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2021 Mazda CX-5

Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry

Mazda’s sales leader, the CX-5, returns for the 2021 model year with some nicely updated safety features and a not-so-nicely updated infotainment setup. That mixed-bag proposition pretty much sums it up for this latest iteration of the would-be rival to the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue and Toyota RAV4 in the booming compact SUV market: Everywhere it seems to have it where it counts, it seems to have a count against it, too.

Related: 2021 Mazda CX-5 Review: A Decent  Compact SUV With Deal-Breaking Tech

Interior accommodations are impressive, yet seating and ride quality don’t quite live up to the cabin’s premium promise. The powertrain is, indeed, powerful — and boy howdy, will all that racket accompanying acceleration never let you forget it.

For the full context on our CX-5 experience, follow the link above to Cars.com reviewer Brian Normile’s comprehensive critique. But for a rapid-fire round up of the new SUV’s pros and cons, keep reading.

Here are four things we like, and four things we don’t like, about the 2021 Mazda CX-5:

Things We Like

1. Steering, Stopping

2021 Mazda CX-5

Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry

Handling remains consistently confident and precise, no less appreciated for being expected from Mazda. Meanwhile, even in the snowy conditions under which we tested it, the CX-5’s brakes and tires reassured us that when pressed, they would indeed bring things to a halt. (That may sound like a given, but in the winter slush of Cars.com’s Chicago homebase, it’s nice to know you’re in good hands … or on good shoes, as it were.)

2. Feels Good Inside

Cabin appointments are dependably sumptuous as Mazda continues to distinguish itself with near-luxe interiors. The top-tier Signature trim we tested was garbed in lush Caturra Brown leather and equipped with weighty, substantial-feeling knobs and controls.

3. Turbo Puts Its Boost Foot Forward

The CX-5’s optional turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is eager to accelerate both from a stop and at speed. Bear in mind that it’s at its best when running on premium fuel, making 250 horsepower and 320 pounds-feet of torque versus 227 hp and 310 pounds-feet on regular.

4. Free Safety

2021 Mazda CX-5

Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry

Standard safety features include adaptive cruise control, low-speed forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning with lane keep assist, and blind spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert. Our Signature model also added a new driver alertness monitor and low-speed rear emergency braking with pedestrian detection, as well as a 360-degree camera system.

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Things We Don’t

1. The Minus Touch

If CX-5 drivers didn’t like it before when they could only use the multimedia display as a touchscreen when stopped, Mazda has addressed that problem.  With the new 10.25-inch infotainment screen, there’s no touch function at all. Instead, there’s a console-mounted knob controller.

Mazda: “There, we fixed it.”

Us: “Wait, but that’s not what we … Forget it.”

2. Ohhh … Nooo … as the Rough Riders Roll!

2021 Mazda CX-5

Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry

A firmer ride might be more forgivable in the Mazda3 hatchback, but on the CX-5 SUV? Sure, the driving experience is on the sportier side, but a ride this firm in an SUV seems like it undermines the cushiness of the interior.

3. So-So Seating Comfort

Again with the cabin comfort contradictions, the materials may be nice, but seating feels strangely floaty up front and cramped in back for taller passengers. CX-5 drivers may notice friends’ calls for “shotgun” seem to end in a question mark rather than an exclamation point.

4. Engine Noise Annoys

2021 Mazda CX-5

Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry

The six-speed automatic transmission does a fine enough job channeling power to the peppy CX-5’s drive wheels, but its extra-long gear holds aren’t exactly music to your ears. Normile called the soundtrack “almost CVT-like” in his review — and I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean that as a compliment.

Related Video: 2020 Mazda CX-30: Review

Cars.com’s Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with Cars.com’s long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don’t accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of Cars.com’s advertising, sales and sponsored content departments.