by Chris Chase
As a compact crossover SUV, the Mazda CX-5 is one of a number of such vehicles competing for buyers who want comfortable and practical transportation. What helps this Mazda utility stand out is a diesel-engine option the company added late in the 2019 model year.
Dubbed SkyActiv-D, the engine came along about four years after Volkswagen made headlines for its diesel emissions transgressions. It also arrived around the same time as carmakers like Chevrolet, GMC and BMW stopped offering diesel motors in their compact crossover models, and a year after Hyundai cancelled its plan for a diesel Santa Fe.
By our count, the only other SUV brand that sells a diesel is Land Rover (predictably, at a much higher price). That gives Mazda the entire market for entry-level diesel SUVs to itself. In theory, that’s a good thing. In practice, we have to wonder how much demand remains for diesels.
Mazda CX-5 diesel availability and pricing
The Land Rover comparison is a bit of a stretch, price-wise. Mazda limits the diesel to the CX-5’s top-end Signature trim level, to which it adds $5,000, for a total of $45,950, while the least expensive Land Rover diesel is the $68,400 Discovery.
Notably, that Mazda’s price is for the 2019 model, as Mazda has not yet made the diesel available in the 2020 CX-5.
The CX-5 Signature is a nicely equipped vehicle, with heated and ventilated front seats, Nappa leather upholstery, 19-inch wheels, navigation, dual-zone climate control, power tailgate, and a full suite of active safety features, among other items.
Power and performance – diesel versus turbo
We took the opportunity to test a CX-5 diesel back-to-back with one powered by the Signature trim’s standard turbocharged gasoline engine. Both engines boast lots of torque — 290 lb-ft in the diesel and 320 lb-ft for the turbo — but the gas turbo’s 250 hp is a big bonus over the diesel’s 168.
Both engines are quick to move from a stop, thanks to all that torque, but the gas motor’s extra horsepower quickly takes over for stronger acceleration. The diesel’s performance feels similar to that of the CX-5’s entry-level non-turbo engine with its 187 hp and 186 lb-ft.
Like the CX-5 Turbo, the diesel is standard with AWD and comes with a six-speed automatic transmission.
Fuel economy – diesel versus turbo
Mazda’s fuel consumption estimates for the CX-5 diesel are 8.9/7.9 L/100 km (city/highway), making it the most efficient version of this small crossover. The base model’s ratings (with optional AWD) are 10.2/8.2 L/100 km, and the turbo with its standard AWD is estimated at 10.8/8.7.
In our first week, the CX-5 Turbo averaged 12.6 L/100 km, and the following week, our average in the diesel was 8.3 L/100 km. That’s not a precise comparison because of different driving patterns and weather conditions. Our educated guess is the diesel would have averaged a bit less than 10.0 L/100 km in driving and weather identical to our week in the turbo.
Other CX-5 driving impressions
The Mazda CX-5 is among the more entertaining drives in its class, with its responsive steering and drivetrain. Its sharp handling reminds us of more expensive German crossovers and, no matter the engine, its transmission responds quickly when it’s time to accelerate. In the turbo, a sport mode enhances those engine and transmission responses, but the diesel doesn’t have that feature.
Mazda CX-5 interior comfort and technology
Aside from the firm ride, our only major complaint about the CX-5 is the wide door sills. They require a long step up and over to get into the front seats, a maneuver complicated by rubber all-weather floor mats (in both of our testers) that get slippery when they’re wet. The CX-5 is also less roomy inside than many of its closest competitors.
In our CX-5 diesel, the infotainment system occasionally failed to boot up when we started the car, and the only fix was to turn the car off and back on again, computer-style. The infotainment system is also one of the main differences between the 2019 diesel and the 2020 Turbo we drove: the 2020 CX-5 has a larger, 8.0-inch screen, while the 2019’s is a 7.0-inch display.
Other minor quibbles include climate controls that are a bit low on the dash to be an easy reach for all drivers.
On the whole, however, the CX-5’s cabin is nicely crafted, offering useful space for four adults and controls that are easy to use. We like the infotainment system’s rotary controller, which eliminates the tricky task of using a touchscreen while the car is moving.
Any way you order it, the Mazda CX-5 is a well-done small SUV. We’d argue the diesel is an attractive option for its low-end torque and strong fuel economy.
However, it’s less appealing when considering its $5,000 cost: A CX-5 GT with the standard 2.5L non-turbo engine comes with most of the same upscale features, boasts similar acceleration performance on cheaper fuel, and challenges the diesel in the economy arena.
We certainly wouldn’t fault you for choosing the CX-5 diesel, but make sure what it brings to the table is worth the extra cost for you.
Mazda CX-5 Signature
Vehicle category: Compact SUV/crossover
Engine: 2.5L four-cylinder gasoline, turbocharged; 250 hp, 320 lb-ft torque
2.2L four-cylinder diesel, turbocharged; 168 hp, 290 lb-ft torque
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Notable standard features (GX trim; MSRP: $27,950): LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers, 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen, electric parking brake, push-button start, heated front seats, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and city speed automatic braking.
Notable standard features (Signature trim, as tested; MSRP: $40,950 (2019); $41,900 (2020)): Front wiper de-icer, heated leather-trimmed steering wheel, radar cruise control with stop-and-go, forward collision warning with automatic braking, lane departure warning with lane keep assist and automatic high beams, 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen, automatic dual-zone climate control, passive keyless entry, power-folding side mirrors, 10-speaker stereo, navigation, passive keyless entry, leather upholstery, 10-way electric driver’s seat and six-way electric front passenger seat, adaptive headlights, traffic sign recognition, frameless rearview mirror, LED interior lighting, Nappa leather upholstery and a 7.0-inch digital gauge cluster display.
Fuel economy, ratings (l/100km, city/highway): 10.8/8.7 (2.5L turbo gasoline)
8.9/7.9 (2.2L turbodiesel)
Fuel economy, observed (l/100km): 12.6 (2.5L turbo gasoline)