Crossovers have clearly become the family vehicle of choice. Minivans and large sedans are far less common than they used to be as buyers opt for the relative plushness and more generous space offered by utility vehicles. That’s not a bad thing, but many people will find the increasing levels of sameness in the crossover market to be off-putting.
Thankfully, Mazda is here to help keep things interesting. Its CX-5 takes a different approach than its rivals. Where vehicles like the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V focus on comfort and efficiency over almost everything else, Mazda managed to jam in loads of vehicle feedback and engagement. Behind the wheel, the crossover feels and sounds much more alive and responsive than its competition. Jumping out of a larger vehicle and into the CX-5 felt like a shock at first, as the Mazda’s steering wheel delivers real, actual feedback and transmits a picture of what’s going on underneath the vehicle, which is something not often seen outside of expensive performance vehicles.
The CX-5’s cabin is more upscale than its rivals. Mazda
The CX-5’s base four-cylinder engine is fine, but the turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is where things start to get interesting. It bumps the standard mill’s 187 horsepower to 250 and gives off a pleasing turbo whine under heavy throttle. It pairs almost perfectly with the six-speed automatic transmission and delivers surprising power and torque. My test vehicle’s all-wheel drive gave the CX-5 a surefooted feel, and from experience I can say that it’s worth the added cost if you live anywhere with legitimate winter weather.
There are a few tradeoffs that come along with the CX-5’s level of driver engagement, largely related to interior space and noise levels. While the Mazda’s cabin is comfortable and is in no way low-rent, a great deal of wind, road, and drivetrain noise make their way into the vehicle at all times. You could argue that this is just another expression of the CX-5’s connection with its driver, and you’d be right in some cases. At many times, however, such as when taking the kids to school or just running to the grocery store, it gets tiresome. Your five-year-old won’t care about how good the steering feel is when they have to keep asking you to crank up the volume on their podcast story. The noise level is most noticeable around town with the constant stop and go of traffic.
The other main drawback with the CX-5, at least for families (like mine) that don’t travel lightly, is interior space. Thanks to its curves and beautifully sloped roof, the Mazda’s cargo hold is not as spacious as some of its rivals, such as the Volkswagen Tiguan, Honda CR-V, or Toyota RAV4. That dramatic shape also makes the rear seat feel tighter than it reads on paper, but thanks to a friendly ride height and large rear door openings, parents will have no issues with loading kids in car seats.
A sloping roofline can make rear-seat headroom challenging for taller people.Mazda
Great Tech and Safety
Mazda bumped the CX-5’s infotainment screen size from 7.0 to 10.3 inches across the board for 2021, but there’s no touchscreen here. Instead, the system is controlled using a rotary dial and volume know that are mounted behind the gear shifter in the center console. It’s a responsive and fairly straightforward process to use and control the system, but scrolling through long menus or trying to wade through several options using the rotary controller becomes tiresome and distracting at times.
The 2021 Mazda CX-5 was named a Top Safety Pick + by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). That award is due in part to the crossover’s excellent performance in crash tests, but also comes thanks to its long list of standard advanced driver aids. All models get a rearview camera, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alerts, lane departure warnings with lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, a smart brake support system, and high beam control. My top trim tester also got a driver attention alert system, front and rear parking sensors, and a 360-degree monitor.
It’s hard to ignore the quality, value, and fun that the CX-5 brings to the table, even considering how good its competitors have gotten. With a price tag that maxes out under $40,000, the Mazda’s driving experience and plush interior should put it at the top of shoppers’ lists. Its few drawbacks don’t spoil the overall package, and only really present a problem for families of four or more – like mine. Those people, myself included, should be shopping for a slightly larger vehicle, anyway, and for them, there’s the Mazda CX-9.
The CX-5 is one of the most fun-to-drive crossovers on sale today.Mazda