2021 Mazda CX-5 review: Fun at the forefront

While you will have fun behind the wheel, the CX-5’s styling ensures you stay under the radar.

Andrew Krok / Roadshow

Sometimes, making a change means losing sight of what is dear to you. Thankfully, that’s not the case with Mazda CX-5 of 2021. While the Japanese automaker has injected its latest vehicles with affordable doses of luxury trims, the company hasn’t lost sight of the fun-to-drive nature that has brought people to its showrooms in years past. If anything, it just makes this compact crossover more compelling.

Like it

  • Fun to drive
  • Properly processed interior
  • Cheap

I do not like

  • Cargo space light
  • Mediocre MPG
  • The lack of a touchscreen isn’t for everyone

Fashion forward

Devoid of harsh angles and gaudy garish, I appreciate the clean lines of the CX-5’s body, with just a hint of aggression on the hood giving way to subdued curves on the sides. It’s a bit anonymous, sure, but I think it’s interesting in the compact crossover segment; competitors like Toyota RAV4 and Nissan Rogue are content to go hard in the paint with unique styling but general masking of driving dynamics, while Mazda is taking the opposite approach.

The best parts of the CX-5’s design are on the inside. This cabin is one of my favorites in the segment; just like the exterior, Mazda chooses to prioritize cleanliness over flawless, intelligent styling. Combine that with plenty of extraordinarily soft leather on my Signature trim tester, and you’ve got an interior that borders on authentic luxury – and for less than the average transaction price of a new car. The front seats are roomy and supportive without being cramped, and while the rear seats can be a bit cramped for people over 6 feet tall, there’s still a decent amount of space back there.

Storage is a bit of a mixed bag, though. The CX-5 cabin itself has enough places to stash your trash, whether it’s the phone-sized tray or mask under the climate controls or the deep center armrest compartment with its removable shelf . However, the cargo area suffers from the competition; at 30.9 cubic feet behind the second-row seats, the CX-5 is far behind the Honda CR-V (around 38 cubic feet), Toyota RAV4 (around 37), and Nissan Rogue (around 36). You will need to be creative with your trip to pack or figure out which child is left at home.

Fulfilling on the road

The 2021 Mazda CX-5 is equipped with one of two engines. Bottom trims get a 2.5-liter naturally aspirated I4 that produces 187 horsepower, but the top-tier Signature example before me picks up some major hustle and bustle with a 2.5-liter turbo I4 that pushes the output to a meaty 250 hp and 320 pound-feet of torque. (Those numbers are for premium fuel; using cheap shit drops those specs to 227 and 310, respectively.) Whether I’m using torque to quickly move between traffic lights in town or wring the four-pot at revs. higher to overtake cars on the highway, in no time I lack more driving force. Both engines use a six-speed automatic transmission that may seem a little behind the times on the gear count, but in practice it’s a smooth-shifting transmission that will never grab attention.

Throwing some fun features into the driving dynamics of a mass market vehicle sometimes requires a compromise in everyday livability, but not here. The 2021 CX-5 static shock absorbers play an impressive balance, absorbing most of the coarse roads and returning little in the way of thrusts or awkward movement. Yet, at the same time, getting into a corner faster than my passengers might prefer doesn’t result in a floating or uncomfortable feeling. The steering is direct but not so tight that small movements feel larger, and both pedals are extremely simple to modulate for smoothness. Like its style, I think the way the CX-5 units will appeal to a broad swath of the buyer audience.

Oh, don’t worry, there’s a hidden downside here. Unfortunately, it is the fuel economy. With all-wheel drive and the spicier engine option, the 2021 CX-5 is EPA rated at just 22 miles per city gallon and 27 mpg on the highway. I was able to surpass those figures by a couple, mind you, but the feds’ estimates are bleak when compared to Mazda’s competitors. For context, a similarly equipped Honda CR-V is rated at 27mpg in the city and 32mpg on the highway, with the RAV4 leading the Honda by 1mpg on the highway. Then again, this is the price you pay for having 310 lb-ft of torque, which the other cars mentioned here definitely don’t.

The interior of the CX-5 offers some “premium” automakers a run for their money.

Andrew Krok / Roadshow

Excellent standard technology

While many of Mazda’s competitors are content to give you a small kids screen unless you spend more money on a taller trim or option package, the 2021 CX-5 offers every single buyer a 10-inch infotainment display. 3-inch mounted high on the dashboard, running the sleekest and latest version of Mazda Connect software. Like the rest of the interior, this screen looks really whimsical, with a standard dark mode pattern that’s light to distract the eyes. It is responsive and Apple CarPlay is Android Auto Both are now standard, but buyers accustomed to touchscreens may not appreciate the fact that the only methods of manipulation are a rotating dial on the center console and voice commands via a button on the steering wheel. When it comes time to charge, there are two USB ports for each row, although the CX-5 Sport base is content with just plugs in the front.

However, that’s not the only hidden screen in the CX-5. Grand Touring and top trims also receive a 7-inch LCD in the instrument cluster which includes the speedometer and can show a little extra information on either side; it’s a bit light on features, but gets the job done without overwhelming the driver. There’s also a head-up display on the Grand Touring Reserve and Signature variants, which projects pertinent information onto the windshield rather than the pop-up plastic Mazda relied on.

Like most other automakers, Mazda has introduced numerous active and passive safety systems regardless of set-up. Every 2021 the CX-5 gets automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assistance and blind spot monitoring. The flagship Signature model joins that with a surround view monitor, traffic sign recognition and automatic emergency braking in reverse.

In addition to the usual pages for audio and navigation, you can keep track of your consumption … even if given its efficiency, you may not want to.

Andrew Krok / Roadshow

Up to brass tacks

The 2021 Mazda CX-5 is affordable, with the Sport FWD model starting at $ 26,370, including $ 1,100 for the destination. AWD is a $ 1,400 option for any trim except Grand Touring Reserve and Signature, where it’s standard. The price tops my tester’s Signature liner, which will set you back $ 38,505 – a big chunk of change, yes, but still in the realm of affordability.

This puts the CX-5 in line with Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and Nissan Rogue, all of which are viable competitors. However, the CX-5’s biggest rivals are quite milquetoast, offering little in the way of interesting driving. The Mazda may be a little low on cargo space relative to the rest, but the trade-off is a compact crossover designed with more than mechanical transport in mind.