By Ed Piotrowski and CarPreview staff
What changes will make the 2021 Mazda CX-5 different?
A complete redesign of this compact crossover is just over the horizon – but only Mazda knows when it’ll arrive. If it lands for model-year 2022, the ‘21 CX-5 will be a carryover of the 2020 model. We should know by fall 2020.
Regardless of its model-year designation, the most significant change for the all-new second-generation CX-5 is sure to be new styling and a fresh interior design. It’ll remain a five-seater available with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (AWD) and will reprise the 2020’s gasoline and turbodiesel four-cylinder engines – and possibly add a novel new gas four-cylinder that promises vastly improved fuel economy.
The first-generation CX-5 debuted for model-year 2013, was refreshed for 2017, and stands as the Japanese automaker’s top-selling U.S. vehicle. It launched Mazda’s Skyactiv manufacturing and engineering processes intended to minimize weight and maximize efficiency. The CX-5 consistently rates among the best-driving crossovers in the segment – even if its sales place it just midpack in a crowded field of some 20 entries.
Should I wait for the 2021 CX-5 or buy a 2020?
If you want Mazda’s most up-to-date styling and features, wait for the redesigned CX-5, whatever model year it turns out to be. Count on eye-catching styling, lively road manners, and a continued march upscale in amenities and pricing.
For a bird in the hand, buy a 2020 CX-5. It remains a style leader and a top performer in the class and is among the very few compact crossovers available with a diesel engine in lieu of a hybrid option. And a ’20 CX-5 will almost certainly cost less than a ’21, redesigned or not.
In fact, pricing may be particularly vital for some CX-5 intenders. As Mazda repositions its vehicles to near-premium status, CX-5 prices already touch the upper echelon of the compact-crossover segment. The 2020 CX-5 flagship, the Signature model, comes with Nappa leather upholstery and real wood interior trim and has a base price of $38,100 with the turbocharged gas engine and around $42,300 with the diesel. Further, Mazda avoids heavy incentives, which helps maintain brand image and resale values but can cut out price-sensitive shoppers.
Both the first- and second-generation CX-5 will continue to slot in Mazda’s crossover stable between the smaller, compact-class CX-3 and CX-30 and the midsize, seven-passenger CX-9.
The redesigned CX-5 will likely feature a four-model lineup consisting of Base, Preferred, Premium, and flagship Signature trims. Expect AWD to be standard on the Signature and optional in place of front-drive on the others.
Should the ’21 be a carryover, its five-model lineup will probably mirror that of the 2020 CX-5: Sport, Touring, Grand Touring, Grand Touring Reserve, and Signature. AWD would remain standard on the Grand Touring Reserve and the Signature.
Will the styling be different?
Yes, if it’s redesigned for model-year 2021. If it isn’t redesigned, the ’21 CX-5 will continue with the touches applied as part of the 2017 refresh. Tweaks to nose and tail brought its look in line with that of most other Mazdas, including the Mazda 3 and 6 cars and the CX-9 crossover.
Expect the second-generation CX-5 to be about the same size while taking visual inspiration from the redesigned 2019 Mazda 3 hatchback. Minimal gingerbread, sophisticated lines, and smooth contours would be the order of the day. Thankfully, the CX-5’s larger canvass should allow stylists to avoid the awkward rear-end proportions that sully the 3 hatchback.
The next-gen CX-5 interior should also mimic the newest 3’s, with an uncluttered layout of instruments and controls. An 8.8-inch tablet-style infotainment screen would replace the first-generation’s 7- and 8-inch display options. Users would govern most functions via a console-mounted dial controller, and the interface would be a generational leap over the current CX-5’s. Expect Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto to be standard across the board; the smartphone interfaces were unavailable on the 2020 CX-5 Sport but were otherwise standard.
We hope the redesign includes reshaped front seats that are more comfortable for those of wider frame. Legroom should remain generous in both seating rows. We’d advise Mazda to retain the 40/20/40 split/folding rear seatbacks instead of the more common 60/40. We’d also encourage it to allow the rear bench to slide fore and aft to benefit passenger or cargo space. Of the latter, the first-generation CX-5 is slightly below class average, with 30.9 cubic feet behind the rear seat and 59.6 with them folded. The redesigned model could see a modest bump on both fronts.
Expect Mazda to continue to pursue a premium image with class-above interior materials. As with the first generation, the redesigned Grand Touring and above would include leather upholstery as standard, with the Signature featuring upgraded leather, custom stitching, wood veneers, and ambient lighting.
Any mechanical changes?
Quite likely for the redesigned CX-5. No change if the 2021 model is a carryover.
The next-gen CX-5 would be an ideal candidate for Mazda’s new Skyactiv-X engine, a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder that employs both gasoline-spark ignition to optimize fuel efficiency and diesel-type compression ignition to maximize torque. Figure around 180 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque. It would be the entry-level engine, standard on the Base and Preferred grades.
If a Skyactiv-X engine isn’t on the bill, the base powerplant would likely be the 2.5-liter four-cylinder carried over from the 2020 Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring models. It would again make around 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque. First-gen or second, the CX-5 should be one of the lightest vehicles in its competitive set, so acceleration with the 2.5-liter should remain more than satisfying for most buyers.
Expect the other 2021 CX-5 models to retain a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder. For ’20, it was rated at 250 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque using super-premium 93-octane gasoline and 227 horsepower and 310 pound-feet on 87-octane regular. In our tests this engine delivered strong scoot off the line and impressive acceleration to merge or pass. We observed no noticeable performance degradation on 87-octane gas.
Likely returning as an option for the Signature model would be a 2.2-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder with 168 horsepower and 290 pound-feet of torque. Mazda had not made a diesel Signature available for testing in time for this review. On paper, it’s an intriguing proposition, promising strong pickup and highway fuel economy over 30 mpg – pretty good for an AWD compact crossover with that much torque. You’d pay a premium, though: the turbodiesel adds a rather stiff $4,000 to the 2020 gas-powered Signature, although Mazda cushions the hit with 2 years/30,000 miles of complimentary scheduled maintenance as an exclusive perk.
We suspect it’s unlikely, but we hope Mazda replaces the next CX-5’s six-speed automatic transmission with something more sophisticated. The six-speed works well enough, but a transmission with more gears would allow the engines to really stretch their performance legs and potentially get even better fuel economy.
Switching to a cost-cutting rear suspension set back the 2019 Mazda 3’s road manners but we don’t think such a fate awaits the redesigned CX-5. It should continue with a fully independent suspension that delivers enthusiast-grade control and confidence-inspiring composure. Ride quality will likely remain on the firm side without turning uncomfortable, even if Mazda takes tires and wheels up a size from the 19-inchers that were the biggest available on the first-generation model.
The new CX-5 should also benefit from improved suppression of noise, vibration, and harshness thanks to engine refinements and extra sound insulation. We foresee it among the most refined vehicles in the class, quieter even than the already hushed 2020 CX-5.
Mazda is likely to again make AWD standard with the 2.5-liter turbo engine and with the turbodiesel. It’ll remain a mainstream system that shuffles power rearward when the front tires slip.
To the 2020 Grand Touring Reserve and Signature models Mazda added a feature called off-road traction assist. The automaker says it can “potentially help the driver when adventuring on uneven terrain.” When the diagonal tires lose traction, off-road traction assist stops reducing engine torque and increases brake force on them. This transfers power to the tires with grip. Even with a reasonable 8.2 inches of ground clearance, though, it doesn’t transform the CX-5 into an off-roader. Nonetheless, expect off-road traction assist to be available on the next-generation CX-5.
Will fuel economy improve?
Depends. If the redesigned model CX-5 for 2021 and gets the Skyactiv-X engine, its EPA ratings could increase up to 30 percent over the current 2.5-liter’s. That would mean ratings of approximately 33/40/36 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive and 31/39/34 with AWD – exceptional for a crossover without hybrid-electric propulsion.
Should a redesigned CX-5 premiere with the carryover 2.5-liter four, gas mileage could still see a marginal boost from aerodynamic and mechanical enhancements. That would mean ratings around 26/32/29 mpg with front drive and 25/31/27 with AWD.
Barring a new transmission, ratings with the AWD-only 2.5-liter turbo and 2.2-liter turbodiesel may not change, repeating at 22/27/24 mpg and 27/30/28, respectively. A 2019 gas-powered Signature averaged 25.1 mpg in our testing.
Will there be new features?
Unlikely: there’s not much to add after Mazda laudably made its full suite of safety features standard across the entire 2020 CX-5 lineup. Its i-Activesense kit includes autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection; lane-departure warning with automatic steering correction; and adaptive cruise control that maintains a set distance from traffic ahead, even in stop-and-go driving. Also returning as standard on the ’21 CX-5 would be automatic highbeam headlights, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection, and rain-sensing windshield wipers.
Other standard features that should repeat would be pushbutton ignition and two front USB charging ports. Expect Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to also be standard on the ’21 CX-5, whether it’s redesigned or not.
Look for models above the base level to again include keyless access, leatherette upholstery, heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power driver’s seat, and USB power points for rear occupants.
The carryover Grand Touring and Grand Touring Reserve, or a redesigned Premium grade, would include power-folding exterior mirrors, leather upholstery, driver-seat memory, power front-passenger seat, ventilated front seats, heated outboard rear seats, heated steering wheel, head-up display, and Bose-brand audio system.
Any future Signature model would continue with unique interior trim, imbedded GPS navigation, a wireless garage-door transmitter, and a surround-view camera.
Will 2021 prices be different?
They’ll likely increase — very modestly if the ’21 CX-5 is a carryover, more significantly if it’s redesigned.
Either case, Mazda might be wise to show restraint. All its vehicles are getting costlier as it attempts to reposition itself as an upscale brand. Granted, each of its models can boast a near-premium sheen versus most direct competitors. Trouble is, much of the buying public still seems to view Mazdas as mainstream and affordable rather than aspirational and pricey.
For reference, here are base prices for the 2020 Mazda CX-5, including the $1,045 manufacturer destination fee.
The 2020 CX-5 Sport started at $26,135 with front-wheel drive and at $27,535 with AWD, the Touring at $27,775 and $29,175, respectively, and the Grand Touring at $31,255 and $32,655.
With AWD and the turbocharged gas engine standard, the ’20 CX-5 Grand Touring Reserve was priced from $36,080 and the Signature at $38,100. Base price for the 2020 Signature with the diesel engine was not released in time for this report; our estimate is around $42,300.
Expect options to remain minimal. For 2020, the main extras were packages for the Touring and Grand Touring, at $1,375 and $1,625, respectively, that included features standard on higher trims. A redesigned CX-5 may forego such packages, leaving only some extra-cost paint colors as the sole factory options.
When does it come out?
If Mazda redesign the CX-5 for model-year 2021, expect a release date in early calendar 2021. Should the ’21 be a carryover, figure a release date around November 2020.
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