COAL: 2015 Mazda CX-5 – “My Number One Recommendation”

Not our car but could be.


Sometimes we think we know what we want and spend a lot of time focused on getting that specific thing. We strike out and end up with a different choice that in the end, is actually the better choice. This happens to be one of those cases.


From 2018 to the summer of 2019, my girlfriend and now wife and I were doing long-distance dating between Chicagoland and Holland, MI. We both were putting a lot of miles driving to see each other. At the time, my wife was driving a 2005 Chevy Caviler. When we met and I found out she was driving a Caviler, I knew I must do my automotive diligence in getting her out of the Caviler. In the fall of 2018, I suggested to my wife that she start saving for a newer car. She had purchased the Cavalier a couple of years before from an older couple who bought it new and pulled it behind their motorhome. As far as Cavalier’s go, it was pretty nice, but cancer had rotted away the rocker panels and the car had a thirst for Dex-Cool. By the spring of 2019, she was ready to make her purchase.

My wife had zero ideas about what type of car she would want. Because my Mazda ownership was so positive, I steered her towards the Mazda brand. We stopped by a local used car dealership and test-drove a late model Mazda3 sedan with a 2.0L and 6-speed auto. She really liked it, and once I told her it came as a hatchback, she then wanted a Mazda3 hatchback in soul-metallic-red. We spent the next two months searching all over Chicagoland and west Michigan for the perfect Mazda3 hatchback. We had looked at a couple and she decided she wanted a Touring equipped car. Her criteria proved to be difficult, and we really struggled to find her the “perfect” car. We could find countless sedans, but no hatchbacks. Towards the end of May, we were getting fatigued from all the searching, and I was beginning to suggest other options. We wanted to pay cash for the vehicle, so we had a max budget of $14,000. If we added to our budget, we probably could have found the “perfect” 3 hatchback, but we were firm on not wanting to go over.

Red Mazda3 hatchbacks: made of unobtainium


Just before Memorial Day weekend, I had changed my Auto Trader search from “Mazda3 hatchbacks under $14,000” to “any vehicle with less than 50,000 miles for less than $15,000.” And I found it; 2015 CX-5 Touring, 42,000 miles, $14,500. I looked over the ad and could not figure out why the price was so low. The listing said it was FWD and was advertised at a large Acura dealership (the largest in the country), but I could find nothing wrong with it. I sent the listing to my wife and asked her if she could see herself in a CX-5. She said she did not want an SUV but was willing to look at it. She made an appointment to go look at it after work that day.

If you recall, my mom had a 2016 Mazda CX-5 Touring. I had talked my mom into this car in the fall of 2015. Since then, it had given her no problems and she had talked her sister into purchasing a CX-5. When we started car shopping for my wife, I thought she might like a CX-5 for the high driving position, but CX-5’s proved to be outside of our budget. My wife showed up at the Acura dealership that evening with the printed Auto Trader ad. After she drove the car, she called me and said she loved the CX-5 and that was the car she wanted. She loved the higher driving position, smallish size, and most importantly the backup camera. She said when she showed up with the printed ad, the dealership did not realize they had put the wrong price on the advertisement. They said it was supposed to be closer to $16,500 but were willing to hold this price for her. I was always told that luxury dealerships are willing to move non-luxury cars at better prices. An FWD non-luxury SUV seemed like a car the Acura dealer would be willing to move quickly. Later that week, I made my way down to Chicagoland, we went to the dealership, and my wife purchased her CX-5. She was very excited to have such a nice vehicle.

Blue CX-5 – our Mazda. White CX-5 – my mom’s. Silver CX-5 – my aunts. My mom and aunt have since upgraded to newer CX-5’s. Maybe we need a newer one?

My wife purchased this seven months before we got married. In those seven months, my wife managed to rack up almost 12,000 miles driving between Chicagoland, Michigan, and Iowa as we prepared for her to move and for the wedding. She loved the car, and it served her well. However, about a month after she bought the car, she was complaining about the brakes making a weird noise. I looked over the car and did not see anything wrong with it. She was in Michigan, so off she went back to Chicago. The next weekend I was in Chicago. She was still complaining about the brakes, so I told her I would look at the car when I got there. That Friday night, after I arrived, we jumped in the car to go get a Redbox. I was driving the car hard to try to get the brakes to replicate this “noise” she kept hearing. Nothing. Frustrated, she got in the driver’s seat and started driving back to her house. We did not make it 100 yards before the car made a loud metallic scraping noise. She said that was the noise. I made her stop the car right where we were and got out to investigate.

Upon looking inside the front driver’s side wheel, I found the brake caliper tipped forward and dragging on the inside of the rim. Apparently one of the bolts holding the caliper to the knuckle had worked itself loose and when the brakes were applied, the caliper would tip forward and make contact with the inside of the wheel. When you let go of the pedal, the caliper would tip back into its correct position. When we bought the car, the dealer had completed a full brake job. Now I should have taken the car back to the dealership and complained, but instead, I went down to the local Ace Hardware and bought the correct bolt. I put it back together in her driveway and that took care of the issue.

Oil changes on Mazda’s 2.5L engine are a breeze.


My wife’s CX-5 is FWD. Most would scoff at an FWD SUV, but the reality is people drive compact SUVs like people used to drive FWD sedans. When people drove FWD sedans, no one complained about a lack of AWD, they actually praised the drivability in snow. People think they need AWD for safety, but the truth of the matter is a good set of tires will do you better than all four wheels moving the vehicle. After my wife purchased her CX-5, I started looking for snow tires. I found a guy in Chicagoland who had three Mazda CX-5 rims for $90. After purchasing those and a reconditioned rim from RockAuto, I had a second set of factory rims for the car. I found four Cooper snow tires on Facebook Marketplace for her Cavalier for $200. I was so impressed with the winter performance of the Coopers, that I had the same tires put on the second rims. Four winters later, I am still impressed with them. Not quite as good as the Blizzaks, but better than the Michelin Ice-X Pros and they cost significantly less. Update: Christmas of 2022 we drove from Michigan to Chicagoland in the blizzard that hit the midwest. The Coopers did great in deep snow and ice. 

After we got married, the CX-5 became our “good” car. Since neither my wife nor I am from Michigan, we spend a lot of time traveling to family and friends in neighboring states. We have had a lot of seat time in this car and it works very well for traveling. We have taken it to Florida, the upper peninsula of Michigan, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, and Minnesota. Covid unlocked a hobby of refinishing furniture. You will find the backseat in our CX-5 to be folded down more often than in the upright position, as we always seem to be hauling something in this car. I made an entertainment center for my mother and the dimensions were dictated on the space behind the driver’s seat in our car. The extra space has served us well.

On the ferry to Neebish Island in the UP of Michigan


Being FWD, the government rates the car at 33 MPG highway. After 65,000 miles, we have averaged 29-30 MPG highway. Very rarely do I see mileage better than 30, which is a real shame. , My mom has 145,000+ miles on her AWD CX-5, and her mileage is just less than ours. My only complaint about the CX-5 is it has a very small fuel tank. Ours measures 13.1 gallons, which at 29 MPG, is 370 miles. Many of our trips are closer to 400 miles, which means the CX-5 will not make it there on one tank. I got spoiled with the Dart and Mazda6, both vehicles that would push 500 miles on a tank. It feels like we are constantly stopping to put fuel in this. However, mixed driving has yielded an impressive 25 MPG average for the life of our ownership, something that I am happy with.

The tagline for this chapter is “my number one recommendation.” I am known among family and friends as the “car guy.” When people have asked me for a recommendation on a newer vehicle to purchase, I always steer them to a CX-5. Everyone thinks they want a RAV4 or a CR-V, but the Mazda’s are just as reliable, just as well built, and priced less. I have successfully convinced my mother to purchase two CX-5’s (2016 and just purchased a 2023), my aunt has purchased two, and three friends have purchased CX-5’s. The CX-5 is a great all-around vehicle. Prior to Covid, you could pick up a used one for a reasonable price. Seems others have caught on to how great of vehicles they are, and used prices seem to be in alignment with the other Japanese CUV’s.

Our CX-5 has Mazda’s first-gen infotainment system, which I do not like compared to later systems.


My biggest reason for liking these cars so much is the powertrains. Mazda incorporates a traditional naturally aspirated four-cylinder mated to a conventional 6-speed automatic transmission. My mother’s first CX-5 has over 145,000 miles on it. It does not use any oil, the transmission shifts like it did when new, and you would never know its mileage. The internet has shown that these drivetrains are very willing to go 250,000+ miles with very little maintenance. Mazda spent a lot of time engineering their Skyactiv (dumb name) drivetrains, and the results show. Everyone else uses turbocharged four or three-cylinder engines, some with variable compressional (Nissan), and 8-10 speed/CVT’s transmissions. The only CUV on the market that has a conventional drivetrain is the RAV4. It still uses a conventional naturally aspirated engine mated to an 8-speed automatic. Triples belong in Geo Metros and lawn equipment, and CVT’s are not as robust as a conventional automatic. I think 20 years from now, we will still see RAV4’s and CX-5’s still on the road well after the Escapes, Rogue’s, and CR-V’s have been abandoned for their failed turbochargers and CVT’s.

Recently I rented a 2021 RAV4 for work. I was eager to experience what the majority of buyers pick. After 500 miles, I was glad to give the keys back to Enterprise and go back to my eight-year-old CX-5 with 105,000 miles. The Dynamic Force engine makes 205 hp, which is 20 hp more than our CX-5. It also has two more gears than our car. I did not find the engine to feel any more powerful than our car. The transmission felt very CVT-like. I had to double-check the specs to confirm that it is in fact a conventional automatic transmission. It was not as crisp as the Mazda unit. Everyone gives Mazda flack for not upgrading these drivetrains, but why fix what is not broken? How many GM 3800 engines are on the road today well past all the 3.1L, 3.4L, 3.5L, 3.6L, and 3.9L engines that have given up the ghost? These are just good drivetrains.

For a brief moment in time, we were a two-Mazda household


I think these CX-5’s are great cars. I am not the only COAL’er to say this. Recently Steven Vettura had similar things to say about his car. As I mentioned, my mother just purchased another CX-5. Her 2023 carbon edition had an MSRP of $32,300. This included 19″ rims, heated leather seats, a moonroof, AWD, and all the current safety features one thinks one needs. A 2023 RAV4 XLE Premium AWD, which is the closest trim to the Mazda, retails for north of $34,000. If you are comparing base models, the base CX-5 comes standard with AWD, a nicer interior, and alloy wheels, and retails for $1,000 less than a base FWD RAV-4. The CX-5 is a very good value for what you are getting. I think more people would be happy in one.

While this car has not been overly exciting or has stored up passion like my other vehicles, it has been a good car. Ours just turned over 105,000 miles and we have no plans to replace it any time soon. If I did have to replace it tomorrow, it would be with another CX-5. This is not the end of my COAL, as there are still three chapters left for me. Next week we will learn what came after Saturn as my “work” car.