Proffit at the Wheel: Mazda’s CX-5 Signature AWD Review

What differentiates one SUV from another? How about styling, substance, honesty and innovation? There are plenty of mid-size SUVs out there to check out and, perhaps, bring home for a few years, but there are few as stylish, as filled with substance and honesty or as strong as Mazda’s CX-5 Signature AWD. 

There are seven trim levels for this 2021 Mazda CX-5 that is rated a compact model in the midst of ever-increasing-sized array of sport utility vehicles, and the Signature AWD sits atop that grouping. It’s about to gain a new, similar-sized cousin, CX-50, that will likely be even more modern, with more frills than even this delectable piece of machinery. But in the meantime, the CX-5 is here, it’s a great vehicle and it’s able to challenge most every other compact SUV in the marketplace, in particular with its unmistakable style.

Mazda vehicles always stand outside the norm, whether an SUV, a sports car or a sedan/hatchback model. Mazda’s stylings offer a distinctive face and the company pays particular attention to aerodynamics that can affect both performance and economy over a vehicle’s lifetime. The front end always is clean and efficient, with slits for the headlamps and tiny fog lights that surround the gaping front grille with Mazda’s unique insignia.

The hood and side views of this Mazda CX-5 are very clean and the rear of the SUV completes the cleanliness and purpose of the design cues. Underneath the hood lies Mazda’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with direct injection and a single dynamic pressure turbo that emits 227 horsepower at 5,000rpm and 310 lb-ft of torque at 2,000. Redline is 6,300rpm. A six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifts and sport mode complete the complementary mechanical goods. There are twin pipes at the rear.

Mazda equips the CX-5 with MacPherson strut and multilink suspensions that are sporting – as expected – equating to agility in every instance. The CX-5 Signature AWD uses power rack and pinion variable ratio EPAS steering that is as direct and controlled as one would expect from a company whose true signature vehicle is a sports car, the Mazda MX-5 Miata. Brakes stop this 3836-pound SUV quickly and expediently. Toyo 225/55R all-season tires are mounted on 19-inch, 10-spoke alloy rims that dissipate heat quite nicely. 

Mazda’s build quality for this, and for all of its offerings, is excellent, with uniform seams and closures all around. During our trip to Las Vegas and back for the NHRA’s penultimate race of the year, held traditionally on Halloween weekend, we had a small fender-bender in Sin City. The damage to the Mazda was truly minimal but the eight-year-old Kia Rio with which we had contact was harmed far more than this well-constructed CX-5 Signature AWD. Kudos to Mazda on its strength in this instance.

The Soul Red color of this Mazda CX-5 is one of its signature colors, appropriate on a Signature model. It’s rich and eminently copied by other manufacturers who keep trying to outdo Mazda, but rarely accomplish that feat. The interior of this SUV is bathed in Caturra brown leather with off-chrome accents throughout. Very business-like in every way, the Mazda CX-5 Signature AWD is definitely an SUV manufactured for ease. Note full power for the driver and partial power (no lumbar support) for the front-seat passenger and ventilated leather for everyone in this cabin. 

At the second row, Mazda has air extraction to keep occupants comfortable and the pull-down armrest has a cubby, in addition to cup holders for items that need to be out of sight. The hatch can be power activated through a button in the cabin or using the fob that opens, closes all doors. Amazingly, this short person had no difficulties opening and closing the 30.9-cubic-foot cargo area – 59.6 cubic-feet with the second row of seat comfortably stashed. While there’s no cargo cover, privacy glass easily conceals items left in the cargo area. The hatch area has tie-down holders and even a 12-volt to the right of the opening. There’s a full-size spare beneath the floor.

It’s a complete gauge cluster in front of the driver. While Mazda always has a blue light to denote a cold engine, it’s good to see the inclusion of the temp gauge. On the steering wheel, drivers can access trip info, audio and phone controls on the left and cruise control to the right. The wheel itself is quite sporting and easily tapped when using paddle controls to shift. At the base of the central stack lie two USB and a single 12-volt plug, while a remote tray in the small, covered storage area on the tunnel has a nicely carpeted floor. Seats are exceptionally supportive and comfy for long drives. I did four hours without stopping, even though the car asked me to get up and move around.

Regular readers know my dislike for “nannies” in the car and I immediately turned off the invasive lane departure. What I didn’t turn off is the information area, which has two trip odometers, service internal info, a compass and range info. After putting on nearly 700 miles on this Mazda’s more than 10,000 miles at pickup, I achieved nearly 26mpg from the 15.3-gallon tank – at other-worldly speeds – well above the EPA’s averages of 22/27/24mpg using regular unleaded fuel. This mileage might seem minuscule to some, but the road to Vegas is a true racetrack and speeding is essential if one doesn’t want to get run over.

Because this is the top of its Mazda CX-5 lineup, the Signature model includes heated seats, a small-ish slide/tilt sunroof, navigation for the 10.25-inch stand-up color display at the center of the dash area, Bose audio with 10 speakers, SiriusXM audio for a few month gratis, along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, neither of which are wireless, unfortunately. The current speed limit is posted on the gauge cluster as a reminder that we’re always exceeding it.

Mazda cars and SUVs aren’t for everyone. It’s a small company and very independent, which is one of the reasons this writer is drawn to the products that emanate from it. A production agreement with Toyota has seen Mazda’s Mazda2 become Toyota’s iA model and has made that large manufacturer’s smaller offerings, like the iA look finer and behave better. Buying or leasing a 2021 Mazda CX-5 Signature AWD tells the world the driver is a leader, not a follower. That’s my preference as well.

words and photos by Anne Proffit 

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