Consumers are clamoring for Mazda’s small crossover. In the first four months of the year, Mazda sold more CX-5 crossovers than all other vehicles in its lineup combined. Although it stands out for its balance between interior space and on-the-road maneuverability, the CX-5 isn’t the only vehicle buyers should consider from the brand. Newly refreshed, the Mazda6 is another strong contender, particularly now that it offers a 2.5-liter turbo engine. So which one should you pick: the chart-topping crossover or the often-overlooked sedan?
Acceleration Advantage: Mazda6
This probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but the newly updated sedan dominates this category. In our tests, the turbocharged Mazda6 2.5T in Signature form took 6.4 seconds to reach 60 mph. It took 8.3 seconds for an all-wheel-drive CX-5 to hit the same mark. When the Grand Touring trim of the Mazda6 was offered with a 184-hp, naturally aspirated 2.5-liter I-4, that 2016 model hit 60 mph in 7.9 seconds.
The 2018 Mazda6 Grand Touring and above trims are powered by a 2.5-liter inline-four good for 227 hp on 87 octane fuel, or 250 hp on 93 octane fuel. Providing extra quickness off the line, torque comes in at a strong 310 lb-ft at 2,000 rpm. This powertrain, new for the 2018 model year, is an optional upgrade from the standard naturally aspirated 2.5-liter engine that produces 187 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque. You’ll find this less powerful engine on all versions of the Mazda CX-5.
Cargo Advantage: CX-5
The Mazda6 offers 14.7 cubic feet of trunk space, while the CX-5 delivers 30.9 cubic feet with the rear seatback up. Drivers can fold the sedan’s seats down in a 60/40 configuration, while the CX-5 seats boast a 40/20/40 configuration for more flexibility.
Fuel Economy Advantage: Mazda6
The CX-5 is the more efficient vehicle, at least according to the EPA. Although the Mazda6 2.5T is rated 23/31/26 mpg city/highway/combined, the CX-5 comes out at 25/31/28 with front-wheel drive or 24/30/26 with all-wheel drive.
In our EQUA Real MPG tests, however, we found the Mazda6 is actually more efficient. A front-wheel-drive Signature model completed the test at 22.9/33.9/26.8 mpg, slightly better than the EPA rating. But fuel economy on our all-wheel-drive CX-5 long termer was disappointing. It scored just 19.7/31.2/23.6 mpg.
Handling/Ride Quality Advantage: Mazda6
The Mazda6 is among the best handling vehicles in its segment. So is the CX-5 in its respective category. But if we had to compare the two of them together, the sedan wins (stay tuned for our 2018 Mazda6 First Test).
You can feel it on the road, but the results of our figure-eight tests confirm this perception. The Mazda6 rounded the curves in 26.7 seconds at an average of 0.68 g, and our long-term CX-5 ran the course in 28 seconds at 0.59 g.
In terms of ride quality, the Mazda6 reigns victorious, largely because it’s lower to the ground. You can feel bumps in the road a little more clearly in the CX-5, although ride quality has improved from the previous model.
Passenger Space Advantage: CX-5
You’ll likely find the CX-5’s cabin of the slightly roomier than the Mazda6’s. Headroom in the CX-5 measures in at 39.7 inches up front and 39.0 in the back, compared to 38.4 and 37.1 inches, respectively, for the Mazda6. The CX-5 boasts front shoulder room of 57.1 inches instead of 55.9 inches in the Mazda6, but rear shoulder room is 54.8 inches in the CX-5 and a superior 55.1 inches in the sedan. The CX-5 has better rear legroom (39.6 inches instead of 38.7) but worse front legroom (41 inches vs. 42.2).
Safety Advantage: Tie
Both vehicles offer a strong suite of safety features. Low-speed brake support and blind-spot monitoring are standard on both models, and you can get lane departure warning and lane keep assist on CX-5 Touring models and above; these safety features are standard on the Mazda6 Grand Touring and above.
The Mazda6 earns an overall five-star rating from NHTSA, and the CX-5 receives a four-star overall rating. In tests conducted by IIHS, both vehicles earned Good scores on all crash categories, including small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraints & seats. The vehicles also have Superior ratings in front crash prevention technology. The CX-5’s headlights are deemed Acceptable, but IIHS doesn’t list a headlight rating for the Mazda6.
Interior Design Advantage: Mazda6
The 2018 Mazda6 has received such a complete refresh that it’s almost a new model. Inside the cabin, only the steering wheel and minor trim pieces carry over. It features a new, less bulky dashboard design. Instead of an array of buttons, there’s one clean row. The way this row is positioned opens up a nice big storage cubby underneath. The top-level Signature model is particularly plush with available brown Nappa leather, UltraSuede, and Japanese Sen wood on the seats, doors, and dashboard.
The CX-5 also has a nice interior, but it looks slightly older in comparison with the more recently updated Mazda6. If an updated 2019 CX-5 makes its debut with a Signature model, however, it could elevate itself to the same level as the new 2018 Mazda6 Signature model that carries a slightly higher price than any currently available CX-5.
All-Weather Advantage: CX-5
Although neither vehicle would be considered rugged, the CX-5 boasts a few advantages over the Mazda6 when it comes to dealing with Mother Nature. The crossover offers all-wheel drive in addition to front-wheel drive, whereas the sedan is available in front-wheel drive only. The CX-5 also has an extra inch of ground clearance at 7.5 inches.
Price Advantage: Tie
A base Mazda6 costs $22,840, but opting for the turbo engine brings the price up to at least $30,090 because you must spring for the Grand Touring or above trim. The CX-5 starts at $25,125, and the top-level Grand Touring model goes for $30,620.
You’re in for a thrill with either one of these vehicles because they both benefit from responsive steering and a solid ride. The Mazda6 with the turbo engine has the clear leg up when it comes to acceleration, but the CX-5 is the more suitable choice for those who want extra cargo space, a more commanding ride height, or all-wheel drive.