Review: Mazda CX-5 Diesel Crossover Makes a Premium Play

September 12, 2019 by Jerry Hirsch, @Jerryhirsch

Despite vast technological improvements and a fuel economy advantage over gasoline, diesel engines have largely failed to attract U.S. passenger car consumers. Mazda wants to change that with its new 2019 CX-5 Diesel crossover.

The current version of Mazda’s CX-5 crossover is the favorite compact SUV at Trucks.com. It’s a bit smaller than the competent Honda CR-V or the popular Toyota RAV4. But it offers a sporty, satisfying drive that’s hard to find in crossovers not made by German luxury nameplates.

Mazda says the strategy behind introducing its diesel engine to the U.S. market is twofold. The Japanese automaker sees diesel sedans and crossovers as a premium play. Remember, German automakers dominated the diesel passenger vehicle market in the U.S. until Volkswagen got caught cheating on emissions tests in 2015. Mazda wants to provide more engine options to its fans and capture the diesel enthusiasts that remain.

Mazda CX-5 diesel

Mazda is introducing the diesel CX-5 because the Japanese automaker believes there’s a U.S. market for diesel’s premium experience. (Photo: Jerry Hirsch/Trucks.com)

THE LURE

Its lure is a four-cylinder, 2.2-liter turbodiesel engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. It produces 168 horsepower and 290 pound-feet of torque. The crossover has a towing capacity of 3,500 pounds. Mazda says the vehicle has a top speed of 124 mph and 0 to 60 mph in 9.6 seconds. The cost is $41,000 before a $1,045 destination fee. Jet Black Mica is the standard color. But the Soul Red Crystal paint, a $595 option, shimmers with elegance.

The diesel is EPA-rated at 30 mpg in highway driving, 27 in the city and 27 combined. Mazda also sells CX-5s with a turbo gas engine and a naturally aspirated gas engine. The latter’s fuel economy is almost as good as the diesel model’s. The EPA rates it at 30 mpg on the highway, 24 in the city and 26 combined.

The diesel provides just 30 miles of increased range over the regular gas engine and 61 miles more than the turbo gas engine model. The EPA estimates that drivers of the diesel model will spend about the same or perhaps $100 more annually in fuel compared with the other versions of the CX-5.

Mazda CX-5 diesel

The Mazda CX-5 diesel includes a prepaid maintenance plan for two years or 30,000 miles. (Photo: Jerry Hirsch/Trucks.com)

THE PITCH

But Mazda isn’t pitching the diesel as a fuel economy, range or towing play. Instead, the company believes there’s demand among U.S. consumers for the premium driving experience diesel engines provide. Volkswagen made that same argument and was the leading purveyor of diesel sedans in the U.S. until it was caught cheating. It scuttled diesel sales in the U.S. and is about to launch a line of electric vehicles. General Motors, Mercedes-Benz and others also have bailed on diesel passenger vehicles. But diesel engines are still common in pickups and heavy-duty trucks because of their towing capacity and fuel economy.

The Japanese automaker is working to repair diesel’s reputation among U.S. consumers.

“Mazda had worked closely with all proper federal and state agencies such as the California Air Resources Board and the Environmental Protection Agency, to ensure that the 2019 CX-5 Signature Skyactiv-D passes all appropriate regulations,” the company said in a statement.

Caturra Brown Nappa leather seats, wood trim and satin chrome accents

The diesel Mazda CX-5 does 0 to 60 mph in 9.6 seconds. (Photo: Mazda)

THE PROMISE

The automaker also promises that the vehicle has sporty, satisfying driving dynamics, including the high-torque feel that’s characteristic of a diesel engine. More than 600 miles of driving the diesel from Southern California to the Central Coast wine country and back proved that to be the case.

The diesel CX-5 offers a sense of controlled power. The handling is excellent on twisty mountain roads. It holds firmly to the roadway and avoids the body roll one would feel on a Toyota RAV4 or Nissan Rogue.

The big question, given there’s only a small advantage in fuel economy, is if buyers will pay at least a $4,000 premium for the driving experience.

THE PRICE

The $41,000 price of the 2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature with the Skyactiv-D 2.2 diesel engine reaches close to the premium market. One note: This is the only CX-5 that includes a prepaid maintenance plan for two years or 30,000 miles. The Acura RDX has a lower starting price. But a similarly equipped model will be just a touch higher than the Mazda. The Acura only has a gas engine. The gas-only Lexus NX 300 also is in the same price range.

A similarly equipped CX-5 with a normally aspirated gasoline engine is about $34,000. The model with the beefier 2.5-liter gasoline turbo engine is approximately $37,000. None of those prices include the $1,045 destination fee.

The Mazda’s interior has luxury features. It offers Caturra Brown Nappa leather seats, wood trim and satin chrome accents. There is ambient interior LED lighting and a heads-up display. These are features one would expect in a premium model. The CX-5 comes equipped with a full suite of driver-assistance and safety features such as automatic emergency braking and hill-launch assist.

The engine is quiet. Mazda uses a pressure wave cancellation system and piston wrist pins inside the engine to nullify much of the noise. This is especially noticeable at speed. Drivers hear a bit of characteristic diesel engine chatter accelerating from a stop. But the vehicle quiets and settles as it starts to cruise. It’s a pleasant feeling. And it’s easy to listen to music or have a conversation.

Mazda has produced a fun-to-drive, upscale version of an already excellent compact crossover. It adds another choice to an outstanding lineup. The unanswered question is whether the automaker can find enough consumers who want a diesel engine and are willing to venture into the near-luxury price bracket for the privilege.

Jerry Hirsch August 19, 2019
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