If there is one indisputable fact about me, it’s that I love a good Mazda, so I’ll admit that I was primed to enjoy the 2021 Mazda CX-5 Signature AWD Turbo before I even had it in my possession. But even I was impressed by this compact crossover. A beautiful body and ultra-fun turbo engine is paired with thoughtful details that make you realize that whatever you’re driving right now could be doing the whole “technology” thing a little better. The CX-5's only downside? Its travesty of an infotainment system.
Full Disclosure: I was provided with a Mazda CX-5 for a week in order to review it for both Jalopnik and A Girls Guide to Cars. All opinions are my own.
The CX-5 is one of Mazda’s most popular crossover SUVs, its first vehicle to feature Skyactiv technology, and one that has been consistently leading the way in its segment — seriously, just try finding one for sale right now. You’ll be shit out of luck.
That is, in part, because this is a car that excels in just about every category. In the grand scheme of things, it’s affordable, especially for the features and drive quality you’ll get. There's wide variety of trims to choose from, so you can pick your own features and price point. It’s a serious delight to drive on just about every terrain. It’s practical enough to get you where you need to go in both comfort and style. It's the kind of car that enthusiasts will love and that people who know nothing about cars will adore — and that's a solid market to target.
The Mazda CX-5 has a base price of $26,545, but I drove the Signature AWD trim that brings it up to $38,680 and features all the goodies like a more powerful engine, a large infotainment screen, and a premium sound system. The turbo engine, though, can be found on the mid-tier Carbon Edition ($31,935) if you care more about the engine and less about the extras.
- Skyactiv 2.5-liter turbo engine
- 227 horsepower
- 310 lb-ft of torque
- MPG: 22 city / 27 highway / 24 combined
- Off-road traction assist
- 10.5-inch color screen
- Bose 10-speaker stereo
- SiriusXM, Bluetooth, and AUX capable
- Four USB ports – two in front, two in the rear
- Android Auto / Apple CarPlay
- Wireless charge port
- Sport mode option
- 8-way power seats with lumbar support
- Heated front and rear seats
- Ventilated rear seats
- Nappa leather
- Power moonroof
- Safety features: stability control, traction control, hill launch assist, smart brake, radar cruise control, parking sensors, 360 degree camera, lane keep assist with lane departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert
Behind the wheel of the Mazda CX-5, you’d be forgiven for believing you’re driving a much more expensive car. I can’t speak for the standard four-cylinder engine, but the 250-horsepower turbo was an absolute delight; its get-up-and-go made it easy to merge onto Texas’ 80-mph toll highways and maintain speed without an issue, but it was never overwhelming in mid-day stop-and-go traffic.
I took the CX-5 on one my favorite driving routes around San Marcos, Texas that features everything from state highways to one-lane gravel roads, and the CX-5 handled everything in stride. Its cornering and steering were so precise that you could take sharp twists and turns at speed. The road noise on gravel roads was dampened, and it handled bumps without ever feeling too stiff or like you were about to be launched out of your seat. It also provided a really reassuring brake pedal feel that really balanced the line between being ultra responsive without feeling touchy.
Mazda really nailed the performance of this car. It’s going to drive like a charm on your highway commute, but it’ll also be able to handle a weekend trip to the campsite with ease. It’s a seriously capable little machine.
There’s so much to love about the Mazda CX-5. I’ll admit that I was disappointed to receive the gray-painted version of this car, but even then, it’s one handsome-looking crossover. The sloping, sedan-like front end had become a unique Mazda visual cue while the sculpted sides provide a little bit of shape that its competitors lack. We drive with our eyes long before we ever get behind the wheel, and the CX-5 is an easy leader in a relatively shapeless and bland automotive segment.
The thoughtful touches in this crossover absolutely rule. The Signature trim includes road sign detection software that actually displays the speed on your speedometer with a little red line. The rear seats can be folded down by pulling a tab. Vented Nappa leather seats make you feel like you’re sitting behind the wheel of a much more expensive luxury car. An ingenious center console between the rear seats can be folded down to reveal cup holders, heated seat controls, and USB ports; it’s a sleek way to hide these features when they aren’t needed, but if you’re frequently putting three people in the back of your car, they’re not going to be able to access these features.
The best part, though, is the fact that Mazda did a great job balancing the fun of the CX-5 with the upgraded, luxurious interior. It doesn’t feel like the marque ever compromised, which can happen when you get brands that are trying to improve the ergonomic quality of the interior. It’s the best of both worlds, all wrapped up in one handsome and affordable little package.
I had one predominant fault with this car: the infotainment system. It’s one of the most unwieldy pieces of technology I’ve ever used, and it is seriously inappropriate when it comes to being a piece of tech you operate while driving a car.
Basically, turning the dial left and right doesn’t scroll through your SiriusXM channels. Instead, it brings you to your list of favorite channels — which is fine for someone who only has a few favorites, but I like to scroll through the first 40 channels or so to find something to listen to. In order to scroll through all the channels, you have to press the dial, select the channel list, then scroll down to the channel you desire. As someone who likes to easily flip through different stations, it was frustrating to have to do this by taking my eyes off the road.
I illustrated the issue with a quick video below:
It has the potential to be a solid infotainment system, but it just isn’t there yet. The buttons themselves were tactile and enjoyable to use, but the structure and function of the system’s operation leaves a lot to be desired right now.
I was also left unimpressed by the tactile feel of the buttons on the steering wheel; they felt a little cheap and wobbly, like they could fall off at any second. That’s not a particularly comforting feeling for a car that has under 10,000 miles and has probably not seen a massive amount of wear and tear.
And then there’s the cargo area. It’s okay, but it’s not as impressive as some of the CX-5's direct competitors, but my husband and I were still able to transport a spare tire, jack stands, an air compressor, and a small generator in the back without needing to fold down the entirety of the second row. You’re probably not going to desperately miss that little extra bit of lacking space, though, because the rest of the car is just so damn nice.
I’ve yet to drive a car that I haven’t enjoyed, but the 2021 Mazda CX-5 Signature AWD Turbo is one of the first that I’ve actually, truly considered spending money on. It has just the right amount of power and the right amount of zip for people like me that enjoy staying quick on the highway but don’t need a track-day car. It’s loaded with nice features that I didn’t even realize I’d want until I had them at my fingertips. And, most important, it’s a great machine for someone like me, who’s at that in-between part of life where I don’t exactly need a full-size SUV for driving around but where I’d like something a few steps up from a base-model hatchback.
The CX-5 isn’t exactly a traditional family car, but it’s great for younger couples, folks with smaller families, or people who frequently see adults riding in their rear seats on road trips or carpools. It caters to a great middle ground, where you’ll enjoy it even if you love performance cars but you won’t feel overwhelmed by it if you’re just looking for something practical.
That said, the infotainment system is enough of an annoyance that it’ll prevent me from buying until the issue is resolved. But the good news for Mazda is the fact that this car is a damn delight otherwise.