2021 Mazda CX-5 Signature AWD by Ben Lewis

You don’t really have to twist our arms to get us to review a Mazda. Just about all of them are great fun to drive, from the Miata sports car up to the big CX-9 SUV. The Mazda 3 and CX30 are also faves. But the heart and soul of Mazda’s lineup – and for most manufacturers – is its compact SUV. And with some nice updates to make it more appealing, we’re excited to take to the road in the CX-5.

Stay Classy, CX-5

For 2021 not much has changed on the CX-5’s shapely flanks, and that’s ok, it retains a tasteful, conservative look that has held up very well in the last few years. While we’ve been seeing more SUV’s go for that “rugged” look, like the new RAV4, there’s still plenty of room for elegance and understatement.

Up front the CX-5 features a simple presence with a large but not monstrous grille made all the more tasteful by a chrome surround. Framed by sleek adaptive LED headlights, it’s easily identifiable as a Mazda.

The profile is sporty, with nice fender blisters, scooped-out door panels, and black fender flares to add some sporty spice. The Signature’s 19-inch alloy wheels add to the handsome look and are exclusive to the lineup with their dark silver finish.

The rear continues the clean design, with LED taillights that warp around, concave hatch panel, and sporty dual round tailpipes poking out from the rear fascia. We especially loved the color of our tester, a rich Machine Grey Metallic that would look at home on an Audi or Mercedes, and it shows the elevated status of the CX-5 – it came to play with the Europeans!

Audi Pardner!

Inside the European vibe is even stronger. Changes from last year are minimal but make a big impact. There’s a new 10.25 info-tainment display that sits big and beautiful on top of the center dashboard. Mazda was a little slow to the party with tech before, but now there’s standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus Mazda Connected Services and in-car Wi-Fi hot spot. Good stuff.

You access the goods through a center controller that’s very Euro, with a smaller volume knob next to it. Okay, maybe after a few weeks you get used to that, but we kept reaching for where a knob is on most vehicles, and it’s not there. And while we’re carping, a touchscreen would be nice – it’s so large you naturally reach out to it.

Those are minor complaints, and really the only ones we have. The gauges are ultra-clear and sharp, and the switchgear is intuitive and operates with a slick precision you’d expect in a luxury vehicle. Our Signature model also enjoyed Mazda navigation, Traffic Sign Recognition, and a 360-degree View Monitor that makes maneuvering a snap.

And it does feel luxurious. Everywhere you touch the materials are high quality, and feel crafted to delight. The trim looks upscale, and on our Signature tester you are positively spoiled with Caturra Brown Nappa leather that looks, feels and smells heavenly, genuine layered wood trimming that is a joy to behold, as well as a black headliner and LED interior lighting. It is all so well done, if you didn’t know it was a Mazda, you’d swear it was an Audi that costs $15-20,000 more. This may be the perfect combination – wonderful upscale ambience, without anyone giving you the stink eye for driving an expensive luxury vehicle – nothing to snarl at here, just a friendly Mazda CX-5.

All This, and Turbo Too!

The best part is in the driving. While we’re fans of the lower trim level’s 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that puts out a respectable 187 horsepower and 186 lb.-ft of torque, we always felt like this was a chassis begging for more power. Recently our pleas were heard, and the Mazda has been offering a 2.5-liter Turbo engine in many models, including the 3, 6, CX30 and CX-5. (Sorry Miata fans!)

In the CX-5, the turbo bumps the power up to 250 hp, and a stout 320 lb.-ft of torque, and it really changes the demeanor of the SUV. No, it’s not a rally car, but it is quick, and with the 6-speed automatic being urged along with the paddle shifters, the CX hustles around quickly at low speeds and pulls hard up to and beyond freeway speeds. There’s even a little throaty exhaust note that’s not loud enough to offend, but enough to make you smile. Go easy on it and you can even see 30 mpg. Or so we’re told!

The company that makes the Miata isn’t going to give you a limp noodle in the turns either. The CX-5 has great steering feel, plenty of grip – especially in our AWD model – and a firm but not harsh ride. It really strikes us as an ideal balance – sporty enough for the enthusiast, but quiet, composed and supple enough for the daily commute. An Audi Q5 or BMW X3 owner would find little to complain about here. Unless they see how much more they paid for that fancy European badge!

Value Player

The CX-5 impresses us at in the checkout lane as well as the passing lane. A sweet handling front-wheel-drive CX-5 Sport starts at just $25,270, and you get lots of goodness, high quality parts and loads of features. Bargain stuff.

The sweet spot for us would be the new Carbon Edition, that features unique Polymetal Gray paint, 19-inch black alloy wheels, red leather seats and black honeycomb interior trim. You can even get it in non-turbo, but being the least expensive CX-5 that offers turbo power, plus those special looks, we’d go turbo on this one. With AWD and Turbo, the Carbon comes in at $32,060. Great value as well.

Our Signature is the top-of-the-line, and we did love that luscious Nappa Leather interior, the 360-degree camera, safety upgrades including Smart City Brake Support Reverse and Driver Attention Alert, Navigation and more. Exclusivity does come at a price – $37,405. Add in Machine Gray Metallic Paint for $495, and $1,100 destination, and we range the bell at $39,000.

If you want to match this kind of performance in a RAV4, you’ll be looking at the PRIME XSE for $48,360. Yes, that Hybrid is fun…but not $10,000 more fun! The CR-V Turbo is a nice vehicle, and the CR-V AWD Touring will cost you $36,325 – but that 190 hp motor will be sucking wind behind the CX-5. And your most basic Audi Q5 starts at $43,300, but you’ll be digging deep in the option bin to match what the Mazda offers.

It’s hard not to like the 2021 Mazda CX-5. Great style, gorgeous interior, European sport sedan performance and excellent value. And with the available 250-hp turbo engine – it’s impossible not to love!