A red 2022 Mazda CX-5 is shown driving on a city street at night.

Here’s Why Automotive Journalists Are Crazy In Love With The Mazda CX-5

It’s not often that a bunch of journalists agree on something, and that’s especially true among car reporters. The range of opinions on any given model swings in all directions, leaving buyers to wonder which one they should trust. One exception is the 2022 Mazda CX-5. When it comes to this compact crossover, 99 percent of journalists agree: it’s the best compact crossover on the market, period.

What makes the CX-5 immune to bad reviews? Performance, mostly. Followed by a near-luxury cabin that defies its price point. As for the former, the CX-5’s agile handling and ample horsepower even caused the ever-stoic J.D. Power to depart from its understated vernacular and call it “frisky.” This highlights what the CX-5 does differently from other vehicles in the segment, namely, prioritizing driver-centric features over pure practicality.

Is the CX-5 still practical? Yes. But more importantly, it’s very fun to drive. For 2022, all CX-5 trims receive standard all-wheel drive, making shopping more about powertrains and interior appointments. This is a crossover with category-defying features, yet it remains affordable for budget-minded buyers. Mazda got it right with the CX-5, and here’s exactly why.

Reason #1 – It’s Different

In a sea of crossover sameness, the 2022 Mazda CX-5 hints at a different formula. Your first clue is its punchy styling, with small departures from the standard egg-shaped compact combining to create a unique curb profile. Also, Mazda offers the CX-5 in eight trims, which is on the high side, but there’s a great deal of logic behind the lineup. First, Mazda keeps the CX-5 affordable on the low end. That’s important for first-timers and for gaining market share.

The second-generation CX-5 launched only a few years ago as a 2017 model, and the 2022 model year is a refresh for this generation. In addition to some minor styling tweaks, Mazda refined the CX-5’s suspension and frame, making the cabin even quieter and the vehicle less susceptible to road vibrations. Softening the ride didn’t come at the expense of driver-oriented handling, though, so the CX-5 retains its core point of difference: spirited performance.

Contrast that to other contenders like the Honda CR-V and the Nissan Rogue. Both crossovers lead with the same formulaic value proposition: practicality, cargo capacity, and fuel economy. Will buyers find a hybrid CX-5? No, but it doesn’t mean they can’t find a trim with competitive fuel economy ratings. Ditto for safety. The IIHS bestowed a Top Safety Pick+ rating on the 2022 Mazda CX-5, thanks in part to a robust suite of driver-assist technology available on all trims.

Car and Driver calls the 2022 CX-5 “transcendent” and makes no attempt to hide its very strong conviction that Mazda’s popular compact crossover “simply outpace[s] all of its classmates.” It even made the magazine’s prestigious 2022 Editor’s Choice list. Given the eight-trim lineup, the affordable mid-$20,000 starting price, and the CX-5’s agile handling and performance features, to say it’s the luxe Caramel Dulce de Leche in a sea of vanilla alternatives is an understatement.

A person is shown securing a bike to the roof rack of a black 2022 Mazda CX-5 in the rain.

Reason #2 – It’s Powerful

Mazda’s next CX-5 marketing tagline should read, Don’t Worry…The Boring Practical Stuff is All There: You Just Can’t See It, because this vehicle performs so well and is priced so affordably that buyers might wonder what the catch is. Well, there is no catch, other than less cargo volume than some of its rivals. Most buyers won’t really notice that since they’ll be too busy beating CR-Vs and RAV4s off the line.

Performance comes by way of two available powertrains––a standard 2.5-liter 187-horsepower four-cylinder and a powerful turbocharged version of the same engine capable of achieving up to 256 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque. The latter gives drivers access to tons of low-end torque, translating to brisk acceleration with extra ponies to spare. Both engines are mated to a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission, and since all trims receive AWD standard, bad weather driving is a breeze.

For 2022, Mazda adds Mazda Intelligent Drive Select (Mi-Drive), a series of selectable drive modes that subtly change driving dynamics to tailor the ride. Three modes––Normal, Sport, and Off-Road––dial in adjusted torque and throttle responses but do so subtly, so transitioning is more seamless. After all, drive modes should enhance the ride, not transform it. An available Towing mode kicks in only if the system senses a trailer is hooked up.

Part and parcel of a well-engineered performance vehicle is a stiff frame and a track-inspired suspension tuned to offer just enough protection from uneven road surfaces but not so much that handling is dampened. Somehow, Mazda engineers achieved all of that on the 2022 CX-5. Coupled with standard AWD and the new selectable Mi-Drive system, these upgrades result in noticeable ride handling improvements. In short, the CX-5 is simply more fun to drive than 99.9 percent of its competitors.

Reason #3 – It’s Luxurious

The best way to understand the 2022 CX-5’s level of luxury is a deep dive into the high-end 2.5 Turbo Signature trim. This version has it all, from the more powerful engine to a smattering of high-end luxury cabin appointments and even a few unexpected goodies buyers will love. You won’t find too many compact crossovers with LED illuminated visor vanity mirrors, but the CX-5 2.5 Turbo Signature has them––as well as LED roof and cargo area lighting.

Also standard on the top-end CX-5 is Caturra Brown Nappa leather seating, a feature not typically seen outside the premium luxury category. Authentic wood trim adorns the dash, contributing even more to the upscale cabin vibe. Audio comes by way of a 10-speaker Bose system with surround sound, and Mazda simplifies smartphone integration with a 10.25-inch infotainment touchscreen, a wireless charging pad, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity.

By contrast, the high-end Honda CR-V Touring sticks to basic leather seats and faux wood accents, a 9-speaker no-name audio system, and a paltry 7-inch touchscreen. The latter is particularly confusing. Honda’s decision to stick with a seriously undersized screen seems counter to consumer preference for next-gen technology. Honda gave the redesigned 2022 Civic an optional 9-inch screen, which makes the CR-V’s offering even more baffling.

The surest path to affordable luxury lies within the CX-5 lineup. Though other compact crossovers can deliver more cargo space and slightly less expensive base models, the 2022 Mazda CX-5 stands alone as the most elegant and refined near-luxury option. Not only that, but it’s far more powerful than its rivals and receives praise for precise, agile handling not commonly seen in a crossover that didn’t come from a German luxury brand.

A person is shown from the driver side while driving a 2022 Mazda CX-5.

Changing the Compact Crossover Formula

What’s the secret to the Mazda CX-5’s success? It’s a reordering of sorts, as Mazda prioritizes handling and performance over the more sedate and practical features crossover buyers have come to expect. It’s not that the CX-5 isn’t practical––it’s practical from every angle, be it safety, fuel economy, or passenger volume; it’s just packaged with more fit and finish––a certain je ne sais quoi discerning buyers will recognize.

In a nutshell, here’s what’s different: Mazda gave the CX-5 a personality. It’s sophisticated yet agile. Poised in a way that’s unexpected for any crossover, let alone one in this size category and at this price point. The diverse lineup means it’s the buyer’s choice for fit and finish, powertrain, and technology. If budget allows, there is no better option than the luxurious and powerful CX-5 to eradicate boredom from your crossover ownership experience.