You’ve mostly likely heard of the CX-5, Mazda’s popular compact crossover SUV, and maybe you’ve even taken notice of the little CX-3 subcompact crossover, not to mention both models’ larger CX-9 mid-size seven-passenger utility. If you’re really car savvy you’ll also know that Mazda offers the sporty CX-30 between the CX-3 and CX-5, not to mention the new MX-30 electric crossover that’s sized similarly to the CX-30, but were you aware the new compact CX-50 is on its way?
If you’re CX-confused right about now we’ll understand, because the independent Japanese automaker hasn’t exactly tiptoed lightly into the crossover SUV sector, even having a long-discontinued model (in our market) dubbed CX-7 to its credit. So far, all CX models (including the lone MX-30) have been for pavement and light-duty off-road use only, but Mazda is changing things up with the new 2023 CX-50, and beefing up the brand’s styling while they’re at it.
New CX-50 offers plenty more SUV for many more dollars
Ushering in a new look for Mazda’s SUV lineup, the CX-50 joins the CX-30 in previewing an entirely new naming scheme for Mazda’s SUV lineup, which will eventually be followed by the two-row CX-70 and three-row CX-90 mid-size models. The compact CX-50 is sized similarly to the current CX-5, yet it’s priced higher at $37,900 in base GS-L trim, making it $7,700 pricier than today’s base CX-5. Likewise, the CX-50 GT will start at $42,850, which makes it $3,900 more expensive than the equivalent 2022 CX-5 GT AWD.
For that we can expect even more premium finishings and features, plus, as noted earlier, the ability to venture farther off the beaten path than its more city-centric sibling. Some standard 2023 CX-50 GX-L features include LED headlamps, 17-inch alloy wheels, a rear rooftop spoiler, a 7.0-inch driver’s display, a 10.25-inch Mazda Connect infotainment touchscreen with wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a dual-zone automatic climate control system, heatable front seats and a heated steering wheel rim, a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, leatherette upholstery, a panoramic glass sunroof, and a powered rear liftgate. Additionally, standard driver assist systems will include emergency front braking, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high beams.
GT and Meridian Edition trims should be popular
The CX-50 GT further adds adaptive cornering headlamps, a head-up display system, an auto-dimming rear view mirror, a 360-degree surround parking camera, ventilated front seats, a powered front passenger seat, leather upholstery, premium audio, a navigation system, wireless phone charging, and rear emergency braking.
Later this year, Mazda will also offer a CX-50 Turbo Meridian Edition, featuring exclusive 18-inch rims on all-terrain rubber, beefier headlight and rocker panel protective cladding, and available “outdoor-specific” accessories. We can expect pricing for this model to arrive closer to its availability.
Longer and leaner CX-50 provides an athletic stance
While some literature claims the CX-50 as a mid-size model, in North America it will be considered a compact as it’s only slightly larger than our current CX-5 and shares the compact model’s transverse platform underpinnings, which also gets utilized by the even smaller CX-30 and fourth-generation Mazda3. All in all, the CX-50 measures 4,719 mm (185.8 in) long with a 2,814-mm (110.8-in) wheelbase, plus it’s 1,852 mm (72.9 in) wide and between 1,613 and 1,623 mm (63.5–63.9 in) tall, depending on the trim.
This makes the CX-50 169 mm (6.6 in) longer than the CX-5, with 116 mm (4.5 mm) of added wheelbase for significant growth from nose to tail, but it’s only 10 mm (0.4 in) wider, the key measurement when comparing compact to mid-size models. What’s more, even at its tallest the CX-50 is a considerable 57 mm (2.2 in) lower than the CX-5, which helps make it appear longer, leaner and thus, sportier.
CX-50 performance and fuel economy should remain similar to the CX-5
Whether it actually feels sportier off the line will be another story, being that the CX-50 utilizes the same standard 2.5-litre Skyactiv-G four-cylinder engine as the CX-5, rated at an identical 187 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque, although it comes standard with fuel-saving cylinder deactivation. It also features the same six-speed automatic transmission and standard i-Activ all-wheel-drive system, yet the CX-50 weighs in at 1,681 to 1,772 kg (3,706–3,907 lbs), depending on trim, a weighty 176 to 113 kg (388–249 lbs) more than the lightest and heaviest CX-5.
In GT Turbo trim, the CX-50 will receive the CX-5’s optional 2.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine capable of 256 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque, and thus should help minimize any performance differences, although take note that engine output is reduced to 227 hp and 310 lb-ft when running 87-octane regular unleaded fuel.
Standard “Mi-Drive” system includes Off-Road driving mode
The 2023 CX-50 GT Turbo will start at $45,350, and like the other trims will receive various standard “Mi-Drive” driving modes including Sport, Off-Road and Tow settings, while the CX-50’s trailering capacity is average for the class at 907 kg (2,000 lbs) when fitted with the naturally aspirated engine, but up to 1,587 kg (3,500 lbs) with the turbo.
As for fuel economy, the CX-5 may not offer greater relief at the pump unless the 2023 model receives some transmission updates, because the current cylinder-deactivated all-wheel drive model is rated at 9.8 L/100km in the city, 7.9 on the highway and 9.0 combined, compared to the CX-50’s claimed estimate of 9.7 L/100 km city, 7.9 highway and 8.9 combined. Yes, you read that correctly. The new CX-50 is thriftier on fuel than the much lighter CX-5. Let’s see how these two come out in the wash, so to speak, because the CX-50 really should go through slightly more fuel, unless its longer, lower shape allows for big aerodynamic improvements on the highway.
New U.S.-built CX-50 to arrive in May
All said, the 2023 CX-50, which will be built on a separate line alongside the 2022 Toyota Corolla Cross at the new Mazda Toyota Manufacturing joint-venture plant in Huntsville, Alabama, will go on sale in May of this year. The new plant will be capable of building up to 300,000 units per year, split between the two automakers.
Introducing the first-ever Mazda CX-50 | Mazda Canada (1:25):
Introducing the First-ever Mazda CX-50 | First Look | Mazda USA (1:42):
The First-ever Mazda CX-50 | For Collectors of Rare Experiences (0:15):
The First-ever Mazda CX-50 | Beautifully Capable (0:15):
The First-ever Mazda CX-50 | Every Road Is an Invitation (0:15):
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann
Photo credits: Mazda
There’s no hotter segment in today’s car market than the compact crossover SUV. Having started in 1994 with the Toyota RAV4, a model that was joined by Honda’s CR-V the following year, and Subaru’s…
There’s no hotter segment in today’s car market than the compact crossover SUV. Having started in 1994 with the Toyota RAV4, a model that was joined by Honda’s CR-V the following year, and Subaru’s Forester in 1997, this category has been bulging at the seams ever since.
Not long ago, Honda’s CR-V owned this segment, but Toyota’s RAV4 has ruled supreme since introducing its hybrid variant in 2015 as a 2016 model. This allowed Toyota to stay just ahead of the popular Honda, although introduction of the latest fifth-generation RAV4 in 2018, which now even comes in an ultra-quick plug-in RAV4 Prime variant, has helped to push the roomy RAV4 right over the top.
With deliveries of 67,977 examples in 2020, the RAV4’s sales dwarfed those of the next-best-selling CR-V by 17,842 units, plus it more than doubled the rest of the top-five contenders’ tallies last year.
Interesting as well, Toyota was one of only three models out of 14 compact crossover SUV competitors to post positive gains in 2020, with total deliveries up 4.18 percent compared to those in 2019.
Without doubt, the new RAV4’s tough, rugged, Tacoma-inspired styling is playing a big role in its success, not to mention duo-tone paint schemes that cue memories of the dearly departed FJ Cruiser. Likewise, beefier new off-road trims play their part too, as well as plenty of advanced electronics inside, a particularly spacious cabin, class-leading non-hybrid AWD fuel economy of 8.0 L/100km combined when upgrading to idle start/stop technology (the regular AWD model is good for a claimed 8.4 L/100km combined), and nearly the best fuel economy amongst available hybrids in this segment at 6.0 L/100km combined (not including PHEVs).
Another feather in the RAV4’s cap is top spot in J.D. Power’s 2021 Canada ALG Residual Value Awards for the “Compact Utility Vehicle” category, meaning you’ll hold on to more of your money if you choose a RAV4 than any other SUV on this list.
This feat is backed up by a 2020 Best Retained Value Award from the Canadian Black Book (CBB) too, although to clarify the Jeep Wrangler actually won the title in CBB’s “Compact SUV” category, with the runners up being the Subaru Crosstrek and RAV4. The fact that these three SUVs don’t actually compete in the real world gives the RAV4 title to CBB’s Best Retained Value in the compact crossover SUV category, if the third-party analytical firm actually had one.
The RAV4 was also runner-up in the latest 2021 J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS) in the “Compact SUV” class, while the RAV4 Hybrid earned the highest podium in Vincentric’s most recent Best Value in Canada Awards, in the Consumer section of its “Hybrid SUV/Crossover” category, plus the same award program gave the RAV4 Prime plug-in a best-in-class ranking in the Fleet section of its “Electric/Plug-In Hybrid SUV/Crossover” segment.
The 2021 Toyota RAV4 starts at $28,590 (plus freight and fees) in LE FWD trim, while the most affordable RAV4 Hybrid can be had for $32,950 in LE AWD trim. Lastly, the top-tier RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid starts at $44,990 in SE AWD trim. To learn about other trims, features, options and pricing, plus available manufacturer financing/leasing rates and other available rebates and/or dealer invoice pricing, check out the CarCostCanada 2021 Toyota RAV4 Canada Prices page and the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime Canada Prices page.
Honda claims a solid second-place with its recently refreshed CR-V
Lagging behind arch-rival Toyota in this important segment no doubt irks those in Honda Canada’s Markham, Ontario headquarters, but 50,135 units in what can only be considered a tumultuous year is impressive just the same.
This said, experiencing erosion of 10.42 percent over the first full year after receiving a mid-cycle upgrade can’t be all that confidence boosting for those overseeing the CR-V’s success.
Too little, too late? You’ll need to be the judge of that, but the CR-V’s design changes were subtle to say the least, albeit modifications to the front fascia effectively toughened up its look in a market segment that, as mentioned a moment ago, has started to look more traditionally SUV-like in recent years.
Of note, the CR-V took top honours in AutoPacific’s 2020 Ideal Vehicle Awards in the “Mid-Size Crossover SUV” category, not that it actually falls into this class. Still, it’s a win that Honda deserves.
The CR-V is also second-most fuel-efficient in this class when comparing AWD trims at 8.1 L/100km combined, although the Japanese automaker has chosen not to bring the model’s hybrid variant to Canada due to a price point it believes would be too high. Hopefully Honda will figure out a way to make its hybrid models more competitor north of the 49th, as an electrified CR-V would likely help it find more buyers.
The 2021 Honda CR-V starts at $29,970 in base LX 2WD trim, while the top-line Black Edition AWD model can be had for $43,570 (plus freight and fees). To find out about all the other trims, features, options and more in between, not to mention manufacturer rebates/discounts and dealer invoice pricing, go to the 2021 Honda CR-V Canada Prices page at CarCostCanada.
Mazda and its CX-5 continue to hang onto third in the segment
With 30,583 sales to its credit in 2020, Mazda’s CX-5 remains one of the most popular SUVs in Canada. What’s more, it was one of the three SUV’s in the class to post positive growth in 2020, with an upsurge of 10.42 percent.
Additionally, these gains occurred despite this second-generation CX-5 having been available without a major update for nearly five years (the already available 2021.5 model sees a new infotainment system). This said, Mazda has refined its best-selling model over the years, with top-line Signature trim (and this year’s 100th Anniversary model) receiving plush Nappa leather, genuine rosewood trim, and yet more luxury touches.
Its Top Safety Pick Plus ranking from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) probably helped keep it near the top, an award that gives the CX-5 a leg up on the RAV4 and CR-V that only qualify for Top Safety Pick (without the Plus) status.
At 9.3 L/100km combined in its most basic AWD trim, fuel economy is not the CX-5’s strongest suit, but Mazda offers cylinder-deactivation that drops its city/highway rating to 9.0 flat.
The CX-5’s sleek, car-like lines buck the just-noted new trend toward truck-like ruggedness, while, as noted, its interior is arguably one of the most upscale in the segment, and overall performance very strong, especially with its top-tier 227 horsepower turbocharged engine that makes a commendable 310 lb-ft of torque.
The 2021 Mazda CX-5 is available from $28,600 in base GX FWD trim, whereas top-level 2021 100th Anniversary AWD trim starts at $43,550 (plus freight and fees), and the just-released top-line 2021.5 Signature AWD trim can be had for $42,750. To learn more about all the trims, features, options and prices in between, plus available no-haggle discounts and average member discounts thanks to their ability to access dealer invoice pricing before negotiating their best price, check out the CarCostCanada 2021 Mazda CX-5 Canada Prices page.
Hyundai holds onto fourth place despite slight downturn
With 28,444 units sold during the 12 months of 2020, Hyundai is so close behind Mazda in this category that its Tucson might as well be tailgating, and that’s despite losing 5.42 percent from last years near all-time-high of 30,075 deliveries.
Sales of the totally redesigned 2022 Tucson have only just started, however, so we’ll need to wait and see how well it catches on. Fortunately for Hyundai fans, and anyone else who appreciates things electrified, a Tucson Hybrid joins the fray in order to duel it out with Toyota’s mid-range RAV4 Hybrid.
This last point is important, as the conventionally-powered 2022 Tucson AWD is only capable of 9.0 L/100km combined, making the Tucson Hybrid the go-to model for those who want to save at the pump thanks to 6.4 L/100km. Of note, a new 2022 Tucson Plug-in Hybrid is now the fourth PHEV in this segment.
The 2022 Hyundai Tucson starts at $27,799 in its most basic Essential FWD trim, while the conventionally powered model’s top-level N Line AWD trim is available from $37,099. Moving up to the 2022 Tucson Hybrid will set you back a minimum of $38,899 (plus freight and fees, before discount), while this model is substitutes the conventionally-powered N Line option for Ultimate trim, starting at $41,599. The model’s actual ultimate 2022 Tucson Plug-in Hybrid trim starts at $43,499 in Luxury AWD trim, while that SUV’s top-level Ultimate trim costs $46,199. To find out about all the trims, features, options, prices, discounts/rebates, dealer invoice pricing, etcetera for each of these models go to CarCostCanada’s 2022 Hyundai Tucson Canada Prices page, 2022 Hyundai Tucson Hybrid Canada Prices page, and 2022 Hyundai Tucson Plug-In Hybrid Canada Prices page.
Nissan Rogue sees one of the biggest sales losses in the segment for 2020
While top-five placement from 25,998 sales in 2020 is nothing to sneeze at, Nissan’s Rogue is a regular top-three finisher in the U.S., and used to do just as well up here as well.
The last full calendar year of a longer-than-average six-year run saw the second-generation Rogue’s sales peter out in 2020, resulting in a year-over-year plunge of 30.73 percent. In fact, the only rival to fare worse was the Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross that lost 40.66 percent from the year prior, and that sportier model isn’t exactly a direct competitor due to its coupe-crossover-like profile. On the positive, that unique Japanese crossover earned best in its Compact XSUV class in AutoPacific’s 2021 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards, which is something Mitsubishi should be celebrating from the rooftops.
Fortunately, an all-new 2021 Rogue is already upon us, and was doing extremely well over the first half of this year, with Q2 sales placing it in third. That model provides compact SUV buyers a massive jump in competitiveness over its predecessor, especially styling, interior refinement, ride and handling, electronics, plus ride and handling, while its fuel economy is now rated at 8.1 L/100km with AWD.
The new Rogue’s overall goodness was recently recognized by the Automobile Journalist’s Association of Canada (AJAC) that just named it “Best Mid-Size Utility Vehicle in Canada for 2021”, even though it falls within the compact camp.
For those who just need to know, sixth in this compact crossover SUV segment is Ford’s Escape at 23,747 unit-sales, although deliveries crashed by a staggering 39.89 percent from 2019 to 2020, and that’s after a 9.37-percent loss from the year before, and another 9.0 percent tumble from the 12 months prior. Back in calendar year 2017, the Escape was third in the segment, but for reasons that are clearly not related to the Escape Hybrid’s best-in-class fuel economy of 5.9 L/100km combined, the Escape Plug-in Hybrid’s even more miserly functionality, or for that matter the industry’s recent lack of microchips that seem to have crippled Ford more than most other automakers, the blue-oval brand is losing fans in this class at a shocking rate.
And yes, that last point needs to be underlined, there can be many reasons for a given model’s slow-down in sales, from the just-noted chip shortage, as well as the health crisis that hampered much of 2020, to reliability issues and the age of a given model’s lifecycle, while styling is always a key factor in purchasing decisions.
All said, Volkswagen’s Tiguan sits seventh in the compact SUV category with 14,240 units sold in 2020, representing a 26.02-percent drop in year-over-year deliveries, while the aforementioned Forester was eighth with 13,134 deliveries over the same 12-month period. Chevrolet’s Equinox was ninth with 12,502 sales after plummeting 32.43 percent in popularity, whereas Kia’s Sportage capped off 2020’s top 10 list with 11,789 units down Canadian roads after a 6.71-percent downturn.
Continuing on, GMC’s Terrain was 11th with 9,848 deliveries and an 18.09-percent loss, Jeep’s Cherokee was 12th with 9,544 sales and a 30.27-percent dive, Mitsubishi’s Outlander (which also comes in PHEV form) was 13th with 7,444 units sold due to a 30.43-percent decline, and finally the same Japanese brand’s Eclipse Cross was 14th and last in the segment with 3,027 units sold and, as mentioned earlier, a sizeable 40.66-percent thrashing by Canadian compact SUV buyers.
Ford’s Bronco Sport newcomer already making big gains
The Rogue wasn’t the only SUV to shake up the compact SUV class during the first six months of 2021, incidentally, with the second honour going to the Bronco Sport that’s already outselling Jeep’s Cherokee at 2,772 units to 2,072, the Cherokee being the SUV the smaller Bronco most specifically targets thanks to both models’ serious off-road capability.
The Bronco Sport was actually ranking eighth overall when this year’s Q2 closed, beating out the Sportage (which will soon arrive in dramatically redesigned form) despite its two-position move up the charts, this displacing the Forester (which dropped a couple of pegs) and the Equinox (that’s currently ahead of the Forester).
The Cherokee, in fact, moves up a place due to sluggish GMC Terrain sales, but to be fair to General Motors, both its Chevy and GMC models (which are actually the same under the skin) would be positioned in eighth place overall if we were to count them as one SUV, while the Hyundai–Kia pairing (also the same below the surface) would rank third overall.
Make sure to check out the gallery for multiple photos of each and every compact crossover SUV mentioned in this Top 5 overview, plus use the linked model names of each SUV above to find out about available trims, features, options, pricing, discounts (when available), rebates (when available), financing and leasing rates (when available), plus dealer invoice pricing (always available) that could save you thousands on your next new vehicle purchase.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann
Photo credits: Manufacturer supplied photos
Interestingly, Mazda does much better per capita in Canada than the U.S., but this may be changing. It seems recent chip shortages and supply chain logistics problems have caused some shoppers to look…
Interestingly, Mazda does much better per capita in Canada than the U.S., but this may be changing. It seems recent chip shortages and supply chain logistics problems have caused some shoppers to look away from the brands they normally buy in order to get anything at all, which is allowing the automakers that planned ahead, or just got lucky, to scoop up new customers they may have never otherwise had the chance to acquire.
During July, a month that saw the U.S. automotive selling rate fall to an estimated 14.8 million units, according to Automotive News, the lowest since July of last year, Mazda sales leapt 36 percent upwards, leading every other brand. Even mighty Toyota was in Mazda’s sales growth shadow, albeit hardly doing poorly with gains of 33 percent, while Hyundai-Kia managed 29 percent, Volvo 19 percent, and Honda 8 percent. It wasn’t smiles all around the auto sector last month, however, with Subaru down 2.6 percent, and Ford, which until recently was the mightiest of all, tumbling 42 percent (all other automakers only report quarterly sales in the U.S.).
This positive momentum comes after a year that saw Mazda grow its sales by 0.19 percent, which while miniscule as far as numbers go, was nevertheless monstrous compared to every other brand selling into the U.S, all of which ended up in the negative last year. Consider that Kia saw the least downside with a 4.75 percentage drop in sales, while GMC lost 8.79 percent, Hyundai 9.66 percent, Volkswagen 10.02 percent, Chevrolet 11.12 percent, Toyota 11.86 percent, Subaru 12.59 percent, Jeep 13.86 percent, Ford 15.9 percent, Honda 16.61 percent, Nissan 33.25 percent, and Dodge a whopping 36.78 percent. Fiat’s 53.23-percent decline was worse still, but they have many more problems than any of the carmakers mentioned, plus they don’t compete in the CX-9’s market segment, so therefore on that note I chose to leave all mainstream volume brands that don’t offer a mid-size crossover SUV out of this equation.
If you think Mazda’s sales were strong in July, they’ve done even better year-to-date thanks to deliveries being up by more than 45 percent. July 2021 actually tallied up a second-best result for Mazda, but it achieved best-ever deliveries for the MX-5 (since 2006 no less), the CX-30, the CX-5, and this CX-9 being reviewed here. That’s impressive in a market that’s having trouble allocating vehicles at all, and especially so for two models that aren’t exactly spring chickens in their respective categories.
Today’s CX-5, while still in my opinion one of the best crossover SUVs available in the compact class, is nevertheless going on six years in its current second-generation design, while the CX-9, also in its second-generation, will soon move into its eighth year of availability without a mid-cycle refresh, compared to the first-generation that saw two facelifts over nine years. Kudos to Mazda for its Kodo design philosophy (not to be mistaken for my tester’s Kuro trim line), the latest iteration having certainly stood the test of time. I can appreciate the need for something new for the sake of being new, but the CX-9, or any of the other cars and crossovers in Mazda’s lineup, are hardly short on attractive styling, so a redesign isn’t quite as critical as it was for, say, Nissan’s outgoing Pathfinder.
This may be one reason the CX-9 currently sits alongside the Toyota Highlander as a runner up in the latest Canadian Black Book 2020 Best Retained Value Awards. In their “Mid-size Crossover-SUV” category, the two crossovers were only beat out by Toyota’s 4Runner, a body-on-frame SUV that really doesn’t compete with either, which means the Highlander and CX-9 are your best bets to hold on to more of your hard-earned money over the long haul.
This is one of the reasons I often recommend the CX-9, and all Mazda vehicles for that matter. Another reason, which probably aids in resale value as well, is interior refinement and materials quality, which Mazda has long executed better than most in this class. To be clear, others are starting to catch up with respect to the CX-9, a problem that would arise for any vehicle that’s been around so long, but regular updates, including genuine Santos Rosewood inlays along with quilted and piped Nappa leather in top-line Signature and 100th Anniversary trims, have gone a long way to enrich the CX-9 experience to near-premium levels when compared to less opulently attired competitors, while the specific Kuro Edition shown here, is more about blackening some metal brightwork and adding cool paint colours, while maintaining similar levels of luxury.
Ok, to be clear, while cool, black isn’t exactly unique, although Jet Black Mica is definitely more eye-catching than if it were dipped in plain old non-metallic ink. Then again, the Kuro model’s sole $200 colour option, Polymetal Grey Metallic, is both cool and unique, and much to my delight ended up decorating my weeklong tester. On that note, this Kuro Edition looks a lot fresher and more alluring than the regular CX-9, thanks to all the gloss-metallic-black trim mentioned a moment ago, which includes a sportier grille insert, mirror housings, and painted wheels, the latter in a twinned five-spoke design that measure 20 inches in diameter and come shod in 255/50 all-season tires.
Inside, it’s all Garnet Red leather upholstery (although black leather will also be available for 2021.5) over dark greys and blacks with some red stitching used to decorate the inner rim of the steering wheel, shifter boot, lower console surround and armrests, while some of the inky coloured surfaces were finished in piano black lacquered composite, suitable for the sporty theme, plus a stylish grey tone highlighted the dash front. The density of latter inlays seems as if they were made from a solid substance like wood, going even further to enhance the CX-9’s feeling of quality.
Of course, satin-finish aluminum-look accents join metal brightwork trim to bling up the design, all of which is complemented by high-quality workmanship and plenty of luxury details, such as fabric-wrapped A pillars, all the expected soft-touch surfaces and a couple of unexpected ones too, like the sides of the lower front console that are padded in leatherette to protect inside knees from chafing, and while the seat leather might not be ultra-rich Nappa that’s used in both Signature and 100th Anniversary trims, it’s still softer and suppler than plenty of others in this category.
Features are plentiful too. In fact, the Kuro is almost as well loaded up with goodies as the Signature, only lacking the trim upgrades mentioned multiple times already, as well as some visual enhancements such as satin-finish highlights where the Kuro uses metallic black and grey, as well as a better-looking frameless centre mirror, and exterior front grille illumination that’s pretty trick at night.
Both models incorporate most of the base GS model’s equipment too, of which some items worth mentioning include auto-on/off and auto-levelling LED headlights with auto high beams, LED daytime running lights, LED rear combination tail lights, rain-sensing wipers, noise-isolating windshield and front side glass, pushbutton start/stop, a leather-wrapped steering wheel rim and shift knob, an electromechanical parking brake, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, two USB-A ports and an auxiliary input up front, SMS text message capability, tri-zone automatic climate control, three-way heatable front seats, and much more.
Kuro, Signature and 100th Anniversary models also include adaptive headlamps, LED fog lights, LED front and rear signature lighting, bright-finish lower body trim, piano black-finished exterior B and C pillars, a front wiper de-icer, power-folding side mirrors, and i-Activ AWD on the outside, while LED courtesy lamps light up all four doors (as well as for the front door pull handles and power window switches inside), and proximity-sensing remote entry gets driver and occupants inside.
That’s where the driver is greeted with a sporty albeit traditional looking three-binnacle gauge cluster filled with a large 7.0-inch LCD multi-information display, plus a head-up display on top of the dash that projects key info onto the windshield. It’s all framed by a heated steering wheel with ample rake and reach for most body types to feel both comfortable and in control, at least once they adjust the 10-way powered driver’s seat that even includes four-way powered lumbar, as well as two-way memory.
An eight-way power-adjustable front passenger’s seat with powered lumbar makes life better for anyone alongside, while both front occupants will enjoy the three-way ventilated seats, wireless device charger (that points a given phone’s screen away from the driver so as not to distract, but is a bit awkward to load into place), illuminated vanity mirrors, and a powered glass sunroof (Mazda doesn’t yet offer a panoramic glass roof).
Adaptive cruise control with stop and go (standard for 2021.5) benefits the driver alone, as does a Homelink universal transceiver, a 9.0-inch centre display (the 2021.5 comes standard with a 10.25-inch display that links through to new Mazda Connect Infotainment system, while that system’s unavailability for the first half of the year was the real reason for the big screen’s late introduction and point-five model year designation), not to mention a 360-degree surround parking monitor, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, front and rear parking sensors, plus a navigation system that mistakenly took me down a side road next to my home to a gated overpass that would’ve otherwise been impassable if not for my locals-only remote (see the photo gallery). The CX-9’s navigation worked flawlessly other than that, while I especially like how a full screen pictograph of an upcoming intersection’s sign automatically appears on the display when approaching, showing all available lanes while using an active arrow for pointing out the one you need to follow. The clearly defined colour graphics are especially helpful when sorting out complicated intersections.
All will appreciate the LED dome and reading lights overhead, plus the great sounding 12-speaker Bose audio system with Centerpoint 2 surround and SiriusXM satellite radio, while exclusive to those in back are two additional USB-A ports (apiece) in the second and third rows, plus a rear climate control interface, retractable second-row window sunshades, and heatable second-row captain’s chairs (that bookend a fixed rear centre armrest with integrated storage in 2021.5 models).
A hands-free powered liftgate provides access to 407 litres of dedicated cargo space, while lowering the 50/50-split rearmost seatbacks (via manual levers on the lower seatbacks) opens up luggage capacity up to 1,082 litres. There’s a total cargo volume of 2,017 litres when both rows are folded flat, but keep in mind the 2021.5 model’s second-row fixed centre console will get in the way when loading building materials or other large items (not that you can fit a four-by-eight sheet of Gyproc or plywood in back anyway).
Speaking of interior space, while the CX-9 isn’t the largest three-row crossover SUV on the market, it’s not the smallest either, fitting nicely in between the Chevrolet Traverse and Toyota Highlander, leaving its rearmost row sizeable enough for big kids and smaller adults, while second-row seating is very spacious and comfortable for all sizes and shapes.
Still, despite not being smallest, the CX-9 is a bit lighter than most of its rivals, which translates into good performance from a smaller 2.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that puts out a modest 250-horsepower when using 93 octane fuel (which most people will never do, due to high pump prices), or 227 horsepower with regular 87 octane gas. Torque matters more when hauling masses of people and cargo, however, and to that end the diminutive mill has you covered with 320 lb-ft of twist when using the pricier fuel, or 310 on the “cheap” stuff.
It certainly feels powerful off the line, although I must admit to driving solo most of the week, and only ever having a single passenger along for the ride every now and then. The CX-9’s ride is smooth and comforting too, and it’s plenty quiet inside as well, with very little wind, drivetrain or tire noise. Mazda includes a Sport mode for sharpening the six-speed automatic’s reflexes, which when slotting the gear lever into its manual position and utilizing the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, which are exclusive to Kuro trim and above, transforms the relatively large family hauler into a veritable “sport” utility. Of course, transitional weight tries to upset the fun, the CX-9 nowhere near as agile as the wonderfully tossable CX-5 (which incidentally can be had with the same powerplant for even quicker acceleration), but the larger Mazda lives up to the brand’s performance-oriented tradition quite well nonetheless.
That six-speed automatic might initially sound like a negative to some, but I must admit that I found driving an SUV with fewer forward gears than more modern designs hardly noticeable. Certainly, it would impact fuel economy, but then again, Mazda provides a lot more fuel-saving technologies than most of its peers, which is probably why it achieves a relatively thrifty claimed rating of 11.6 L/100km in the city, 9.1 on the highway, and 10.5 combined. Then again, a more advanced eight- or nine-speed autobox might help matters, being that the eight-speed-equipped Highlander AWD achieves an estimated 10.3 combined with its big 3.5-litre V6, although the Traverse AWD is rated at 11.8 combined despite housing a nine-speed auto under its centre console cowling.
On the positive, there’s something to be said for the CX-9’s quick, positive, snappy shifts, especially when compared with some automaker’s slushy CVTs, while Mazda’s six-speed has also been around long enough to earn credibility as a reliability leader. In fact, Mazda is number one in Consumer Reports latest auto reliability auto rankings, with 83 points compared to second-place Toyota’s 74. According to the popular magazine and consumer rating service, Mazda and Toyota regularly vie for top position, while the brand is also above average in the latest J.D. Power and Associates 2021 Vehicle Dependability Study.
The 2021 CX-9 also gets a five-star safety rating from the U.S. NHTSA, allowing for a best-possible Top Safety Pick+ rating as well, an impressive feat that some in this class, including the aforementioned Traverse, Ford’s Edge, Hyundai’s Santa Fe, plus Kia’s Sorento and Telluride, don’t achieve, while others can’t even manage to attain the latter group’s regular Top Safety Pick (without the plus) ranking.
Reasons for the top score include the CX-9’s sophisticated active LED headlamps, as well as standard advanced driver assistance features like Smart Brake Support Front, Smart City Brake Support Front, Distance Recognition Support System, Forward Obstruction Warning, Pedestrian Detection, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Advanced Blind Spot Monitoring, Lane Departure Warning, and Lane-keep Assist, while trims including the Kuro Edition and above also add Smart City Brake Support Rear, Driver Attention Alert, and Traffic Sign Recognition.
As tested, a 2021 CX-9 Kuro Edition can be had for $50,300 plus freight and fees, while that price increases by $300 for the 2021.5 model year (well worth the price increase for the new infotainment system alone). Base GS trim, on the other hand, starts at a nice even $40,000, whereas Signature and 100th Anniversary trims will set you back $52,000 and $53,350 respectively.
In the end, the CX-9 is a good example of a well-designed crossover SUV lasting the test of time. Of course, plenty of minor updates and particularly nice trim additions, like this Kuro Edition, have helped keep it mostly current. There’s no news on a redesign yet, but plenty of rumours are targeting a release next year as a 2023 model. We’ll have to wait and see, but knowing Mazda, this 2021 should continue holding onto its value even when the new one arrives. That’s a key reason the CX-9 is easy to recommend.
Review and photos by Trevor Hofmann
Has Mazda really been around 100 years? The independent Japanese brand celebrated its centenary this year, and to commemorate the once-in-a-lifetime occasion it brought to market a particularly attractive…
Has Mazda really been around 100 years? The independent Japanese brand celebrated its centenary this year, and to commemorate the once-in-a-lifetime occasion it brought to market a particularly attractive and exclusive Snowflake White Pearl exterior paint, which gets matched to white padded leatherette touch-points on the centre console edges and armrests plus door trim, along with deep, rich Garnet Red used for the Nappa leather seat upholstery and carpets. The look won’t be for everyone, but those who like it, will like it a lot.
I’m in the latter camp, having fallen head over heels for red upholstered classics in decades past, two of my own previous personal rides in fact utilizing the interior colour scheme (minus the white), most recently on the pigskin hides (which were originally natural) in a 4.7-litre V8-powered 1967 Maserati Mexico coupe that I plunged bucket loads of money into for longer than I had sense, and another being a 1964 Mercury Montcalm coupe that I owned way back in my 20s.
Mazda’s CX-5 would be a much smarter choice for a daily driver, thanks to earning the best score of any brand in Consumer Reports’ latest annual auto reliability rankings study, therefore beating Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, etcetera, not to mention Lexus, Porsche, and, er, well, Maserati wasn’t on the list, but it would’ve no doubt been somewhere near the bottom, even in 2021 form.
The CX-5 also tied with Nissan’s new Rogue as a runner-up in J.D. Power’s newest Automotive Performance, Execution And Layout (APEAL) study, both of which were outranked by Ford’s new Mustang Mach-E electric, albeit that model doesn’t really compete directly with these two compact crossover SUVs, other than by its mainstream volume branding, basic interior volume and liftback cargo access, because its pricing ranges from $51,495 to $89,085, which is well into premium territory.
This brings up an important point we’re seeing more and more these days, and not just amongst pricier electrified contenders. Plenty of volume brands are refining their interiors in hopes of wooing customers over to their offerings, and by doing so, sometimes stepping on their own premium branded toes, so to speak. As noted earlier, Mazda is independent, and therefore has no parental owner or premium sub-brand, like aforementioned Nissan has with Infiniti, or Toyota with Lexus. This is allowing them to move their brand upmarket to entry-level luxury levels, competing effectively with the likes of Buick and even Acura or Infiniti, depending on the model, which is why the CX-5 earned such high praise from its owners in the just-noted APEAL study.
Therefore, this isn’t the first and won’t be the last Mazda I’ve lauded accolades upon, because this special CX-5 is based on the already superb Signature trim line, an model that also comes gussied up with Nappa leather, actual Abachi hardwood trim, plentiful metallic accents, and much more. It really seems as if the brand is making a play for the premium sector, despite not raising its prices any higher than key competitors.
On that note, the 2021 CX-5 100th Anniversary Edition starts and ends at $43,800 (plus freight and fees), which is only $1,400 more than the CX-5 Signature. There are no options, not even paint choices. Toyota’s non-hybridized RAV4 rubs up against $42k with all options, incidentally, but doesn’t provide the same level of refinement or performance, while the priciest Honda CR-V, also less premium-like than the top-tier CX-5, will set you back nearly $44k.
By my experience, Mazda’s CX-5 comes closer to luxury brand refinement than any SUV in this class when upgraded to either Signature or 100th Anniversary trim. If you load up a $42,400 CX-5 Signature with its only option, beautiful trademark Soul Red Crystal Metallic paint, which comes with lovely Cocoa brown Nappa leather inside, it’ll set you back another $450 anyway, so really, when moving up to the 100th Anniversary you’re only paying for the pricier white paint, white interior accents and red carpets, plus some commemorative red and black “100 YEARS 1920 – 2020” metal badges and circular red wheel caps for its classy multi-spoke 19-inch alloys.
For reasons like interior materials and build quality, the CX-5 has become the third-most popular compact crossover SUV in Canada, but it’s also due to aforementioned dependability, strong performance, competitive fuel economy, a roomy interior, and arguably attractive styling. The previously noted RAV4 is the segment’s best-seller, by the way, while the CR-V was runner up last year, a position it continues to hold this year. If you’d like to know more about how they all stack up, I covered these three SUVs and all of their compact crossover competitors in a recent comparo.
Another CX-5 attribute that will matter a lot in this family-focused segment is its Top Safety Pick Plus ranking from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which gives Mazda’s compact crossover a serious edge over the RAV4 and CR-V that only qualify for Top Safety Pick status (without the Plus).
As mentioned a moment ago, performance is a CX-5 strong suit too, especially in its top-tier GT, Signature and 100th Anniversary trims, which get a turbocharged 2.5-litre engine that puts out 227 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque, capable of propelling the luxuriously appointed SUV from standstill to 100 km/h in a spirited 6.9 seconds. That’s quick for this class, and feels it.
The CX-5’s paddle-shift actuated six-speed automatic transmission, complete with Sport mode, won’t win any marketing points now that most rivals are offering more efficient CVTs or fancier eight-speed automatic alternatives. Ford’s Escape, for instance, provides the latter and actually beats the top-line CX-5 to 100 km/h in top-line trim, albeit by a hardly noticeable 0.2 seconds, and we’re not exactly comparing Ferraris and Lamborghinis here, after all. Toyota and Honda don’t even come close to the RAV4’s sprint time, unless we’re talking RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid that manages the feat in just 6.7 seconds, but, like the less potent RAV and CR-V, fuel economy is what matters most.
At 9.3 L/100km combined in its most basic AWD trim, efficiency is probably not the CX-5’s most saleable asset, but Mazda does provide cylinder-deactivation that drops the naturally aspirated version’s city/highway rating to 9.0 L/100km. This top-line CX-5 is rated at 10.8 L/100km in the city, 8.7 on the highway and 9.8 combined, so there’s a small price for performance, while the equivalent Escape isn’t much better at 10.4 city, 7.5 highway and 9.1 combined. A RAV4 around the same price and features does a bit better at 9.2, 7.1 and 8.2 respectively, but as noted its performance won’t have you grinning from ear-to-ear at takeoff or when passing a slower moving vehicle on the highway, unless, once again, you step up to the electrified RAV4 Prime that’ll put a serious jolt into your morning commute (Mazda has a smaller CX-30-sized electric dubbed MX-30 coming out, so stay tuned for that).
While the turbocharged CX-5 is certainly quick, and amongst the better handlers in the class, making it one of if not the sportiest SUV it competes against, with a true character that’s entirely its own, it’s also smooth, comfortable and quiet for this smaller SUV category. These critical qualities help it attain the entry-level luxury appeal I’ve been referring to throughout this review, and, I think, are more important to the majority of buyers.
Comfort can be attained right across the entire CX-5 trim range, by the way, the most affordable GX FWD model starting at just $28,600 (plus freight and fees). Important for you to know is that Mazda will soon be out with a 2021.5 version of this SUV, with updates including a new larger 10.25-inch centre display with the brand’s newest Mazda Connect infotainment interface as standard equipment (although the current one has a great overhead camera, accurate navigation, and the convenience of premium-level lower console controls), expanding by 2.25 inches from the previous 8.0-inch display, this being the same as found in upper trims of 2021 models, while Mazda Connected Services will be available to download this coming fall.
Additionally, all of Mazda’s i-Activsense safety and convenience technologies will be standard in the 2021.5 CX-5, including Advanced Blind Spot Monitoring and Lane Departure Warning that currently get added in GS trim. Base 2021 models currently come standard with Smart City Brake Support and Rear Cross Traffic Alert, plus all the usual traction and stability control functions, ABS, tire pressure monitoring, etcetera.
To learn more about every 2021 and 2021.5 trim, as well as available options, plus prices for all, check out CarCostCanada 2021 Mazda CX-5 Canada Prices page, where you’ll be able to access easy discounts thanks to dealer invoice pricing, that gives you an edge when negotiating your best deal. Currently Mazda is offering up to $1,750 in additional incentives on 2021 or 2021.5 models, while average CarCostCanada member savings were $2,360 last time I checked. Membership does have its privileges. On that note, be sure to find out all the ways CarCostCanada’s money-saving membership works, plus remember to download their free app from the Google Play Store or Apple Store now.
Membership in the Mazda family has its privileges too, many of which I’ve covered in this review. Interior comfort is very good (although four-way driver’s powered lumbar support would edge it even closer to premium status) and spaciousness about average, the latter including 875 litres (30.9 cubic feet) of dedicated cargo space and 1,687 litres (59.6 cu ft) with the rear seats folded flat, while its cargo flexibility is amongst the best in the class due to European-inspired 40/20/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, normally only found in upscale luxury brands. This lets you stow longer items like skis down the middle, while rear passengers enjoy the benefit of the more comfortable window seats, plus they can warm up via rear seat heaters in upper trims like this 100th Anniversary. Just one recommendation to Mazda: please relocate the otherwise snazzy three-way buttons from within the centre folding armrest onto the backside of the front console or the door panels, because there’s no way to activate them when that centre pass-through is in use. Sorry guys, but that wasn’t the most intelligent idea.
Other than this oversight, and an infotainment system that could use an update (and gets one in the 2021.5 version) there’s not much I can complain about. In fact, the 2021 Mazda CX-5 is one of the best crossovers in its compact SUV class, for all of the reasons I’ve stated and more. I highly recommend a 100th Anniversary Edition if you can still get your hands on one, but if not, the Signature is just as good, albeit minus the captivating exterior and interior colour scheme and tasteful commemorative badging. While I like it a lot, I could certainly live without that, especially if a lack of 2021s forced me into a 2021.5 Signature, resulting in the new infotainment interface.
Review and photos by Trevor Hofmann
Perfect? No. Excellent? Yes. That’s it. I’m done. How I wish it were that easy to summarize a week with one of the most impressive compact sedans ever produced by a mainstream volume brand. I’d…
How I wish it were that easy to summarize a week with one of the most impressive compact sedans ever produced by a mainstream volume brand. I’d call it the most impressive compact sedan ever produced by a mainstream volume brand, but I haven’t driven the new 2021 turbo or 100th Anniversary Edition yet, so I’ll curb my enthusiasm until these two hit my driveway.
We all have brand and model biases formed over years of ownership, or in my case 20-plus years of testing. This said, I try to limit any biases that might be based on the good or poor brand PR staff communications I’ve received over the years (although, in full disclosure, Mazda’s professionalism has been amongst the best in recent years), only sharing my thoughts on all aspects of the vehicle in question, its expected dependability, and its relevance in the marketplace.
First off (or maybe second off), the Mazda3 competitors named above are arguably the very best iterations of each model ever made, and very good cars overall. In fact, I’m sure you’d be happy with any of this segment’s top four, as well as most others on offer in this segment. I’m just saying you might be happier with the Mazda3, especially when comparing fully loaded variants.
Your opinion of this car will no doubt be influenced by its styling, so let’s get that out of the way immediately. If you prefer smaller grille designs Mazda’s compact might not be for you, but then again, most seem to agree the brand’s large heptagonal air intake is attractively shaped and tastefully integrated into the design, nicely fitting the 3’s overall look without appearing overbearing or out of place. I especially like the way its outermost chrome edges frame the lower inside corner and bottom edge of each LED headlamp, and appreciate the simple elegance of the car’s lower front fascia.
Interestingly, the Mazda3 looks widest of all the competitors mentioned above, at least to my eyes, yet it’s the second narrowest of the four, albeit only by a handful of millimeters. Sometimes this effect is created by lowering a car’s height, but in fact the 3’s roofline is 20 mm taller than the Corolla and Elantra, and reaches 39 mm higher than the lowest Civic. The 3’s styling makes it look wider, which is the result of good design, while its greater length from nose to tail lends to its sleek side profile.
Deeply carved door panels do their part too, the dramatic depth of their indent almost making the 3 look as if it’s been sideswiped ever so neatly (check out my photo of the car’s side profile in the gallery and you’ll see what I mean). The car’s rear styling is neat and tidy too, with a slender pair of LED taillights, visually supported by an uncluttered rear apron and sporty set of circular chromed tailpipes. The rear design might not win points for uniqueness, but it scores high marks when it comes to understated good taste.
Much the same can be said about the 3’s cabin when it comes to tastefulness, although to be fair it gains some strong character points too. The dash, which is completely covered in a high-grade soft composite, seems to float above the instrument panel as it flows over the primary gauge cluster and wraps around the infotainment display, its outer edges meeting albeit not melding into the front door uppers made from the same material. These swoop downward from the front to rear of each door, starting out almost entirely flat and rounding downward as they grow thicker. Unusually, the 3’s inner rear door panels duplicate those up front, complete with pliable uppers, a feature normally only found in luxury branded models in this compact class.
Just below each soft-touch door upper is a thickly padded leather-like bolster with stylish French-stitched seams down the middle, an attractive and luxurious feature that’s also found just under the aforementioned floating dash. It visually envelopes the entire interior, even more so when combined with finished in contrasting Pure White leatherette to match an upgrade that also includes white leather seat upholstery. The 3 looks particularly stylish when finished in this two-tone motif, although it can be a bit challenging to keep clean. The 3 Sport gets the same optional treatment in Garnet Red, by the way, as does the previously noted 100th Anniversary model. I should also point out that the lower front console’s top edges receive similar stitched and padded leatherette to protect the inside knees, although these are always finished in black.
The GT’s leather-covered seats feature perforated inserts for breathability, while most of their bolsters are a solid leather like the beautifully crafted steering wheel rim and each top portion of the horizontal spokes, not to mention the shifter knob and boot. Both the steering wheel spokes and shifter feature gorgeous satin-aluminum detailing too, the latter really chunky and solid feeling. The high-grade metallic trim is in fact a theme throughout the entire cabin, highlighted by drilled aluminum speaker grilles for the great-sounding Bose audio system.
While those latter items aren’t exactly unique, the thin aluminum accent spanning most of the instrument panel, even striking through the dual-zone automatic climate control system interface, is pure industrial art. This line of brightwork underscores the centre vents as well, culminating in C-shaped (at least on the driver’s side) flourishes that wrap around the corner vents. Suffice to say there’s plenty to keep an owner in love with a 3 GT long after the honeymoon is over, which is exactly why most premium buyers spend more for a luxury brand.
All said, Mazda is not a luxury brand, with pricing for the 2020 3 sedan starting well under $20k, and the front-wheel drive version of my top-line trim priced much below Acura’s ILX, a sedan that’s front-drive only and starts at $30,490. In fact, even after increasing in price by $300 from 2019 to 2020, thanks to proximity-sensing keyless entry made standard (previously part of the Premium upgrade package), the Mazda3 GT with its automatic only came to $26,500, nearly $4,000 less than the ILX (which is really an upgraded previous-generation Honda Civic under the metal), whereas the GT with i-ACTIV AWD (that only comes with an automatic) went up $100 to $30,500 this year, a near identical price to the front-drive-only ILX. By the way, the 2020 GT Premium now includes a sharp-looking frameless centre mirror, as well as the updated alloy wheels mentioned earlier.
Also take note, the Mazda3 GT i-ACTIV AWD goes up to $32,200 for 2021, an increase of $1,700 due to features being made standard that were only previously found in the Premium upgrade package, such as a 10-way powered driver’s seat with power lumbar support and memory that also links to the side mirrors, leather upholstery, a navigation system, and tech features including SiriusXM satellite radio (with a three-month trial subscription), plus SiriusXM Traffic Plus and Travel Link (with a complimentary five-year trial subscription), and lastly Traffic Sign Recognition. Incidentally, the front-wheel drive GT auto moves up by $2,000 to $28,500 for the same reasons.
As noted earlier, there’s also been the addition of a new 2021 turbocharged GT AWD model that’s a mere $700 pricier at $32,900, so you might want to wait for that, and this upgrade in mind, Mazda dealers may want to consider how many non-turbo GTs they bring into inventory, being that soon these less potent 3s will probably only appeal to fuel-stingy commuters that want the creature comforts of a GT.
Some additional GT features include the 12-speaker Bose audio system noted earlier, plus advanced keyless entry, paddle shifters on automatic-equipped models, adaptive cornering for the auto-levelling LED signature headlamps, signature LED taillights, and 18-inch alloys, while the new Premium package includes glossy black front grille, a front wiper de-icer, an auto-dimming driver’s side mirror, reverse tilt-down on both exterior mirrors, a frameless centre mirror with auto-dimming, a HomeLink garage door transceiver, a head-up display, a 360-degree overhead parking monitor, front and rear parking sensors, emergency automatic braking for reversing, and traffic jam assist.
The GT isn’t the only Mazda3 sedan to get a price boost in 2021, with the base GX model increasing from $18,000 to $20,500 thanks to standard 16-inch alloy wheels, body-colour power-actuated side mirrors with integrated LED turn signals, manual air conditioning, heatable front seats, cruise control, and advanced blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, all previously only available with the Convenience package, while yet more new 2021 standard 3 gear includes auto on/off headlights and rain-sensing wipers. Of note, the same model with the automatic goes up by $2,500 as well.
Mid-range GS trim remains the most affordable way to get all of Mazda’s i-Activsense safety features, including adaptive cruise control with stop and go, automatic high beams, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning and lane keeping assist, plus driver attention alert. The GS increases in price by $200 to $22,900 for 2021.
Finally, a new 100th Anniversary Edition based on turbocharged GT i-ACTIV AWD trim approaches premium compact levels at $36,100, so you’ll have to be a real serious Mazda fan to pay the extra $3,200 needed to partake. For that money you’ll get special Snowflake White Pearl exterior paint, aforementioned Garnet Red leather upholstery and accents inside (normally reserved for the 3 Sport), red carpets and mats, the latter including unique 100th Anniversary embroidery, plus the same logo stamped onto the headrests, the key fob, the wheel centre caps, and each front fender.
I should also mention that both 2020 and 2021 Mazda3s are being offered with up to $750 in additional incentives according to CarCostCanada, where you can find out about all the latest manufacturer leasing and financing deals, rebate information, and best of all, dealer invoice pricing that can save you thousands when purchasing a new vehicle. Check out how the CarCostCanada system works, and make sure to download their free app so you can have all this important information on your smartphone when you need it most.
Of note, the five-door Mazda3 Sport gets similar year-by-year updates and price hikes, except for the base model that only increases by $200 from 2019 through 2021 due to including most of the standard features mentioned above from inception, and therefore already retailing for thousands more than 2019 and 2020 versions of the base sedan. The 100th Anniversary Edition hatchback pushes this Mazda3 model into a new near-premium price point of $37,100 too, but I won’t say anything more about the five-door Sport body style as I’ll be reviewing it separately.
Sportiness in mind, however, both Mazda3 models are available with three Skyactiv-G engine choices, all of which are fun to drive, although the new turbo dusts off distant memories of the late-great Mazdaspeed3. That engine, which makes 250 horsepower and a whopping 320 lb-ft of torque, will be covered in an upcoming review as well, being that I haven’t even driven it yet, so I’ll keep my comments to the 2.0-litre variant that makes 155 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque in base trim, and the non-turbo 2.5 that’s good for a respective 186 units apiece.
Performance from these two naturally aspirated engines haven’t changed since 2019, and there’s actually plenty to like about the base engine, which incidentally can only be had with GX manual and auto trims, plus GS manual trims for 2021, and comes standard with the base GX and all non-AWD versions of the GS in 2020. Its main selling point is fuel efficiency, good for a claimed 8.7 L/100km city, 6.4 highway and 7.7 combined when hooked up to the six-speed manual or 8.4, 6.6 and 7.6 respectively when mated to the six-speed auto (note, the Mazda3 doesn’t include a continuously variable transmission/CVT like most competitors, so while it may give up some thrift compared to rivals, it arguably improves drivability).
The 2.5-litre four, standard with the GS auto, all non-turbo AWD models, and the GT for 2021, makes a noticeable difference in performance without sacrificing much in fuel economy at 8.8 L/100km city, 6.6 highway and 7.8 combined with FWD or a respective 7.0, 9.2 and 8.2 with AWD.
Paddle shifters make the most of the Skyactiv-Drive automatic, especially in sport mode, and let me say it really doesn’t need more than six forward speeds, except maybe for marketing purposes. There’s something wonderful (and reliable) about a simple six-speed auto, and considering I was testing compacts with four- and five-speed automatics when I started out in this business, this is still a comparatively advanced transmission. As noted, Mazda incorporates its Skyactiv technologies, which they say combine all the advantages of conventional automatics, CVTs and dual-clutch gearboxes together—one big fat claim.
For starters, the Skyactiv-Drive autobox incorporates a significantly widened lock-up range to improve torque transfer efficiency while realizing a direct driving feel that Mazda reports as being the equivalent to a manual transmission, whereas fuel efficiency is improved by four to seven percent compared to the brand’s older non-Skyactiv automatic. While I can’t prove any of this from the wheel, it was certainly thrifty throughout my weeklong drive and responded well to input, shifting quickly and, like I mentioned a moment ago, a lot more positively than any CVT I’ve ever used (although the Corolla Hatchback’s CVT is surprisingly good).
Likewise, the Mazda3’s suspension ideally balances comfort and performance, but it goes about this in a surprisingly unsophisticated way. To be fair, the brand’s engineers chose to keep a simpler torsion-beam rear suspension in play rather than adopt an independent multi-link setup in back, and not just because it would save money that could be used elsewhere. First and foremost, it’s lighter, whereas the more straightforward design is easier to tune for the desired results. What you get is a smooth riding suspension that transitions to quick, fast-paced inputs nicely, only getting a bit unsettled when hammered through really bad patches of pavement at high speeds, mid-turn. This is where a multi-link design works better, but all said I found the 3’s torsion-beam setup hard to fault, even when pushed hard over broken road surfaces.
Fortunately, Mazda has isolated the 3’s passenger compartment so that most bumps, potholes and bridge expansion joins don’t translate to discomfort within. The body structure feels tight and solid, plus it seems as if this car gets a lot more sound-deadening insulation between outer and inner door panels than its key competitors. Again, it feels more 3 Series than Corolla in this respect, no offence to Toyota, or maybe more A-Class and A3-like, but either way resulting in that premium-like experience I’ve been going on and on about.
The 3’s driving position is similarly impressive, with enough reach from its tilt and telescopic steering column to make my long-legged, short-torso frame feel right at home, and certainly more in control than when piloting the Corolla, which needs more steering wheel extension for people shaped like me. The driver’s seat was a perfect fit too, its two-way power-adjustable lumbar support even pushing up against the small of my back where I need it most.
When seated just behind in the second row, the driver’s seat having been set up for a guy that measures five feet, eight inches tall with (once again) longish legs, and backrest canted rearward marginally, I benefited from approximately five inches of knee space to the seatback ahead, which is pretty good for this class, and no shortage of foot space below. The aforementioned taller than average roof height resulted in about three inches of room for growth above my head, while side-to-side space was more than adequate for two adults, along with reasonable room for a third when required.
Rear seat accoutrements include a fold-down centre armrest with two integrated cupholders, and that’s it. No heatable rear outboard seats, and even stranger, no air vents or USB charge ports on the backside of the front console. This is only odd due to Mazda finishing off all rear surfaces as nicely as those up front, as noted earlier in this review.
As for this sedan’s trunk, it’s about average in size for this class at 358 litres, and includes expandability via the segment’s usual 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks. If Mazda wanted to appeal even more to the premium crowd, 40/20/40-split rear seats, or at least a centre pass-through would help, this potentially a dealmaker for outdoor sports enthusiasts who might choose an all-wheel drive 3 over a competitor thanks to its all-weather traction, especially if they can fit their skis safely inside with four occupants onboard.
I wouldn’t mention this for a car in this class if Mazda wasn’t already one of the only mainstream manufacturers to provide 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks in its compact CX-5 SUV, meaning they’ve proven to understand how important passenger/cargo flexibility is to their buyers.
I wouldn’t call that last issue a complaint, but I do have a few negatives to bring up with the Mazda3 GT. For starters, I found the sensitivity of the auto braking and lane change alerts a bit annoying, but not as much as the nagging digital voice’s constant speed limit announcements. If this had been my personal car, I would’ve quickly found a way to turn that feature off.
Also, the dual auto HVAC system was more difficult to set to a comfortable temperature than what I normally experience in other brands. I therefore chose 20C so it wasn’t overly hot, but take note 20.5C was already uncomfortably warm. This means there was no middle ground, with 20C being on the cool side and 20.5C requiring the windows powered down a crack. I ended up setting it to 20C and using the three-way heated seats to keep my backside warm, not to mention the heatable steering wheel rim.
I’d also like to see Mazda improve the otherwise handy radio volume/tuner knob on the lower console, which rotates for the former and can be modulated from side-to-side for the latter. It works perfectly for changing AM/FM stations, but scrolling through satellite stations requires a tedious multi-step process within the infotainment system’s audio interface, each and every time you want to do so. I ended up saving my favourite stations to a list accessible from the star button just next to the volume/tuner knob, so at least a shortcut method has been provided, but I’d like to see some sort of improvement for tuning in satellite stations just the same.
You might find my little complaints more annoying to read than these issues actually are in real life, this probable after factoring in just how excellent the Mazda3 is in every other respect. If I were buying in this class, this car would be right at the top of my list and probably get the nod, albeit with that new turbocharged engine upgrade and potentially the Sport body style.
It’s hard to argue against a car that recently won the 2020 World Car Design of the Year award after all, let alone took top honours in AJAC’s 2020 Canadian Car of the Year earlier, and the 2019 Women’s World Car of the Year before that, while earning an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award is an accolade worth mentioning too. All that aside, I like its styling, love its interior design and materials quality, find it comfortably accommodating, appreciate its expected reliability, and always enjoy spending time in its driver’s seat. In other words, I highly recommend the Mazda3.