Mazda’s ethos is to blend sports-car know-how into every model, and the 2018 Mazda CX-5 is no exception. Sharp steering and a poised chassis make it the enthusiast’s pick. A 155-hp 2.0-liter four, six-speed manual, and front-wheel drive are standard; a 184-hp 2.5-liter four is optional, with six-speed auto and all-wheel drive. The smart cabin, easy-to-use infotainment, and optional safety tech—adaptive cruise, automated emergency braking, and more—underscore the CX-5’s great all-rounder standing.
The 2018 Mazda CX-5 was officially our favorite compact crossover until a few months ago when the latest Honda CR-V swooped in and stole our inaugural 10Best Trucks and SUVs award for the category. Even in its old age, the Mazda gave the more refined and practical Honda a run for our votes for the 10Best compact crossover prize, however—that’s how fun it is to drive. Now Mazda has redesigned the CX-5, adding refinement to the suspension, gifting the CUV more technology, and installing a classier, more practical interior, addressing the few areas that we had noted could use improvement in the outgoing model. Game on.
But It’s the Same, Right?
With more or less the same pentagon-shaped grille, swept-back headlights, and athletic proportions as before, the 2018 Mazda CX-5 might not seem all that different to the casual observer. Look closer, and Mazda tightened up the headlights into slimmer, squintier shapes, canted the grille forward slightly, and gave the rear fenders a more pronounced shoulderlike appearance. Everything you see and touch is new inside and out, even if a heavily revised version of the old CX-5’s architecture lurks underneath.
Mazda stiffened the CX-5’s structure by 15 percent and added a rash of new sound-attenuating measures: extra seals for the doors and additional absorption material to quiet the cabin at speed and reduce impact noise over bumps, both among our quibbles with the old 2018 Mazda CX-5. The underbody paneling was expanded to cover more of the chassis and now is made of a sound-insulating feltlike material. Elements of the cargo-area trim similarly underwent a switch from hard plastic to carpeted pieces to reduce noise reverberation throughout the interior, and the windshield is thicker. We could outline every last highly detail-oriented measure Mazda took to silence the smallest noises (there are many), but we’ll just give the result: The car seems notably quieter. To be fair, the previous CX-5 set the bar low enough in this regard that the model now is merely in line with the segment average. (We’ll know more precisely when we measure noise levels ourselves.)
What remains above the segment standard is the way the 2018 Mazda CX-5 moves down the road. Mazda told us the goal in tuning the new CX-5’s suspension was for it to match the old one’s athleticism. Where many other crossovers lean and flop, the Mazda carves a cleaner path with well-controlled body movements and genuinely sprightly handling. Keen to smooth out a ride that was previously on the firm side, Mazda says it now allows softer initial bump and body-roll compliance from the front dampers by reducing the units’ friction. It also fits hydraulic bushings to the front lower suspension arms. Both tweaks introduce a newfound suppleness to the 2018 Mazda CX-5 ride quality, with the wheels cycling quickly over or into lumps and cracks in the road without tossing the body around.