UPDATED: What I Drove On My Spring Vacation: The 2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring

Front 3/4 view of the 2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring
The 2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring.
Regular TireKicker readers know we love roadtrips.  Anytime I can get behind the wheel with Navigator sitting to my right is a good time. The grandaddy of them all (so far) was 2014's eight-day, 1,800 mile camping trip through Nevada and Utah. Our just-concluded Spring Break trip is a close second...five days and 1,100 miles.  We had the one-size-larger Kia Sorento for the summer trip, which was only two people, but included a tent, firewood and food and supplies for the entire eight days.

This time, it was four people, three of them female (Navigator and her two daughters). We'd be sleeping on the sofa and in sleeping bags at a friend's apartment in Santa Monica, so we could skip the tent and the firewood, but there's still five days of clothing for four people, sleeping bags, pillows, an air mattress and road food for a 20-year-old and a 15-year-old, which is a lot more boxes and bags of profoundly unhealthy things than you can imagine...plus whatever would be picked up along the way and brought back to Folsom.

Rear 3/4 view of 2016 Mazda CX-5
2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring.
The good news is that, despite its compact dimensions, the CX-5 handled it all.  It took some planning and some geometry, but it all fit.  The next test would be comfort.

Folsom to Santa Monica (source: Google Maps)
Folsom to Santa Monica is a pretty simple run, for the most part.  About 25 miles west on U.S. 50 to Interstate 5, and then south for roughly forever.  I-5 goes through the Central Valley of California and the reason you don't see any big dots with boldface type indicating major cities along I-5 between Los Angeles and Sacramento is...there aren't any (Stockton doesn't count.  Trust me on this).

Unless you like looking out at vast plains and wondering what they'd be growing there if it weren't for the drought, there's not much entertainment value in it.  This was where comfort came in, because it was pretty much a given that Navigator's daughters would be napping for much of the trip in the back seat.  And without much navigating to do for the better part of 380 miles, Navigator could catch a few Zs, herself.

Interior view of the 2016 Mazda CX-5
2016 Mazda CX-5 interior.
As for yours truly, the rule was stay awake---helped greatly by the audio system which had effortless Bluetooth connectivity (not all vehicles do it smoothly) so I could get my Saturday morning fix of Johnny Magnus' "Swing Time" on KKJZ, Long Beach long before hitting Southern California via my iPhone, then on to a series of SiriusXM satellite channels when Johnny signed off at 10 a.m.

The CX-5's changes for 2016 include a new instrument panel and touch-screen display, beautiful two-toned interior, a Tom Tom nav system that worked flawlessly and intutively (unlike last year's tester) and an optional suite of driver safety enhancements called the GT i-ACTIVESENSE Package, which brought automatic high beams, smart brake support and...best of all on almost 400 miles of four-lane divided highway (two lanes in each direction), lane departure warning and radar cruise control, which maintains a distance you pre-set between you and the car in front of you. If you're crusing at 70 and he suddenly drops to 50, so do you with very little fuss or drama.

The radar cruise control was a big part of our very good time, getting over the steep Tejon Pass and into Greater Los Angeles in about six and a half hours.  We could have just stayed on the 405 to the 10 and hit Santa Monica that way, but....

To Santa Monica via Malibu Canyon (source: Google Maps).
...what fun would that have been?  Instead, we went west on the 101 Ventura Freeway to Los Angeles County Route N1 and drove through Malibu Canyon down to Pacific Coast Highway and then rode PCH all the way in to Santa Monica. Once there, we parked the CX-5 for the night and set off on foot to see the sights. Navigator and I were both born in L.A., but both moved away when young.  I haven't been in town as anything other than a working journalist (the '92 riots, '94 Northridge quake and the O.J. Simpson trial, among other unpleasantries) in about 25 years.  So we were going to go full tourist.

Venice Beach
Venice Beach.
That included an afternoon stroll on Venice Beach. If you think California in general is weird, go to Venice Beach. Ever heard Pachelbel's Canon played on an accordion?  You will here.  A grand piano that some guy wheels down to the beach every day to play for tips?  Ditto. Astonishingly beautiful art made from stuff people threw away?  It's there.  Plus people from every race, creed, color, faith, gender, sexual orientation and planet. Maybe galaxy.  It makes the United Nations look in-bred.

Santa Monica Pier/Pacific Park.
After sunset, we walked back up the beach to the Santa Monica Pier, home to Pacific Park, an amusement park not to be confused with the late, lamented Pacific Ocean Park, which was open from 1958-1967, closed down and then burned down seven years after that.

Los Angeles map
Just a Sunday drive, TireKicker style (source: Google Maps)
Sunday, it was back in the CX-5 for some more touristy fun, with a fifth person on board (our friend with whom we were staying). First order of business?  Breakfast.

Norms Coffee Shop on La Cienega
Norms on La Cienega.
No, that's not just another Southern California coffee shop, that's Norms.  A Southern California institution since 1949.  It is to Denny's what Habit Burger Grill is to McDonalds...infinitely, immediately superior. But unlike Denny's, Norms...specifically this one on La Cienega north of Beverly...is in jeopardy.  New owners have taken out a permit that would allow them to bulldoze the building.  It's hard to believe 50s/60s "Googie" architecture is in danger of vanishing in L.A., but it is.  Learn more at #savenorms.

La Brea Tar Pits Observation Room
The La Brea Tar Pits.
From endangered to extinct...next stop was the La Brea Tar Pits.  Hadn't been since a fourth-grade field trip.  It's a fascinating place that puts Los Angeles in perspective. Think it's about dinosaurs?  You're wrong.  No dinosaurs here.  Just mammals and birds that don't exist anymore but that once ruled Southern California.

Bullocks Wilshire Building
The old Bullocks Wilshire building (now Southwestern Law School library).
And then, appropriately enough for Easter week, death and resurrection.  This magnificent edifice four miles east of the La Brea Tar Pits was once Bullocks Wilshire, the flagship of the Bullock's (lesser stores had the apostrophe) department store chain. Built in 1929, it's breathtaking even today.  The inscription over the door reads "To Build A Business That Will Never Know Completion".

Well, that's a nice thought, but what ended up happening was that the competition knew Bullocks Wilshire in the Biblical sense and completion soon followed. Macy's bought it in 1988 and it closed in 1993.  The last time I'd been here was the morning after it was sacked in the L.A. riots. Looters broke every display case on the ground floor and set several fires.  The evacuating workers wisely shut off the main power to the elevators and locked the stairwells.  Not having escalators is probably what kept the building from being destroyed top-to-bottom. But its own internal financial issues would kill it within a year.  Today, it's the library for Southwestern Law School, which has kept the exterior and much of the interior the way it was originally.  A win for preservation, in a roundabout way.

Griffith Observatory, Griffith Park.
Time to put all that earthly chaos and disorder into perspecitive...first up to the tremendous Griffith Observatory in Griffith Park. Too early in the day for star-gazing, but the views of the L.A. basin are worth the trip.

Griffith Observatory Tesla coil
Griffith Observatory's Tesla Coil.

As are the exhibits, which include a Tesla coil...a means of wirelessly transmitting electricity. Nikola Tesla envisioned one of these on every street corner....literally lighting up entire cities.  Safety issues then doomed it....probably for the best, as modern-day pacemakers would be incompatible.

Yamashiro restaurant
Dinnertime and another endangered eatery.  This time, it's Yamashiro in the Hollywood Hills.  The building has been gracing the hilltop directly above the Magic Castle for 101 years. It was built by two brothers who wanted a fitting place to store their Asian art collection. It's been in the same family for 66 years and has been a restaurant for almost 50.  But lacurbed.com reports there are internal family battles forcing the sale of the seven-acre property with no guarantee the building will be protected.

Buddha at Yamashiro
Buddha at Yamashiro.
Name me one other view like this while you're waiting for the valet to bring up your car.  Didn't think so.

What dessert goes with sushi?  How about Iranian ice cream?

Mashti Malone's Ice Cream
Mashti Malone's.
Tucked into the corner of a strip mall on La Brea just north of Sunset is Mashti Malone's, started 35 years ago by two Iranian immigrant brothers whose family has been making ice cream for 70 years.  Yeah, they have chocolate and vanilla and strawberry, but they also have rose water and cucumber and lavender and Turkish coffee.  Go.

Santa Monica to Disneyland (source: Google Maps)
On Monday, it's up early as we put another 82 miles on the CX-5 with a run to Disneyland and back.

Disneyland.  It's a blur.
Now, if that sounds wasteful, understand that there were 16 hours between the "to" and the "from". For the first time in my life, I was there when Disneyland opened at 8 a.m. and I left when the park closed at midnight.

TireKicker Top Tips for a successful 16-hour day at the Happiest Place on Earth:

  • Go to the gym at least three times a week for a year before your visit.
  • Find the most comfortable shoes on the planet.  Add Dr.Scholl's air-cushion inserts.
  • Make early, frequent and shameless use of the FastPass system.
  • Hit the attractions most likely to have long lines (Pirates of the Carribean, Haunted Mansion, Space Mountain) early in the morning or late in the evening.
  • If you see a bathroom, use it.  You don't want to be wishing when you stand in a short line (say, 55 minutes) that you had.
  • Slather yourself with sunscreen. And then wear a hat. And then re-apply the sunscreen way more often than you think you need to.
Happily, Navigator knew all the above.  Apart from the gym thing and getting stranded on It's A Small World three feet from the place where we would have gotten off anyway (but having to wait until we could be safely escorted to shore), it was a terrific day, and I came away with renewed respect for Disney.  If every American company would just commit to doing whatever it took to deliver the best customer experience the way Disney does, it would be a very different world.

After sixteen hours at Disneyland, the hour or so back to Santa Monica on post-midnight L.A.freeways could have been a challenge, but again, the CX-5 (especially the lane departure warning and radar cruise control) made it a relative snap.

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
Tuesday. Our last full day in L.A. Remember how I said the La Brea Tar Pits doesn't have dinosaurs? This place does.

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County has one of the most extensive and astonishing collections of dinosaurs around.  Plus a remarkable gem and mineral exhibit, and so much more.  We had three hours. Book an entire day.

2015 Mazda CX-5
2016 Mazda CX-5.
 And on Wednesday morning at 3:20 a.m. we were back in the CX-5, back on I-5 and headed home.  With three stops for gas, breakfast and a quick nap under a shady tree, we were home in Folsom in just under seven hours.  The CX-5 never put a foot wrong.  Fuel economy was a bit less than the 29 combined (26 city/33 highway) EPA estimate, but a combination of L.A. stop-and-go and a bit of a lead foot on the open road probably accounts for that.

$28,220 gets you the top-of-the-line Grand Touring model we drove.  Ours was $32,890 with the addition of a cargo mat ($60), a special paint color ($300), a rear bumper guard ($100), a retractable cargo cover ($200), door sill trim plates ($125), the GT i-ACTIVESENSE package discussed earlier ($1,500) , the Grand Touring Tech Package---navigation, LED headlights, adaptive front lighting, LED daytime running lights, LED foglights, LED combination taillights, smart city brake support and an auto-dimming rearview mirror with Homelink ($1,595) and $880 delivery, processing and handling fee.  If you're shopping for a small crossover SUV, this one should be at the top of your test drive list.

1,100 miles is more than enough to find the drawbacks in any vehicle.  The CX-5 just made me love it more.

UPDATE: Eleven months later and we're back in a 2016 Mazda CX-5, '16 being a long model year because the new CX-5 debuted in January of '15.  Everything above about the CX-5 still stands, including price, mileage and how much we love it.  This time, it was a fairly routine week of city streets and urban freeways and the CX-5 was an ideal daily driver.  Tiny differences in equipment (the $60 cargo mat last time was a $75 cargo tray this time, there was no special paint color, saving $300, we had wheel locks this time at $55) led us to a slightly lower bottom line of $32,660.  

(NOTE: The businesses mentioned in this review don't know me and I don't know them.  No compensation was involved. They're in this article because we went there and you might enjoy them)