The 2021 Mazda CX-5 Is a Miata With All-Wheel Drive

The Mazda CX-5 competes in the burgeoning compact crossover segment and although it has a lot of the same features as its rivals, it still has a leg up on the competition. I’ve been driving the 2021 Mazda CX-5 Signature for the past week and am thoroughly impressed with its fun driving dynamics. If anything, I feel like the Mazda CX-5 is a Miata with all-wheel drive.

The Mazda CX-5 still has a lot of “zoom-zoom” left in it

You might not remember it, but in the early 2000s, Mazda’s tagline was “zoom-zoom,” which sounded a little weird at first, but it did well to embody the fun-to-drive nature of all the cars in the automaker’s lineup. And that characteristic still remains today as every Mazda product I’ve driven, even the large CX-9, has given me an underlying sense of confidence through every turn and has even put a smile on my face with every drive – even the short ones to the grocery store.

front three-quarter shot of 2021 Mazda CX-5 on a mountain road
2021 Mazda CX-5 | Joe Santos

Maybe it’s the sharp steering, or the responsive throttle, or perhaps even the tight, but comfortable suspension that Mazda seems to incorporate in all of its cars – especially the Miata – or maybe, it’s the culmination of all three attributes that makes its cars feel so sporty. But in any case, the Mazda CX-5 embodies the same athletic ethos that goes into all of Mazda’s cars and it’s something that rivals like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 are definitely lacking.

rear shot of 2021 Mazda CX-5 on a mountain road
2021 Mazda CX-5 | Joe Santos

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The Mazda CX-5’s turbocharged engine is the tip of the snowflake

If you find yourself shopping for a Mazda CX-5, then you should know that there are two different engines to choose from: a naturally aspirated, 187-hp 2.5-liter engine or a turbocharged, 227-hp 2.5-liter engine. Since my Snowflake White Pearl CX-5 test car is the highest Signature trim level, it came with the latter engine, which I would highly suggest in order to maximize your fun. With 320 lb-ft of torque (using 91 octane), the power surge comes on quickly when you pin the throttle and the six-speed automatic transmission makes its way through the gear precisely and smoothly.

front shot of the 2021 Mazda CX-5 on a mountain road
Front shot of the 2021 Mazda CX-5 on a mountain road | Joe Santos

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Although, do remember that it is a turbocharged engine, so there is a little turbo lag, however, I didn’t find that it hindered the driving experience much. But there was one time when I was trying to merge into traffic quickly that I found myself waiting for the turbo to spool up, but that could have been driver error since I was playing around with the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel. Otherwise, the Mazda CX-5 moves confidently and spiritedly through any type of traffic you put it through and it responds to every driver input about as quickly as the Miata did.

rear shot of 2021 Mazda CX-5
2021 Mazda CX-5 | Joe Santos

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What about the CX-5’s all-wheel-drive system?

Living in Colorado, I usually like putting any car’s all-wheel-drive system to the test by driving it on the snowiest road when possible, but so far, the CX-5’s AWD system works well on dry pavement. In lieu of driving over snow, I instead drove the CX-5 up a twisty mountain road in order to test out how it handles and responds to elevation changes. Unsurprisingly, the CX-5 passed with flying colors as it made quick work of every hairpin turn I could throw it into and gripped the corners like a low-slung sportscar.

And while the Mazda CX-5 might not feel as roomy as the CR-V or as rugged as the RAV4 (in some trims), it exudes the sophisticated styling that we have all come to love from Mazda, while injecting some driving thrill that the category certainly needs.