2021 Mazda CX-5 — Sporty and Practical

2021 Mazda CX5Model tested: 2021 Mazda CX-5 AWD Signature

Engine: SKYACTIVE 2.5-liter turbo

Transmission: SKYACTIVE Drive 6-speed automatic

Horsepower: 227

Torque: 310 lb.-ft.

EPA rating: 22/city, 27/highway, 24/combined

Base price: $37,405

As tested: $38,630

Overview: The Mazda CX-5 is arguably the sportiest in the highly competitive compact-crossover class. Its power and nimble handling are the answer for those finding themselves needing something practical — and refusing to give up driving for fun. There are three engine choices but our Signature model test driver had the 2.5-liter turbo, and this review focuses on only that vehicle.

Walkaround: The CX-5 is stylish, with smooth, flowing lines that eschew the boring, boxy SUV look. Narrow headlights slant downward and, combined with Mazda’s signature shark-like grille and just enough chrome, create a very aggressive appearance. Quite simply, the CX-5 is more luxurious and stylish than almost anything else in this market segment.

2021 Mazda CX5Interior: The Signature and Grand Touring Reserve models feature honest luxury trappings like real wood trim and Nappa leather. The comfortable front seats are bolstered well enough to facilitate sportier driving. The rear seats are narrower than many competitors, and three adults could become uncomfortable in short order. However, there’s plenty of room for pre-teens.

The 8-inch infotainment screen is operated via a console-mounted dial, steering wheel buttons or voice control. This system works fine — in theory — but in reality, it’s inconvenient to use at best. The standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto help. But if you get or make a phone call, you have to retune the radio, which defaults to the phone’s audio setting.

The cargo area reveals 31 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 60 with them folded.

Behind the Wheel: The sporty CX-5 is the fun one in the congested pack of unexciting compact crossovers. The chassis utilizes four-wheel, independent suspension and a rigid, steel unibody design, coupled with torque-vectoring that adjusts the torque sent to the inside wheels, which delivers great cornering and a stable ride that holds the road.

Steering is firm but not heavy. The turbocharged version of the standard 2.5-liter powerplant — standard on the top two trims and justifying the upcharge for those models — does the 0-60 drill in about seven seconds.

Bottom Line: The 2020 Mazda CX-5 Signature is a driver’s crossover thanks to its powerful engine and great chassis. It’s somewhat smaller than competitors and has complicated infotainment, but it’s undeniably the most fun.