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2021 Mazda CX-5 Review and Road Test By Larry Nutson

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Cruising the Coast in a 2021 Mazda CX-5

By Larry Nutson
Senior Editor and Bureau Chief
Chicago Bureau

A recent combination business and pleasure visit to Southern California provided a nice opportunity to become reacquainted with the Mazda CX-5 compact crossover SUV. It’s always good to spend time driving a vehicle outside of one’s usual home turf and experience a different daily driving environment.

My “So Cal” stay began in Santa Monica, a coastal city just west of LA. Santa Monica sits high on a bluff overlooking Pacific Ocean beachfront. For the “car gals and guys” in the world it’s best known as the western end of the famed Route 66. Yes, as the song lyric goes, Route 66 “winds from Chicago to LA.” I stopped to give pause realizing that earlier this year I was at the eastern end of Route 66 in Chicago at the intersection of E. Jackson Boulevard and S. Michigan Avenue.

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My wife was traveling along with me and the CX-5 provided plenty of front seat comfort as well as good luggage space for two suitcases and two carry-on bags. The compact size of the CX-5 also made for easy maneuvering in traffic as well as into tight parking spaces.

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With 227-hp coming from its 2.5-L turbo engine and a 6-speed automatic getting the engine’s power and torque to all four wheels the CX-5 is plenty responsive and fun to drive. There are a lot of SUVs on the market that might best have the “S” for Sport left off of their designation. The CX-5 is not one of them. Mazda prides itself in delivering an engaging and lively driving experience in its vehicles.

Take note that the 227-hp engine rating is with 87 octane gasoline. If you use 93 octane you’ll get 250-hp and increased torque for even more performance.

After a couple days in Santa Monica we drove up the coast taking the very scenic Pacific Coast Highway, California Route 1, to Santa Barbara. Along the way Malibu made for a good lunch break location on the nearly 100-mile drive. Posted speed limits along Route One are mostly 45 mph and 55 mph with couple spots at 65 mph. This “slower” highway driving made for lower fuel consumption.

The CX-5 got a touch over 30 mpg for the 100-mile trip which bettered the EPA highway rating of 27 mpg by 10%. Ocean front Santa Barbara sits in California’s central coast. Of note, Santa Barbara sits on a south-facing section of coastline and enjoys very sunny weather. The Santa Ynez Mountains are just to its northeast and are the home to many wineries producing excellent wines.

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Not far from Santa Barbara is Solvang, the “Danish Capital of America.” Mediterranean-style white stucco buildings with red-tile roofs reflect the Santa Barbara’s Spanish colonial heritage. The Santa Barbara Mission was established in 1786, the tenth of the California Missions to be founded by Spanish Franciscan missionaries.

We did some driving up into the Santa Ynez mountains and the CX-5 proved itself with top-notch ride and handling and an overall very satisfying dynamic driving experience. The CX-5 is offered in Sport, Touring, Carbon Edition, Grand Touring and Signature trims.

The Carbon Edition is new for 2021 and offers exclusive styling with Polymetal Gray exterior paint, gloss black door mirrors and 19-inch black metallic aluminum alloy wheels. The interior has red leather seats and black honeycomb interior trimming on the dash and door panels.

Both front-wheel and all-wheel drive is available on the CX-5. For my So Cal driving we were in a Signature trim with all-wheel drive.

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Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring trims are powered by a 187-hp naturally aspirated 2.5-L engine. The Carbon Edition is offered with a choice of this engine or the 227-hp Turbo. A Grand Touring Reserve trim as well as the Signature trim are equipped only with the 227-hp Turbo.

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For 2021 the CX-5 gets a new standard 10.25-inch large center display with latest-generation Mazda Connect infotainment and has standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capabilities. A three-year trial of Mazda Connected Services capability provides the ability to monitor and control the state of the CX-5 remotely by logging into the MyMazda app and in-car Wi-Fi hotspot with three-months or 2GB trial, whichever comes first.

Although I am generally familiar with the So Cal region coming from many visits over the years, I made good use of the CX-5’s navigation system. Some of those local streets traveled to get to a specific destination are not so well know. Plus, it’s always useful to simply look at the map display to see what’s ahead. The new, large 10.25-inch center display made for clear viewing and it was easy to reposition the map with the console mounted controller.

The CX-5 comes standard with the brand’s suite of i-Activsense safety features including Mazda Radar Cruise Control with stop and go function, Advanced Smart City Brake Support with Pedestrian Detection, Smart Brake Support, Lane Departure Warning with Lane-Keep Assist and Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert.

During my stay in Santa Barbara I made a drive with a fellow car-enthusiast back to LA to visit the Peterson Automotive Museum. I haven’t been there for many, many years and wanted to see their latest exhibits. The Peterson has a fabulous collection of automobiles and often rotates what’s in the featured displays. A tour of “The Vault” should not be missed.

On this drive bask to LA we took Highway 101 with faster highway speeds. The CX-5 got 28 mpg on this drive--still better than the EPA rating.

Prices for the 2021 CX-5 start at $27,270 and rise to $37,405, plus a $1,100 destination charge. More info and details on the 2021 Mazda CX-5 can be found at Take note, Car and Driver magazine has named the CX-5 to their 10Best list for 2021.

Happy motoring and thanks to Mazda for the CX-5 experience.

© 2021 Larry Nutson, the Chicago Car Guy