I feel like a broken record when I talk to people about crossovers. Case in point: I was taking some specific interior shots of the 2021 Mazda CX-5 Signature AWD, and the car was pulled in front of my driveway. I was changing the lens on my Fujifilm X-T3 in my garage, and I had left the driver door and rear hatch open. A neighbor of mine, whom I had never met before, was strolling by and didn’t notice me standing in my garage. Instead, she curiously poked her head into the Mazda to take a peak. I turned around to not look her way and did a soft throat clearing. Startled, she said, “Oh, I’m so sorry,” as I turned and pretended that I had no idea what she was talking about. She said, “I was just walking by and noticed the car was open and I’m looking to buy a new crossover.” We chatted for a little bit, and I learned that she actually was about to buy a base model Hyundai Tucson. I told her that the Tucson is a good vehicle and that she won’t go wrong with her purchase. I did say, however, that I thought the Mazda was the better car, in my opinion, but she seemed very into the Hyundai. That’s perfectly fine.
More and more I encounter people who are set in their ways about crossovers. People are often confused when I recommend the CX-5 to them. They don’t really know the Mazda brand as much. Hyundai and Kia have their 100,000 mile warranties. Toyota and Honda are known for longevity. And Nissan has its own specific type of followers, whom oddly they always say, “I know you won’t like it, but I like my Nissan.” I’ve never talked about Nissan with them before. So it seems they’re trying to be okay with their own purchase.
Then there’s Mazda. The little Japanese brand that could. It’s Mazda who dethroned Toyota and Lexus as the most reliable vehicles sold right now (the CX-30, CX-3, and CX-5 all scored 85 out of a possible 100, with the Miata scoring 98/100). When I tell people this they think I’m nuts. I know for a fact, through a source, that Toyota have been chasing Mazda for a few years now in terms of reliability. Some may wonder how this can be, and that comes down to trendiness. Like the article I linked to above, carmakers are using new engines, Continuously Variable Transmissions (CVTs), tons of screens and large infotainment systems, and the like. While Mazda have stuck with older engines, old school torque converter automatics, and a small infotainment screen with more buttons to control the climate control and infotainment system. Their control system now is basically an old BMW iDrive-like knob and button setup. Basically, fewer things that are prone to breaking.
With all that said, the 2021 Mazda CX-5 Signature All-Wheel Drive does come with an all-new for 2021 10.25-inch screen that looks good, has nice graphics, and a classy mixture of black and white-style menus, but a nice mix of color once you’re in a specific area, such as radio, media, navigation, etc. The updated vehicle cameras, something I talked about in my 2020 CX-30 review last year, make the CX-5 such a better car. Surprisingly, the mixture of more expensive Toyota and Lexus products I’ve tested have worse looking back-up cameras. Mazda are doing this right. Just the right amount of technology, and high quality parts at that, but still being affordable and customer conscious. My car was painted in Soul Red Crystal Metallic (a $595 option), and the interior is beautifully trimmed in Caturra Brown leather.
The 2.5-liter turbocharged 4 in the CX-5 Signature makes 227 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque when fill it up with 87 octane gasoline. Power and torque will swell to 250 horsies and 320 torqies if pumped full of 93. You don’t feel a massive difference, but it’s the little tenths here and there when you’ll notice from time to time.
Driving the CX-5 Signature AWD is a damn fine treat. I don’t really hate or love crossovers. I just, well, I feel most of them are pointless. I understand the need for some people to have a smaller SUV of sorts, but most people really don’t need them, they only think their weekly shopping doesn’t fit so well in a 15 cubic foot trunk. And too many cars are getting boring to look at and see sitting in parking lots and be stuck behind in stop and go traffic. I think the Mazda has always kind of bucked this trend, though. Its design is really classy and smart looking, and it drives like a flagship from Germany, without costing like a flagship from Germany. In a decade I can’t imagine this car having a ton of problems that stem from the over-engineering of a bolt.
My test vehicle came in just shy of $40 grand at a healthy $39,225, just a few grand less than the 2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD I tested last spring. The Signature package CX-5 bases out at $37,405. The Soul Red Crystal Metallic paint adds $595 to the bill, and a rear bumper guard tacks on an extra $125. Throw in an $1,100 delivery and handling fee, and there ya go. As you can guess, the CX-5 Signature comes with pretty much everything standard equipment, including all-wheel drive, too. So you’re going to get 19″ wheels with 225/55R19 all-season tires, although I would dump those immediately and get a dedicated set of summer and winter tires, specifically because you will maximize the sportiness of the CX-5 in the summer, and have the utmost level of ability in the winter. Most all-season tires aren’t great. Although it should be said that some, like Michelin’s Pilot Sport A/S 3 tires, are getting better and more capable at year-’round abilities.
Other standard features include heads-up display, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats (not the middle one, though), heated steering wheel, smart city brake support, lane-keep assist, lane departure warning, LED headlights and fog lights, adaptive headlights that turn with the steering wheel, auto high beam control, Bose 10-speaker sound system, hill launch assist, radar guided cruise control that will come to a complete stop for you and then get moving again without you having to touch anything, and the other usual stuff.
While the Mazda isn’t the flashiest of vehicles with technology it has the same basic safety features that every other car in this class has. But the one things that are lacking are cargo capacity and fuel mileage. Let’s start with fuel mileage: it isn’t bad at 22 mpg city and 27 mpg highway, respectively, with an average of 24 between city and highway. That is right at what I was returning when I wasn’t driving the CX-5 like it was a race horse. Others have seen as high as 30 mpg with an all-highway run, which I can believe. The issue is that the Honda CR-V Touring AWD gets 27 city, 32 highway, and 29 combined. The RAV4 TRD I mentioned that I tested last year returns 25, 32, and 27. None of this is the end of the world, though, because MotorTrend say the CX-5 Signature with its potent turbo 2.5, all-wheel drive, and well shifting non-CVT 6-speed automatic, will get to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds, and fly through the 1/4-mile in 14.6 seconds at 94.9 mph. Granted, that’s most likely at 91 octane, as California doesn’t have 93. So, I don’t know, maybe it’ll shave off a tenth or two. Doubtful, though. Anyway, to put that into perspective, the non-turbo CX-5 hits 60 mph in 8 seconds. And it’s still faster than the next fastest crossovers, the Chevrolet Equinox 2.0T at 6.6, the Jeep Cherokee Latitude AWD at 6.6, and the 2.0T Ford Escape at 6.9 seconds. So you’re noticing a trend. A little extra fuel sipping, but plenty of extra “whoa” when you need to get moving.
Cargo capacity, like fuel economy, is a knock against the CX-5. With the rear seats up you will get 30.9 cubic feet of space, and with them folded you’ll have 59.6 cubic feet. This trails RAV4 at 37.5 and 69.8. The CR-V has 39.2 and 75.8. So, yeah, the CX-5 kind of lands with a thud for some customers with lots of children and are heavy travelers. The Kia Sportage only has 30.7 and 60.1; the Hyundai Tucson has 31 and 61.9; the Equinox has 29.9 and 63.9; and the Ford Escape has 37.5 and 65.4. The Mazda, in this regard, is about middle of the pack.
As a side note, most of the vehicles in this class come with a nice, large panoramic roof. The Mazda CX-5 comes with a normal-sized sunroof. It’s fine… but I would love to see a larger piece of glass in the ceiling. It would really open the cabin up to natural light and show off the Caturra Brown interior beautifully.
Driving comfort, though, is where the Mazda will shine. The leather driver’s seat is supple and comfy. The seats could be a tad more supportive to my sides when really hammering on it, but it is not the end of the world. Any long distance driving can be done with relative ease. The rear passengers have enough leg and head room, and while not class leading you won’t be groaning. The Caturra Brown interior is one of my favorite things that Mazda do on the interior of their Signature model vehicles, such as the 2018 Mazda6 Signature 2.5T I tested a few years back. That car featured the same colors inside and out, as well as the engine that powers the CX-5.
The 2021 Mazda CX-5 received a Top Safety Pick+ from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The only other vehicles that are considered “small” SUVs that achieved this rating are the Mazda CX-30, Mazda CX-3, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forrester, and the Volvo XC40. The rest of the vehicles in the CX-5’s class, the Equinox, Escape, CR-V, RAV4, Tucson, and Sportage all got a Top Safety Pick. So the Mazda did marginally better.
I guess all I’m trying to say is, stop telling me about the Hyundai, Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Chevrolet, Ford, or Kia that you are going to buy, and start paying attention when I tell you that you will enjoy those vehicles, but you might just appreciate how the Mazda CX-5 makes you feel a little bit more. Every vehicle in this class drives nicely, looks fine, and will do every basic to moderate task you throw at it. However, in my professional opinion, it is only the Mazda that makes you not feel like half your life is over. Instead, you’ll think that half your life is still in front of you.