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2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Review: More Muscle and Dressed in a Tux

Auto123 reviews the 2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature, the tuxedoed version of the Japanese mass-market brand’s entry in the competitive compact SUV segment

See our Review of the new diesel version of the 2019 Mazda CX-5

Given that the CX-5 is one of Mazda’s top-selling models here and globally, it’s no surprise to see the Japanese automaker give it some special TLC. For this year, Mazda’s big change was to add a new luxury-focused top-end edition to the product range: the 2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature. 

The feeling of upward mobility begins with the Nappa leather seating, increased power from under the hood and a comprehensive range of safety and comfort features. These complement the winning appearance of the Signature edition, which enhances the look of an already-attractive compact SUV, probably the best-looker in the segment.

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Photo: D.Boshouwers

An engaging exterior design with an interior to match 
If there’s one vehicle in the compact SUV segment that can credibly claim to deliver enough to poach budget-conscious fans of luxury models, it’s the CX-5 Signature. The model is, as mentioned, attractive, in good part due to its near-perfect proportions as well as that distinctive Mazda sloping front end. The headlights and front grille of the CX-5 further help it stand apart from the multitudes of other medium SUVs on the road. In the GT and Signature editions, the model rides on 19-inch wheels (you’ll find 17-inch wheels on the GX and GS versions).

The Signature is also distinguished by premium-quality materials throughout the cabin; buyers get that Nappa leather for the seats, as well as black roof trim and Abachi wood accents. With the front seats getting a 10-way power-adjust function, it’s child play to find the perfect position for the comfortable seating.

Even the steering wheel gets high-quality leather and stitching; it’s also heated, and I loved that it didn’t take the duration of the average drive to warm up properly. This and other details make the CX-5 Signature from Mazda an ideal partner for surviving our Canadian winters. In fact the vehicles comes delivered not just with heated seats but also winter tires and Mazda’s i-Activ all-wheel0drive system.

Photo: D.Boshouwers

The data cluster is partially digital, and inside LED lighting bathes the interior coming from the vanity mirror, the ceiling and even the storage spaces. Details like this really help you feel distanced from the run-of-the-mill Mazda interior experience.

The automaker did its job in ensuring the cabin environment of the Signature edition can credibly rival that of luxury models, and in some cases even surpass it. Honestly, I felt more like I was sitting in, say, an entry-level BMW utility model than in a mass-market SUV. 

Also included this year finally, is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, as is a 10-speaker high-end Bose audio system that impressed the heck out of me when I tested a few favourite tunes on it. The infotainment screen is clear and well-displayed and the system is intuitive enough that you don’t need to pull out the owner’s manual to access the main functions. 

Photo: D.Boshouwers

That said, the system itself is slightly outdated when you look around at what else if being offered in the segment. It’s not obsolete, not yet, but we wouldn’t be surprised if that is an area of focus for Mazda for the next year’s changes; expect an update like the Mazda3’s system received with its last revision.

By the same token, I was mildly surprised to learn that Mazda didn’t include wireless recharging or a WiFi access point, both of which are increasingly widespread in new SUVs on the market. Maybe next year…

In terms of space, the whole family can fit easily into the CX-5 – as long as the family doesn’t include more than five members. Beyond that, consumers will have to climb up the product line to the CX-9. The seats in back are comfortable and can easily accommodate both adults and agitated children.

Photo: D.Boshouwers
Photo: D.Boshouwers

Those rear seats are 40/20 fold-down, which allows you to keep one seat for an occupant even as you pack in those three pairs of stilts or whatever other long objects you need to lug around.

Unsurprisingly, the Signature edition of the CX-5 includes virtually all of the safety and drive assist function you could think up, such as but not limited to blind spot monitor, rear transversal traffic alert, traction control and even traffic sign recognition. 

The mechanics
The Signature gets a boost in power over the more plebeian members of the CX-5 family thanks to a 2.5L turbo engine, already found in the Mazda6 sedan and the CX-9 SUV. It delivers 250 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque, helping to blot out the memory of the anemic powertrain that generates only 187 hp in the “regular” CX-5 models.

Photo: D.Boshouwers

The standard transmission for the CX-5 Signature is a 6-speed SKYACTIV-Drive automatic unit with manual mode. Also standard is the i-Activ all-wheel-drive system (it’s included as well in the GT, while the GX and GS come out of the factory be default with front-wheel drive). 

On the road
That increase in power is most welcome, because the regular CX-5 suffers from a lack of it. That said, this new powertrain didn’t particularly overwhelm me either. I still would like to see a more dynamic powertrain for this dynamic-looking SUV; this unit too often left me the impression it was gasping slightly for breath.

There's an asterisk to be added to this driving immpression, however. And that's because, since vehicles made available for test drives are generally in the possession of a different journalist every week, it's impossible to know for sure if the tank is holding regular or high-octane gasoline. And in fact, the official output of the 2.5L engine is 250 hp with Super gasoline, and only 227 with Regular...

In any case, it it’s certainly not a soulless drive you get especially when you activate Sport mode, which delivers better throttle response though it also induces more whining from under the hood as the engine holds gears longer as the RPM climb. The auto transmission is capable enough, although you can feel the occasional turbo lag. 

Photo: D.Boshouwers

In terms of handling, Mazda’s trademark nimbleness, agility and lightness is on hand to make the drive a satisfying one. The steering feels connected to the road and your hands and feet right along with it thanks to the good feedback it provides. You can thank the G-Vectoring Control system for that. The suspension has also been revised to reduce roll on curves.

I also took time to turn off that excellent audio system to ascertain the ride provided is sufficiently quiet, and it is. This kind of seemingly small detail shows once again that Mazda was not in the mood for compromise in developing this premium edition of one of its core models. 

The pricing
No way to escape it, all those upgrades and extras you get in the CX-5 Signature edition come at a price. While the other versions in the model’s product line range from $29,915 for the FWD GX (with transport and prep factored in) to $39,515 for the GT, when it comes to the Signature model, the price of entry is $43,015. This ain’t cheap, but in return you have yourself a well-equipped, solidly built vehicle that isn’t out of place sitting next to the base models  of equivalent-sized SUVs from BMW, Audi and others.

Photo: D.Boshouwers

Part of the reason for the CX-5’s ongoing success in recent years has been Mazda’s willingness to regularly tweak and update it to keep it up to snuff. Now, with this edition the company has shifted its focus to presenting a high-end product (remember that Mazda is almost alone in not having a luxury sub-brand like Lexus, Acura, Infiniti et al.) The CX-5 Signature is an honorable debut for the Signature line – more of which are on the way, be the way.

If I had to make a choice with the CX-5, the Signature is a worthy option. This is so especially if you’ve already decided that paying the price for the GT, trim just below it, is justified. From there, the $4,000 or so price difference is easily justified given the extra equipment and refinement level you get. 

Globally, the Mazda CX-5 has many fine qualities for the price attached, and that makes it hard to criticize. The model, by the way, won our latest 2020 award in its category. And, if $40,000 is not an insurmountable barrier for you when shopping for a compact SUV, if you don’t mind that the name fixed to the rear hatch doesn’t belong to a luxury brand, the Signature is a very, very tempting choice.

Photo: D.Boshouwers

We like

The high-end interior
Quiet ride
The boost in power over the regular CX-5
Nimble handling

We like less

Powertrain is still a little lacking in punch
The infotainement system is due for an update

The competition

Ford Escape
Honda CR-V
Hyundai Tucson
Kia Sportage
Nissan Rogue
Subaru Forester
Toyota RAV4
Volkswagen Tiguan

Read our Comparison of the 2019 Mazda CX-5 vs the 2019 Toyota RAV4

Photo: D.Boshouwers
Photo: D.Boshouwers
Photo: D.Boshouwers