2021 Mazda CX-5 Review

2021 Mazda CX-5 - Bringing the Zoom Zoom essence to a crossover


Mazda introduced the US Market to the CX-5 in 2013 as the first vehicle to launch their KODO design language. The design set a new bar for styling and transcended through their lineup. Now in the middle of it's second generation (introduced in 2017) the CX-5 carries over into 2021 with some new packages and safety features. The CX-5 is a 5-passenger compact crossover and happens to be Mazda's best-seller.  It sits in the middle of the Mazda crossover lineup as a bigger vehicle than the CX-3 and Cx-30, but is smaller than the three-row CX-9.  The CX-5 is offered with two different engine options within six trims for 2021 known as Sport, Touring, Carbon Edition (new for 2021), Grand Touring, Grand Touring Reserve, and Signature. Starting prices range from $25,370 for the sport up to $37,505 for a signature model. Competition continues to grow in the segment with models such as the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, GMC Terrain, Jeep Cherokee, Kia Sportage, Mitsubishi Outlander, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4 and Volkswagen Tiguan.

New for 2021 is a standard 10.25-inch large center display with the latest-generation Mazda Connect infotainment. Also new the launch of a Carbon Edition model. The Carbon Edition adds an exclusive color scheme to a package similar to the Touring model with the Preferred SV package. It features a polymetal gray exterior paint, gloss black door mirrors, and 19-inch black metallic aluminum alloy wheels. The interior has red leather seats and black honeycomb interior trimming on the dash and door panels. The leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob add red stitching to help bring the color scheme together. This unique model will be offered with either of Mazda's engine options.

Mazda offers two powertrains in CX-5 models that are both mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and available in either FWD or AWD. The base engine is a 2.5 liter 4 cylinder engine that is tuned to make 187 horsepower. This engine comes standard in the Sport, Touring, Carbon Edition and Grand Touring models. The top trims, the Grand Touring Reserve and Signature come standard with a turbocharged 2.5 liter 4-cylinder that makes 227 horsepower on regular grade fuel or 250 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque with premium grade fuel. The 2.5L turbo is also available as an upgrade on the new Carbon Edition model. The downside of the power that comes in the CX-5 is its fuel economy. It is rated 22 city / 27 highway / 24 combined which is lower than some competitors that approach 30 MPG combined. Over the course of a week in the CX-5 Signature, I averaged around 20 MPG cruising around the suburbs.

My test vehicle was a Signature model equipped with the turbo engine and the jump in horsepower was immediate gratification after driving competitors like the Rogue & RAV4. Once again, Mazda has built a vehicle that is fun-to-drive. The quick-shifting six-speed is smooth off the line and goes 0-60 in 6.1 seconds and has been tested at 14.6 seconds in the quarter mile going 94.9 mph. It sits at the top of the class with off the line performance, except for the Toyota RAV4 Prime which Toyota estimates a 0-60 time under six seconds. The CX-5 has responsive steering and was very capable of handling quick turns. In this class, it was an unexpected surprise to get a vehicle that could handle an autocross serpentine with ease. Despite being a crossover, it was quite agile and athletic with very little body roll.

Unlike some competitors, the engine doesn't seem like it's working hard... it performs effortlessly and with control. Add in a decent turbo tone from under the hood and I'm sold. Mazda also includes a sport button to further enhance the dynamics and acceleration of the turbo engine. This vehicle is best off the line and in quick maneuvers in the suburbs, but at higher speeds the six-speed automatic starts to feel a little dated. Newer competitors are offering eight speeds which I speculate we may see Mazda update for the third generation. Regardless, the CX-5 remains the most fun-to-drive compact crossover I've driven among the competition.

Lower trim models come standard with front wheel drive which will be sufficient for many owners. All wheel drive can be added to those models for a $1,400 premium. AWD does come standard on the Grand Touring Reserve and Signature models. Unlike some of the competitors, Mazda does not offer separate modes for various driving conditions in it's AWD models. Instead, Mazda includes its i-ACTIV AWD which is an intelligent and fully autonomous system. With this system, the vehicle will automatically distribute torque to the front and rear axels in real time as needed.  A built-in system of sensors will monitor acceleration, steering, brake pressure, road conditions, vehicles speed, and engine force to generate the best traction for any driving situation.

From a design standpoint, the CX-5 is in its fifth year of this generation. Despite its age, it still looks captivating and modern among the competition which has largely been refreshed within the past two years. The CX-5 embodies Mazda's KODO design which means "soul of motion."  The lines of this crossover are smooth and fluid. There isn't an ounce of ruggedness in this design, rather it looks more luxurious and athletic. The aggressive front end looks angry with slim LED headlights and a chrome grille trim that expands under the lights. From its side profile, the nose of the CX-5 is notably longer while the rear C-pillar is very rounded.  Accents of chrome along the window lines add a statement of elegance. Around back, the rear of the crossover is simple and sophisticated. The jewel-like taillights have a nice lighting signature that again feels very premium. The dimensions seem just right with minimal overhang and wheels that fill the arches. Mazda has given it good proportions that have the CX-5 looking good from all angles. Overall, the CX-5 still looks stunning and comes in a variety of colors with multiple wheel options that complement the body style well.

Inside, the luxury continues with high quality materials and a simple, clean design. Drivers face a traditional digital cluster with three circular dials for RPM, speed, fuel, and temperature. Within the center dial is a digital screen that will display a variety of information in a small area. The CX-5 also comes with an available heads-up display which I continue to find more and more appealing as I use it. Steering wheel controls are well-placed and compliment the digital dial for the infotainment screen. Amenities such as a leather wrapped heated steering wheel, heated/ventilated seats, integration of layered wood trim, and brushed silver accents complete the luxurious vibe in the CX-5 cabin.

New for 2021 is a 10.25-inch infotainment display which replaces an outgoing 7 or 8-inch unit.  The infotainment screen remains atop the dash giving an illusion that it arises from within (it is stationary) and integrates with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The screen is controlled via a jog dial located in the center console. The dial turns, tilts and can be pushed for various controls. Adjacent to the dial is the volume control knob. The infotainment screen does not have a touch screen function which seems to be a miss on Mazda's part. The jog dial control was awkward for the first couple of days and had me using Apple Car Play exclusively because of its familiarity. However, after the third day of use something clicked in my brain that made the jog dial and adjacent volume knob seem like second nature. In fact, after turning in the CX-5 and getting in my personal vehicle I continued to reach for the non-existent jog dial to control the radio in my old 4Runner. So, the lesson is to give it a chance and don't completely dismiss the CX-5 for the lack of a touchscreen!

Overall, the space inside the CX-5 felt a bit tighter than some of its competitors like the Rogue or RAV4. Looking back at my three kids in the rear seats made me feel bad for the one stuck in the middle. The seats were moderately comfortable, but others offer more comfort and support. One thing that did stand out was the Caturra Brown color offered in my test vehicle. The dark brown leather looked very rich and matched well with the Deep Crystal Blue exterior.  The combination shouted luxury.

Arguably, the most popular vehicle segment on the market it is essential for manufacturers to offer an array of safety features. Standard on all CX-5 models is the brand's suite of i-Activsense safety features that include Mazda Radar Cruise Control with stop & go function, Advanced Smart City Brake Support with Pedestrian Detection, Smart Brake Support, Lane Departure Warning with Lane-Keep Assist and Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert. Opting for higher trim models such as the Signature will offer even more safety technology such as Driver Attention Alert, 360-degree camera monitor with parking sensors and high-definition digital clarity.  One additional feature that comes with the navigation system is traffic sign recognition which functions in conjunction with the heads-up display. This was a nice convenience feature to have, especially when in more urban areas.

This category comes with a lot of options for buyers and mainstream competitors like the RAV4, CR-V, and Escape seem to dominate. The CX-5, though, should not be overlooked.  It stands out in my opinion as the most fun-to-drive so if driving dynamics are important, it will be hard to find a competitor that matches it. Outside of its performance it offers stylish good-looks, a sophisticated interior, and boarders on luxury-level appointments. There is room for improvement in regards to the infotainment technology, cargo capacity and overall cabin space. Mazda built a great vehicle when it launched the CX-5 and it got even better with the second generation. Rumors are swirling about a third generation coming in 2022 and I know that I look forward to seeing what Mazda has up its sleeve.

First Impression Summary:

Test Vehicle: 2021 Mazda CX-5 Signature AWD

Exterior Color: Deep Crystal Blue Mica

Interior Color: Caturra Brown

Notable Options: No additional options

Price as tested: $38,630

Jim OBrill

Jim is Director of Marketing for the Chicago Automobile Trade Association and Chicago Auto Show and a co-host of Drive Chicago Radio on WLS 890 AM Chicago. His passion for cars started young and he’s often referred to as the ‘car-guy’ among family and friends. As a former auto detailer, he has an eye for identifying solid used cars and tags along on many car buying adventures. Early in his career he worked at several car dealerships in various areas of the business. As a co-host on Drive Chicago and member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, Jim has had opportunities to attend track school and drive vehicles on multiple circuits such as Road America and Gingerman Raceway. With a background in photography, taking pictures of vehicles has always been a hobby.

Jim also enjoys the trails and taking trucks like his 4Runner off road. He has a special appreciation for older cars and can often be found spending free time at cruise nights or home washing one his four vehicles. Jim resides in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three kids. Follow Jim on Instagram at @jpcars22 for new vehicle content or @forgotten_survivors.312 for shots of older cars still on the streets of Chicagoland.