The Mazda CX-5 isn’t the newest, highest-tech, most fuel efficient, or most practical compact SUV—but it’s definitely the sportiest. Its shortcomings are few, and it remains one of the top-rated vehicles in our compact SUV rankings. For 2021 the CX-5 has been updated with a larger infotainment screen, a new trim level, and a very slight price increase. What are the differences between the 2021 CX-5 trim levels, and which is best? Let’s get into it.
2021 Mazda CX-5 Sport Pros and Cons
Sport is a fitting name for the base trim, as it enjoys the same sporty chassis setup as its higher-end counterparts. It’s powered by a 2.5-liter I-4 that turns the front wheels, with all-wheel drive optionally available. This engine doesn’t make the CX-5 particularly efficient, scoring 25/31 mpg city/highway with FWD and 24/30 mpg with AWD.
Outside, it rolls on 17-inch alloy wheels and has LED headlights. Only black and light blue are included as exterior paint colors; metallic white and red are available at extra cost. Inside, the climate control and cloth-upholstered seats are manually adjustable. Two front-row USB ports, a 4.6-inch gauge cluster display, and a four-speaker audio system are standard. The second-row seats recline and have fold-down release handles in the cargo area.
Even in Sport trim, the CX-5’s features indicate Mazda’s premium approach. The body-color side mirrors have built-in turn signals, and dual chrome-finished exhaust tips look sporty. Inside, the 10.3-inch infotainment display is hard to miss, while the leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob feel nicer than the plastic parts found in some competitors. Like all CX-5 trims, driver assist and active safety features like adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, rain-sensing wipers, and automatic emergency braking are included. These help the CX-5 earn top safety ratings from the IIHS and NHTSA.
Given its solid dynamic attributes and driver assist tech, the roughly $26,500 CX-5 Sport appeals for an entry-level model. We wouldn’t be disappointed to choose it, but it’s pretty basic.
2021 Mazda CX-5 Touring Pros and Cons
The Touring trim adds features that help the CX-5 feel less stripped out. These include hands-free keyless entry, illuminated sun visor mirrors, a six-speaker audio system, and dual-zone automatic climate control. Up front, the driver’s seat gets power adjustability, and both seats gain three-level heating. The second row is upgraded with air vents, a folding center armrest with cupholders, and tinted side windows. All seats are upholstered in leatherette with faux suede accents. Metallic silver and dark blue are added to the standard paint choices, and dark gray becomes available at extra cost.
At approximately $28,000, the 2021 CX-5 Touring trim adds features that are nice to have but nothing that’s absolutely necessary.
2021 Mazda CX-5 Carbon Edition Pros and Cons
Mazda might like you to think the 2021 CX-5 Carbon Edition is some sort of lightweight or extra-sporty model, but it’s mechanically identical to any other trim in the lineup. No carbon fiber here—that “Carbon” bit supposedly relates to the common color of the element: black, like coal. Indeed, the Carbon Edition’s grille, side mirror caps, and 19-inch wheels are finished in black. It’s coated exclusively in Polymetal Gray metallic paint, which isn’t offered on any other trim.
Interior changes include black or red leather seating upholstery, red stitching on the shift knob and steering wheel, and black trim panels. But the Carbon Edition isn’t only about styling—it’s equipped with a moonroof, power rear liftgate, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and 10-speaker Bose audio system. The front passenger seat gains power adjustability, and two USB ports are added to the second row.
Starting at just under $30,000, the CX-5 Carbon Edition adds features that boost its daily usability and enjoyment. If it’s in your budget, it’s worth a look—so long as you vibe with its blacked-out styling theme.
2021 Mazda CX-5 Carbon Turbo Edition Pros and Cons
This trim is just like the CX-5 Carbon Edition but with—you guessed it—a turbocharged engine. It’s the first CX-5 trim that’s offered with Mazda’s 2.5-liter turbocharged I-4, which bumps power to as much as 227 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque (or 250 hp and 320 lb-ft with premium fuel) from 186 hp and 186 lb-ft as standard. It’s a significant boost that changes the CX-5’s driving demeanor—that is, it’s much quicker.
The increased performance decreases fuel economy: The Carbon Edition Turbo and other CX-5 trims that use this engine are rated at 23/28 mpg with FWD, and 22/27 mpg with AWD.
Prices for the 2021 CX-5 Carbon Edition Turbo start at just under $32,000. The trim’s increased power and torque give it enthusiast appeal. However, the non-turbo Carbon Edition still has fun handling and the same features. It just isn’t as quick.
2021 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring Pros and Cons
The premium feel increases in the CX-5 Grand Touring trim. It rolls on bright-finished 19-inch wheels and gains upgraded LED lighting: headlights with DRL accents and curve-adaptive functionality, front foglights, and taillights. Inside, the seats are upholstered in black or beige leather. The gauge cluster information display increases to 7.0 inches in size. It’s also the first CX-5 trim that includes paddle shifters, which work pretty well to control the somewhat outdated six-speed automatic. Mazda tosses in a three-month trial subscription to SiriusXM satellite radio on the Grand Touring trim.
Even with these features, the roughly $31,500 CX-5 Grand Touring’s price slightly undercuts that of the Carbon Edition Turbo. However, the Grand Touring model is equipped with the naturally aspirated engine—trade-offs.
2021 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring Reserve Pros and Cons
In Grand Touring Reserve trim, the CX-5 becomes a more worthy competitor to compact luxury SUVs. It’s equipped with the turbocharged engine and AWD. Comfort improves by way of the heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats, and heated rear seats. Technology upgrades include a head-up display and infotainment voice command functionality. Power-folding side mirrors and a windshield wiper de-icer add convenience.
At just over $37,000, the CX-5 Grand Touring Reserve trim takes a major price hike over the Grand Touring model. With its powertrain and upscale features, that increase seems justified. It’s expensive for a CX-5 but a relative bargain against similarly equipped luxury SUVs.
2021 Mazda CX-5 Signature Pros and Cons
As Mazda plots its move upmarket, its luxurious aims are indicated by the range-topping CX-5 Signature trim. Its 19-inch wheels have a dark silver finish, but for some reason metallic silver paint is unavailable. However its interior is covered in lovely dark brown premium leather upholstery, complemented by genuine layered wood trim. Technology enhancements include a 360-degree parking camera system and road sign recognition capability. The interior overhead lights are replaced with LEDs. Front and rear parking sensors and rear automatic braking help prevent scrapes and scuffs. The turbocharged engine and AWD are standard equipment.
The 2021 CX-5 Signature runs for about $38,500, not a huge lift over the Grand Touring Reserve model. But as nice as that brown leather is, we question if that addition and a few others are worth it.
Which 2021 Mazda CX-5 Model Is Best?
The CX-5 is truly an enthusiast’s crossover, and for that reason we think it’s best when equipped with the punchy turbocharged engine. As such, we’re inclined toward the Carbon Edition Turbo trim—it has that power. What it doesn’t have is all the upscale features of higher-end models, but the many inclusions make it a compelling value. The Carbon Edition’s catch is that it’s only available in Polymetal Gray paint, which won’t suit everyone’s tastes. Regardless, the CX-5’s great looks and dynamics make it a worthy rival to SUVs in its class or even those above.