 is the one most like an eager puppy.  It wants to play.  As with the Mazda 3, Mazda 6 and MX-5 Miata, handling is its strong suit.  This is a sport sedan in cute-ute clothing.

Interior view of 2015 Mazda CX-5
2015 Mazda CX-5 interior.

The one we drove was the top-of-the-line Grand Touring FWD.  Base price $27,970.  The all-wheel-drive model costs a bit more and takes mileage down to 24 city/30 highway.  We covered standard features with the link two paragraphs up.  As for optional equipment, it had a cargo mat ($60), a rear bumper guard ($100), door sill trim plates ($125), and the Grand Touring Tech Package ($1,425), which gets you an in-dash TomTom navigation system, HID auto-leveling headlamps, adaptive front lighting, smart city brake support and an auto-dimming mirror with HomeLink.

Frankly, I'd save the $1,425, skip the Grand Touring Tech Package and forfeit the good stuff within just to never have to deal with the TomTom in-dash nav again.  It is as user-unfriendly and featureless when compared to other cars' nav systems as can be imagined...and then some.  I frankly gave up on it, pulled over and used Google Maps on my cell phone during a quick 10-hour round trip from Folsom to San Francisco to sightsee and have dinner with Navigator, her two daughters and her visiting niece and niece's boyfriend.

Dinner? Well, that was at the Tonga Room in the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill. And I could regale you with the history of the place, but Anthony Bourdain did it so well on Travel Channel's "The Layover", I'll just let you see for yourself by clicking here.

San Francisco is the perfect city for a small crossover...crowded, narrow-ish streets, lots of traffic...but truth be told, we parked the CX-5 and walked.  And that was the best test of all.

Postcard of The White House Department Store, San Francisco, early 1900s
The White House Department Store, San Francisco, early 1900s.

More than 100 years ago, The White House opened.  An elegant, turn-of-the-last-century multi-story department store.  It closed, and San Francisco, not being Los Angeles, didn't bulldoze it and replace it with a strip mall.  They repurposed it.

The White House building today
The White House building today.

The ground floor is still retail, including Banana Republic, but everything from floors 3 on up?  That's a parking garage.  Yep, where ladies once lunched in The White House Tea Room, cars are now packed in like sardines.  There is a valet, but if you're coming back to your car after a certain hour (as we were, at 11 p.m. after much dining and celebrating), he'll tell you to park it yourself.  In spaces like this:

Inside The White House Parking Garage
Inside the White House Parking Garage.
There is only a few inches more than a car length to the aisles between the rows.  And if you want to be able to retrieve your car, it's suggested you back into the slot.  That's where the CX-5 was a lifesaver.  Small-ish size and precise steering saved the day.  And it was brilliant back on I-80 for the 2-hour run back to suburban Sacramento between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. (on a trip that began at 3 p.m.).

The CX-5 stands as our favorite small crossover.  You're doing yourself a disservice if you don't at least take a test drive.