When it comes to compact crossovers, it’s easy to see why the 2021 Mazda CX-5 wins the SUV equivalent of Best-in- Show. Not only does it boast beautifully sculpted bodywork, its interior is just as interesting to the eyes. Of course, Mazda has shown us that its attention to detail is more than skin-deep, with thoughtful ergonomics and engaging driving dynamics. Compared with its predominantly dull competitors, the CX-5 is delightfully athletic and equally refined. While the standard four-cylinder engine lacks the punch of the available turbo-four, both pair with a highly proficient automatic transmission and are more fuel efficient than their EPA ratings suggest. Despite a smaller cargo area than its key competitors, the 2021 CX-5 shines brighter than all its classmates and even some more-expensive alternatives.
What’s New for 2021?
For 2021, the most notable upgrade made to the CX-5 is its new infotainment system. A 10.3-inch touchscreen now sits atop the dashboard instead of the smaller 7.0-inch display found on previous model years. The updated system features the new Mazda Connect interface, Mazda Connected Services (a Wi-Fi hotspot and access to remote vehicle functions through a smartphone app), and standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The lineup also introduces a new Carbon Edition, which has unique Polymetal Gray paint and red upholstery. The top-of-the-line Signature trim adds a higher-definition 360-degree camera, a driver-attention alert, and rear automated emergency braking.
Pricing and Which One to Buy
- Sport: $26,370
- Touring: $28,110
- Carbon Edition: $29,955
- Grand Touring: $31,560
- Grand Touring Reserve: $36,385
- Signature: $38,505
With the addition of the CX-5 Carbon Edition, it’s now possible to get the 250-hp turbocharged engine without paying for either of the top two trim levels. The front-drive version starts at just under $30,000, but those who want all-wheel drive can add it for $1400. Not only does the Carbon Edition have all the same features as the Touring model with the Preferred SV package (Bose stereo, a power-adjustable passenger seat, power liftgate, sunroof, and more), it also has distinct exterior and interior treatments. The former includes black 19-inch wheels and a black metallic grille design; the latter includes red leather seats with red stitching and black accents on the instrument and door panels.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
The CX-5’s standard 187-hp four-cylinder engine has great throttle response when pulling away from stoplights or hustling around town, so it feels quicker than it actually is. It’s at higher speeds, such as when trying to pass or merge onto the freeway, that it feels underpowered. The 250-hp turbocharged version we tested provided much quicker acceleration. Both engines pair with a snappy six-speed automatic transmission and front- or all-wheel drive. You don’t need to drive the CX-5 hard to enjoy it or to appreciate its excellence. Sure, its precise steering and composed cornering make for one helluva Sunday cruise. But it also soaks up rough roads without commotion and has the ride quality of crossovers that cost twice as much. This harmonious interplay of dynamics is unrivaled by its competitors. Pavement imperfections are isolated, road noise is minimal, and the damping is neither stiff nor floaty. At the same time, the Mazda comes alive on curvy roads. The electrically assisted steering provides satisfying responses. The Signature model we tested had a reassuring brake-pedal feel that operated without delay and without being too touchy when you apply the brakes.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
The CX-5 has average EPA estimates compared with rivals that have similar power. However, in our testing, the Mazda was the only one to exceed its EPA highway rating. The all-wheel-drive, non-turbocharged version earned 32 mpg, which matched the Honda CR-V we tested. The front-drive, non-turbo CX-5 improved on that performance by 1 mpg. We also tested a CX-5 with the more powerful turbocharged four-cylinder and standard all-wheel drive; it earned 30 mpg on our 200-mile highway fuel-economy route, which was 3 mpg higher than its EPA rating.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
Wake up inside the top-tier CX-5 models and you might think you’ve been abducted by kidnappers driving an Audi or a Mercedes. First-rate materials and a fabulous layout make it feel especially upscale. The floor-hinged accelerator pedal feels better than the more common version that is suspended above the floor, the well-crafted steering wheel is directly in front of the driver and not offset at a slight angle, and all of the front-seat armrests are at the same height for optimal comfort. Sacrifices come in small packages: in this case, the CX-5 held just nine carry-on suitcases behind its rear seats in our testing. The storage bay does benefit from a completely flat load floor. There are also several nooks and crannies in the cabin to store smartphones and other small items. For instance, the center console has a deep tray at the front and a useful bin with a removable shelf.
Infotainment and Connectivity
Every model now boasts a 10.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system, which replaces the old 7.0-inch display. The new interface can still be manipulated through a rotary controller and volume knob on the center console as well as voice commands and buttons on the steering wheel. Unlike the previous model year, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard across the board. The CX-5 also comes with Mazda Connected Services that includes access to remote vehicle functions via a smartphone app and a subscription-based Wi-Fi hotspot.
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
The CX-5 earned a five-star crash-test rating from the National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA), and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) named it a Top Safety Pick+. It also comes standard with a comprehensive suite of driver-assistance technology and other optional assists. Key safety features include:
- Standard automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection
- Standard lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist
- Standard adaptive cruise control
Warranty and Maintenance Coverage
The Kia Sportage and the Chevrolet Equinox both offer better warranty coverage, but otherwise the CX-5 is in line with its rivals.
- Limited warranty covers three years or 36,000 miles
- Powertrain warranty covers five years or 60,000 miles
- No complimentary scheduled maintenance
More Features and Specs