More Than Minivans: Diving Into Mazda Via the 2017 CX-5 and MX-5 Miata

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The 2017 CX-5.

San Diego and its environs are beautiful, but my previous experience of the area was at the significantly less beautiful Comic Con. The event Mazda invited me to was a wonderful change of pace, as it felt like the opposite of Comic Con in every good way possible.

It was a fun and exhilarating opportunity to drive around the area north of the city in shiny brand-new Mazdas. It was also a great pleasure to relax at the five-diamond Rancho Valencia Resort, which (among other things) has groves of citrus fruit trees on property and guest bathrooms that are literally (and I mean it) the size of the entire room I stayed in in New York for Toy Fair back in February.

Before the test drives, Mazda gave the group an overview of the company’s history and plans for the future. I learned that Mazda began its existence as a cork manufacturer in 1920 in Hiroshima, Japan, and expanded to equipment manufacture in the 1930s. The company was destroyed in the atomic bombing of the city in 1945, but rose from its ashes and proved it was a company that really could survive anything.

I had known that Mazda had been around for quite a while as a company, but I hadn’t realized its connection to the Hiroshima bombing, so I found the presentation fascinating. It was also very interesting to hear about how Mazda sees itself fitting into the industry: Rather than throw all their effort into expanding their customer base, they work hardest at growing and nurturing the brand loyalty of the customers they already have. This is a concept I hadn’t been aware was represented in the auto industry, so it was refreshing to have them emphasize quality over quantity – and to have the numbers to back them up.

The author with the fun and beautiful MX-5 Miata RF.

Now, regarding the test drives… The CX-5 is Mazda’s crossover model, and the MX-5 Miata RF is, of course, a sports car. I’m not going to lie and tell you that the CX-5 was as much fun to drive as the Miata, but both drives were great. I’ve had limited experience driving sports cars, and until this trip no experience at all driving a convertible, so I had a blast on the MX-5 Miata drive, and would likely have had even more of one if the car I was in had been manual instead of automatic.

It’s a sleek, beautiful car and I would love to own one, but this is a family-oriented blog and an MX-5 Miata RF is not (by design, obviously) a practical family car.

The CX-5, on the other hand, would make an excellent family vehicle.

In my family, we had a Mazda 5 for six years, and it was a good, solid choice for safety, economy, and durability; but the 5 was discontinued after the 2015 model year. The CX-5 is a new model for 2017, and it combines the solid practicality typical of a crossover with just enough fun to keep you from getting too bored. It has sleek lines – particularly the “Sport” edition, of course – and it has all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a modern car. The blind-spot monitoring worked perfectly, the reverse camera was sharp, and the stereo produced a clean, crisp sound. The Bluetooth phone/entertainment is mostly controlled via a knob in the center console behind the gear-shift, and is reasonably intuitive and more importantly, not very distracting (this was also true in the MX-5). The CX-5 will give you power when you need it, but has gas mileage that won’t lighten your wallet too much.

On the whole, I thought both vehicles were pretty, solid, and responsive. I would love to own a MX-5 Miata RF, but that might have to wait for my mid-life crisis after my kids leave for college. Much more realistically, I would love to own a CX-5 for day-to-day commuting, shopping, and driving my kids here and there.

A view of the cocktail party setup.

Mazda’s other models were presented to the group at the event at a lovely cocktail party complete with a ramen bar and a poke bar, which I enjoyed as I’d heard about poke but had never actually tried it. There was also sushi, of course, because based on my experience it might as well be illegal to host a party in California without at least one plate of sushi.

The CX-5‘s Sport edition base price is $24,045; the Grand Touring edition’s is $29,395. The MX-5 Miata RF‘s lowest base price is $31,555. For more information, take a look at Mazda’s full 2017 and 2018 U.S. lineups, with the various breakdowns of model versions, accessories, etc.

Disclosure: Mazda flew me to San Diego, put me up at an amazing resort, and fed me delicious food and a few cocktails. The opinions expressed here are, nonetheless, my own.

Photos: Matt Blum

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