Mazda’s compact SUV zooms along with personality, consistency in ultra-competitive segment

The 2021 Mazda CX-5 will continue to exceed expectations with its largest-ever infotainment display, new i-Activsense safety features and an available turbo engine. Metro News Service photo
The 2021 Mazda CX-5 will continue to exceed expectations with its largest-ever infotainment display, new i-Activsense safety features and an available turbo engine. Metro News Service photo

If you’ve read enough of my columns, you may notice I have a certain disdain for the all-too-gelatinous compact SUV segment. There are so many and there are so few that stand out. They all blend together. Each have their perks and their downsides.

So, of course, guess what I’m driving this week! A major competitor in the compact SUV segment – the 2021 Mazda CX-5. There’s a lot I like about this SUV and also some things I don’t like. Generally, the pros as well the cons stand true across the Mazda product line. Kudos to Mazda for consistency.

From an aesthetic standpoint, the CX-5 looks every bit the part. Its timeless profile is handsome, with nothing frilly or too cutesy with the design.

Mazdas have personality when you drive them. This applies to most every model I’ve driven. The CX-5 is no exception. There are two engine options for the CX-5: the standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, which seems adequate, or the optional 2.5-liter engine with the turbo. Thankfully, this is what my tester came equipped with. It makes a spunky amount of power to the tune of 227 horsepower and 310 lbs.-ft. of torque.

Off the line it’s quick. As is usually the case with Mazdas, overall performance feels peppy and athletic. Power output seems higher than even its numbers suggest. Mazda never disappoints in this regard. The six-speed automatic transmission feels old in the tooth and presents some turbo lag. It’s really the only powertrain feature that disappoints.

The interior features are a mixed bag. Touch points, comfort and overall quality are good. Mazda is fairly consistent in this regard. The infotainment system, however, continues to be the most confounding and least intuitive system in the industry. Sadly, every Mazda is the same way, and why each and every time I drive one, I bring it up.

While Mazda added Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to this model year (several years late to the party) and there’s a new 10.25-inch touchscreen, the rest of the system is below industry standards. Apple CarPlay allowed me to bypass all the annoyances of the rest of the system, so that did it redeem it somewhat.

The interior space, especially in the back seat, is good. It has both adequate head room and legroom. The cargo area behind the second row is below average for the segment, offering 30.9 cubic feet of room and expanding to nearly 60 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. I’d be remiss remiss if I didn’t point out that it’s below the average for the segment.

Front-wheel drive is standard for the CX-5, with all-wheel drive optional across all trims. My tester came with AWD. There are five trim variants of the CX-5, including the brand-new-for-2021 Carbon Edition. My tester was the top-of-the-line trim Signature, which had a base price of $37,405. It was fully loaded with all the options and only had an upcharge for a special paint color – machine gray – as well as a rear bumper guard. Why there’s an upcharge for a run-of-the-mill color like gray, I’m not sure. This has become a trend in the auto industry, with many automakers charging for white as well.

As tested, my CX-5 Signature with AWD had a final MSRP of $39,125.

FWD CX-5s have slightly better fuel economy. My AWD version with the spunkier turbo engine had an adequate EPA rating of 22 mpg/city and 27 mpg/highway. I averaged nearly 25 mpg in a week’s worth of mostly suburban driving.

Mazda is such a consistent brand, it’s almost predictable. To me that’s a good thing, but a little surprise once in a while would be nice. Or at least improve the infotainment system.

Jimmy Dinsmore is a freelance automotive journalist.

2021 MAZDA CX-5 SIGNATURE

  • Price/As-tested price................................................ $37,405/$39,125
  • Mileage.......................................... 22 mpg/city; 27 mpg/hwy
  • Engine............................................. 2.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
  • Horsepower................................. 227 hp/310 lbs.-ft.
  • Transmission................................. 6-speed automatic
  • Drive wheels................ All-wheel drive
  • Final assembly point................ Hiroshima, Japan

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