Mazda CX-5 — A satisfying crossover experience

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

When shopping for a compact SUV crossover — and it seems about every other potential automobile buyer these days is looking for a vehicle in this segment — our strong recommendation is don't overlook the 2021 Mazda CX-5. If you've been inundated by advertising for more popular nameplates such as the Toyota RAV4 or the Honda CR-V and are leaning in that direction, you won't go wrong. Where you might go wrong is by not giving the excellent CX-5 a chance.

For instance the CX-5 has beautifully sculpted bodywork, attractive luxury-like interior, refined driving dynamics, and six-second 0-to-60 potential with its bigger engine. Its delightfully athletic nature might make your purchase decision a bit more difficult.

Outside of the appealing nature of the CX-5, Mazda has made some significant improvements and upgrades to the current-generation crossover since its introduction in 2017. The biggest upgrade being the introduction of a new turbocharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that makes 250 horsepower with 93 octane gas and 227 horsepower with regular gas. The 2.5-liter 187 hp 4-cylinder now becomes the base engine. Both engines are paired to a six-speed automatic transmission. The bigger engine with AWD is EPA rated at 22 mpg city, 27 highway and 24 combined. The combined mpg average goes up to 25 with front-wheel drive.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity was added in 2019, and for 2021 Mazda added a larger 10.25-inch infotainment display, and made blindspot warning with rear cross-traffic alert and adaptive cruise control standard across the lineup. Also for 2021, a new Carbon Edition has been added to the lineup. It comes with unique Polymetallic Gray paint and red upholstery. And the top Signature trim — such as our test car — gets a higher-definition 360-degree camera, a driver-attention alert, and rear automated emergency braking.

We drove the bigger engine in our Signature AWD test car, but kept it at the 227 horsepower level with regular gas. Is it worth filling with the more expensive 93 octane — that depends on your wants and needs, but we found the engine burning the on-average 50 cent cheaper 87 octane just fine. Either way, you will get 0-to-60 times in the upper reaches of 6 seconds, which is well above average for the segment. If you want to save some cash and opt for a lesser trim with the 187-horsepower engine, you will still have adequate performance measured for comparison purposes at 8.5 seconds 0-to-60.

Where the CX-5 separates itself from the competition is in its outstanding handling traits. We hit a winding stretch of road and discovered all is right when behind the wheel of the CX-5. It's a handling champ. Mazda says this is due in part to a feature it calls G-Vectoring Control, which "adjusts engine torque in response to steering wheel action, delivering unified control over lateral and longitudinal acceleration (G) forces and optimizing the vertical load on each wheel." This is one crossover that's fun to drive.

On mountain road twists and turns you will discover the handling prowess that feels more like a well-sorted sports coupe than a taller-riding people mover. The vehicle corners like it was wearing a MX-5 badge rather than the CX-5 emblem. And all the while the car amazes its occupants with a quiet cabin that mimics a much more expensive vehicle.

Mazda says it eliminated interior noise at highway speed by adding extra carpeting in such places as under the center console; and Mazda switched to a headliner material less reflective of sounds.

Interior materials have a quality look and feel with use of contrasting colors, aluminum or wood trim, and solid feeling controls.  A sleek dash infotainment screen is controlled with a console knob. Our Signature edition elevated the experience with dark brown Nappa leather seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, power sunroof, and soothing ambient lighting. Everything looks and feels expensive.

It sounds expensive too with crisp sound from the 10-speaker Bose audio system, which was standard equipment in our test vehicle. On the downside, Mazda’s infotainment system is needlessly cumbersome. Saving radio stations is a time-consuming experience, and simply seeking out a station while driving is a distraction.

The CX-5 comes in a mind-boggling seven trim levels — Sport, Touring, Carbon Edition, Grand Touring, Carbon Edition Turbo, Grand Touring Reserve and Signature — starting at $26,940. It's noteworthy that every trim level comes with such safety technology as forward collision mitigation, blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure mitigation, and adaptive cruise control.

The least expensive way to gain the bigger engine is to go with the Carbon Edition Turbo starting at $32,435. Carbon gives you some exterior tweaks including 19-inch black-painted wheels. Our Signature test car carried a bottom line of $37,405 with virtually everything available as standard equipment.

2021 Mazda CX-5


Base price: $26,940; as driven, $37,405
Engine: 2.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 227 (87 octane), 250 (93 octane)
Torque: 310 pound-feet @ 2,000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 106.2 inches
Length: 179.1 inches
Curb weight: 3,836 pounds
Turning circle: 36 feet
Towing capacity: 2,000 pounds
Luggage capacity: 30.9 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 59.6 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 15.3 gallons (regular/premium)
EPA rating: (AWD) 22 city, 27 highway, 24 combined
0-60: 6.2 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue

The Good
• Excellent performance from turbocharged engine
• Quiet, spacious cabin
• Excellent handling traits

The Bad
• Cumbersome infotainment system

The Ugly
• Towing capacity only 2,000 pounds