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2021 Mazda CX-5 Signature AWD: Third time is not the charm


When this current generation of Mazda CX-5 debuted I thought it was an excellent crossover that was let down by an underpowered engine.  At that time only the 2.5 naturally aspirated SKYACTIV four-cylinder was on offer.  In my second experience with the current generation of CX-5, Mazda had come it its senses and put the turbo-four under the hood giving it a needed boost in horsepower and, more importantly, torque — 310 pound-feet vs. 186!

This time around the Mazda CX-5 returns in nearly the exact same spec as the one I drove almost two years ago.  It’s funny how time and experience can change your opinion. 

In the review of the CX-5 I wrote for another publication, I was mostly complementary and thought the price, within $100 of this current vehicle, was good value for money. 

Now, I have a few different thoughts.

What I don’t have problems with

I continue to enjoy the styling of the CX-5.  It somehow combines curvaceous Italian with simple and clean Danish/Japanese minimalism.  In the right colors, the exterior can have a premium look to it.

2021 Mazda CX-5 Signature AWD rear 3/4 view

2021 Mazda CX-5 Signature AWD (Photo by Eric Trytko)

The driving dynamics also remain good.  Let’s not kid ourselves here, this is no performance or enthusiast level of driving dynamics.  Rather its tuning leans European, instead of American or Japanese.  What does that mean?  Firm and controlled without being harsh.  The steering is a little too sensitive for my tastes, and it doesn’t have much — if any — feel, but that is the case with most electric steering vehicles these days.

The space in the cabin is of good size.  Front- and rear-seat room are ample. Rear-seat passengers will also have plenty of headroom — unless they are taller than 6 foot, 5 inches.

The cargo area is also on point.  With the rear seat folded down, my Irish Wolfhound fits just fine — though he could not stand up.

The infotainment system has had an upgrade.  Not only is the screen larger, it is more of a matte finish than glossy, making it less prone to reflections.  The processor, along with the UI and UX has also been upgraded.  It no longer is as maddeningly slow to operate and is far more intuitive to use.

Mazda CX-5

2021 Mazda CX-5 Signature AWD interior shot (Photo by Eric Trytko)

What I have problems with

I have two major gripes and a medium one with the 2021 Mazda CX-5.

It is somewhat difficult for me to pick which one irritates me more, so I’ll go with the interior.  Mazda has tried to really up its game with interiors over the last five or six years, and it is doing a far better job than it used to.  My issue here revolves around the just shy of $40k price tag. 

The materials used look good, as long as you don’t touch them.

The leather-like materials feel very thin and not of the best quality.  There is still FAR too much hard plastic in the interior.  If this was the CX-30, I’d have less of an issue, in the CX-5, at this price point, no way.


The “wood” trim looks like cheap hydro dipping and feels as such.  In some ways, it comes off as a badly executed GM interior. The CX-5 is trying to look premium, but can’t pull it off under close scrutiny.

Mazda CX-5

2021 Mazda CX-5 Signature AWD interior trim (Photo by Eric Trytko)

Lastly, with the interior is the driver’s seat.  Much like in the CX-30 I found it to be uncomfortable after more than an hour.  The bottom seat cushion also seemed a little short, and I would have liked a little more thigh support.

Minor annoyances with the interior include a heated steering wheel that is only heated between 8 and 10 o’clock and 2 and 4 o’clock.  Also, the heated seat must be turned on every time, it does not return to the last setting.

My second and nearly equal-in-annoyance issue is with all the safety nannies.  The first thing you must, MUST do is turn off lane keep assist.  It will beep at you with the slightest deviation as well as try to rip the wheel out of your hands if you drift across the line. 

Always a good time when you are trying to avoid cars and pedestrians.

Mazda CX-5

2021 Mazda CX-5 Signature AWD (Photo by Eric Trytko)

If you dare start the car without first having your seatbelt on, the system beeps until you do, and then sometimes a little longer for being a bad person. 

The doors lock automatically the moment you put the vehicle in gear.  However, when you return to park, if you want to open the rear hatch while in the driver’s seat, you cannot do so by just pushing the button.  Oh no, it will beep at you and tell you “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”  You must unlock your doors first, THEN you can open the rear hatch. 

MADNESS, and I don’t mean the band.

My medium gripe is fuel economy, or the lack of it.  Multiple highway runs never saw more than 24 mpg.  This is a midsized, non-performance four-cylinder crossover. That is unacceptable.  The EPA rates the turbo CX-5 at 22 city/27 highway/24 combined.  Yes, you have 221 horsepower (250 with 91 octane) and 310 pound-feet of torque, but that is much lower than others in the category also equipped with turbo four-cylinders.

The bottom line

If I had to pick one word to describe this CX-5 it would be clinical.  Everything comes off as calculated and dispassionate.  Almost as if they tried to be Lexus on a budget. 

If I spent thirty-nine grand and some change on a new vehicle and this is what I got, I’d be disappointed. Maybe even mad.  In a lower trim level at something under $34k, I might have a different opinion, but when you get to the $40k price mark in a vehicle this size, there are far more expectations.

And here, the Mazda misses.

Mazda can’t decide what they want to be, and in fact, if you asked me outside of the MX-5 what is their raison d’être, I could not say.  They dumped ZOOM ZOOM years ago, so it’s not performance.  Feel Alive is their current tag line. If you have a pulse does that count?

For the mainstream buyer, the CX-5 is in the most competitive segment, and it needs to stand out somehow. Ford, Chevy, Toyota, and Honda all move close to, if not more than, 300,000 units a year; Mazda, not even half of that.  Once Mazda as a company figures out who — or what — it wants to be, perhaps the rest will sort itself out.

Related posts:

Review: 2017 Mazda CX-5 – Good Enough For Her?

2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road: It’s better to look good than to feel good

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid: A top pick among hybrids


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