2020 Mazda CX-5 Signature Review: Turbo Torque Stirs the Soul (Red Crystal)

Mention “Mazda” to any car person and they’ll likely think of the MX-5 Miata right away. Those in the motorsports world certainly do – Miatas are everywhere, between autocross and the ever-popular Spec Miata racing class of both NASA and the SCCA. It should come as no surprise, then, that when motorsport enthusiasts and participants need a five-passenger crossover, they also think of Mazda.

The Mazda CX-5 launched in 2013 and was a hit from day one. Mazda introduced the second, and current, generation of CX-5 in 2017. But the big news for the 2020 Mazda CX-5 is something that’s historically a bit un-Mazda – a torque-monster of a turbocharged engine.

What Is It?

This is a 2020 Mazda CX-5 Signature, the top trim level offered this year. My tester was painted Mazda’s now-signature, ever-opulent Soul Red Crystal, paired to a far-too-dark Carturra Brown Nappa leather interior.

While the lower-spec 2020 Mazda CX-5 trims soldier on with the 2.5 liter, naturally-aspirated four-cylinder making a fine-but-not-wild 187 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque, Mazda has fitted a new turbocharged variant of the same 2.5 liter four to the Grand Touring Reserve and Signature trim levels. This turbocharged Skyactiv-G engine produces 250 horsepower and a staggering 310 lb-ft of torque. It’s also very technically interesting, which we’ll get to in a bit.

Every 2020 Mazda CX-5 pushes its power through a six-speed automatic transmission, and every turbo CX-5 is equipped with Mazda’s excellent iActiv all-wheel drive system. With all that torque, that’s a good thing.

The CX-5 Signature doesn’t have many options to speak of, and my tester had two of them added to the Monroney – Soul Red Crystal paint costs $595 and a rear bumper guard another $125. MSRP for this turbocharged 2020 Mazda CX-5 Signature is $38,820.

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Turbo Talk: The 2020 Mazda CX-5 Signature’s Party Piece

I’d normally start with “Driving the CX-5” and then “Something Else Interesting” but frankly, the most interesting piece of the 2020 CX-5 Signature is what makes it move in the first place, the turbocharger.

Go to the CX-5’s website and you’ll notice that Mazda leads with torque. That’s not a mistake. Though known for revvy, zesty engines in other applications, this 2.5L Skyactiv-G turbo four makes all that torque at 2,500 rpm. Left to its own devices at full throttle, the transmission shifts around 5,500 rpm, just a bit higher than the engine’s power peak of 5,000.

Mazda sought to make the turbocharged CX-5 as snappy as possible in normal driving, and used two tricks to make it happen. Mazda employs a valve that changes the size of the exhaust ports sending air to the turbo’s turbine depending on engine speed. Using a valve like this prevents turbo lag when the driver calls for more juice.

The Skyactiv-G turbo also uses an Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) cooler, usually found in diesel trucks. The EGR cooler works to cool exhaust gases that flow through the turbo, which keeps internal engine temperatures down. This allows for a 10.5:1 compression ratio and – more importantly for consumers – better real-world fuel economy. On a 300-mile highway drive, I managed nearly 30 miles per gallon.

In an interview with Automobile Magazine, Mazda claims the engine is designed to spend most of its life below 3,000 rpm. Behind the wheel, that claim is backed up with a near-instant shove of torque and very little drama, even under hard acceleration. The torquey engine works well with the six-speed automatic and doesn’t need more gear ratios to help it along. Good as iActiv AWD is, I had to chuckle when leaving stoplights with my right foot planed – the CX-5 exhibited the cutest bit of torque steer.

Thanks to the torque delivery, it’s easy to jump ahead of traffic when leaving a stoplight or pull out to pass on the highway. The CX-5 Signature doesn’t feel “fast” per se, but pulls to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds, almost deceptive in its low-revving quickness. This is one instance where calling a gas-powered turbo engine “diesel-like” is accurate, not just a tired analogy. And it’s wonderful.

The Rest of the 2020 Mazda CX-5 Signature

Mazda’s tagline used to be “Zoom Zoom.” Those free-spirited, high-revving days of RX-8s and Mazdaspeeds are seemingly long gone, replaced by a more luxury-first approach. The “Feel Alive” slogan was printed in a less saucy, more staid font on my tester’s license plate frame.

Striving to be one of the nicest “mainstream” brands has been challenging, though Mazda pulls it off well in the CX-5 Signature. Nappa leather and real wood trim were tastefully applied. Buttons and dials had a solid feel and doors a nice heft. Everything was well-appointed with nice attention to detail, and certainly felt very premium.

There were a few downers, as with anything. The Bose audio system was above average but not a standout. Mazda uses an older, slower Mazda Connect infotainment system in the CX-5, and would benefit from upgrading the unit to the newer system I experienced in the 2019 Mazda3 late last year.

All Zoom Zoom hope is not lost, however. The chassis that underpins the CX-5 is truly phenomenal, and allows the crossover to be, well, flung through empty off-ramps at surprising and mildly hilarious speed. Ride quality is well-balanced, with springs and dampers providing good road feel but no crashing over bumps. The electric power steering has an odd transition from parking-lot speed to road speed, but provides confidence-inspiring feel on the move.

High-Torque and High-Value

We all know the compact five-passenger crossover segment is rife with competition. Mazda is playing to an interesting tune with the CX-5 Signature. It’s got the usual packaging and technology expected from nearly everyone now, but with a driver-oriented, details-sweated vibe typically found more in luxury brands.

And of course, there’s just enough of that Zoom Zoom soul hidden under the bodywork to keep things interesting.

2020 Mazda CX-5 Signature front

1 thought on “2020 Mazda CX-5 Signature Review: Turbo Torque Stirs the Soul (Red Crystal)”

  1. I like that Mazda still feels like “Driving Matters” (from one of their recent ad campaigns) and this is a pretty good example of that. Some soul and personality – and I’m not just talking about that red paint. Nice write-up!


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