By on November 30, 2020

2021 Mazda CX5 and CX9 - Images: © Timothy CainWe all asked Mazda for more power. It was a cry rising up from virtually every corner of the automotive industry – enthusiasts, observers, analysts, insiders, owners, fans – largely due to the fact that  Mazda marketed an entire lineup of vehicles as machines for keen drivers, and none of those machines offered meaningful horsepower.

The Mazda 6 dropped its V6 engine after the 2013 model year, which led to horsepower maxing out at 184 in the following iteration. The Mazdaspeed 3 and its sub-14-second quarter-mile likewise called it quits in 2013. In 2014, the Mazda 2 was still fighting with a measly 100 horsepower. While Ford sold Escapes with 245 horsepower (and 275 lb-ft of torque), the 187-horsepower Mazda CX-5’s naturally aspirated 2.5-liter was merely enough. In fact, up until 2018, the only Mazda with more than 200 horsepower was the roughly 4,400-pound Mazda CX-9.

By way of the CX-9’s 2.5-liter turbo, 2018 brought more than 300 lb-ft of torque to the Mazda 6. The same engine appeared in the CX-5 for 2019 (when Mazda amped up the MX-5 to the tune of a sub-6-second 0-60 time), and is now finding its way under the hood of the Mazda 3 and Mazda CX-30.

Two-hundred and fifty horsepower at 5,000 rpm. Three-hundred and twenty lb-ft of torque at 2,500 rpm. Six distinct body styles. Base prices (including freight) ranging from $31,000 to $35,060. Doesn’t it kind of sound as though the officially defunct Mazdaspeed performance sub-brand is actually, what’s the word we’re looking for here … alive?

2021 Mazda CX5 100th anniversary edition - Image: © Timothy CainNews that Mazdaspeed is dead isn’t news. There hasn’t been a Mazdaspeed car in more than seven years. We reported on the likelihood (by which mean the decreasing likelihood) of Mazdaspeed’s return in early 2017, more than three years before the latest batch of cold water was thrown on the dimming embers. Mazdaspeed wasn’t in the offing in early 2017, but the frequency of turbo installations was. Speaking of the CX-5, “If it’s up to me, we’ll put the 2.5 turbo in there, too,” Mazda engineer Dave Coleman said.

The 2.5 turbo is indeed on the CX-5 options list now. I spent a week in early November in a Canadian-spec 100th Anniversary edition priced at an eye-watering CAD $45,620, but Americans can select an all-wheel-drive, turbocharged 2021 CX-5 at $33,160, $36,385, or $38,505. 2021 Mazda CX5 100th anniversary edition 2 - Image: © Timothy CainTo be honest, it’s hardly a traditional performance powerplant: Mildly unrefined at low rpm, not terribly excited about revving, generally behaving like it was born to petrol parents but adopted by a family of diesels. The mid-range torque in the 2.5 turbo, however, transforms the character of the CX-5. Three-hundred and twenty lb-ft of twist stirs up the desire to overtake anything that moves. The turbo shaves the CX-5’s 50-70 mph acceleration time from 5.5 to 4.3 seconds, according to Car And Driver.

The CX-5 is an ideal foundation for a performance crossover, the likes of which don’t really exist. There’s no ST-badged Escape, no CR-V Si or Forester XT or Equinox SS. The CX-5’s steering is properly weighted. The suspension is tuned for decent ride quality along with cornering speeds that would cause many competitors to blanch. Brake feel is nicely balanced. The CX-5’s Sport mode even shifts enough algorithms to steer the CX-5’s powertrain toward real responsiveness.

Of course, the CX-5 doesn’t have the boy-racer bodywork to merit a Mazdaspeed badge. Moreover, the exhaust note isn’t rorty. The 225/50R19 tires aren’t of a sufficiently low profile. And the ride quality isn’t jarringly awful.

In fact, whether you’re in a turbocharged CX-5 or a blacked-out CX-9 or any of the other newly turbocharged Mazdas, the cosmetics won’t support the notion of extra power. A turbocharged Mazda’s driving experience in each case is likely to present layers of evidence on behalf of its client, Mr. Athleticism, but unlikely to ever disclose any rendezvous with the ex, Mrs. Unruly Torque Steer.2021 Mazda CX9 Carbon Edition - Image: © Timothy Cain Mazda’s capacity for taming the 199.4-inch CX-9 shows the company is more than capable of crafting a performance car. Canada’s CX-9 Kuro, akin to the Carbon Edition south of the border, is remarkably measured. Tens of thousands of CX-9 drivers will never push the hefty brute hard enough to be wowed by its composure. Clearly, these Mazda engineers are people who spend years in pursuit of MX-5 handling perfection. And the influence of that vehicle – just influence, mind you, not punching in 200 percent on a Xerox – is obvious in this 4,396-pounder. On twisty, rural, Island roads, the CX-9 falls into a groove as speeds increase, the exact opposite of what happens to the overwhelming majority of high-riding family crossovers.

Yes, Mazda can do Mazdaspeed. They can. But they won’t. The prices required to support it simply won’t result in sufficient marketplace uptake. Yet the broad availability of horsepower now gives Mazda a leg to stand on in terms of communicating the brand’s performance credentials. Mazda’s new aim is to add to those performance credentials a waft of premium.

Horsepower’s the easy part – there’s still no replacement for displacement. Crafting an upmarket image, on the other hand, isn’t quite so straightforward.

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Driving.ca and the founder and former editor of GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars and Instagram.

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22 Comments on “After Driving Two Turbocharged Mazdas for Two Weeks, Mazdaspeed is Actually Kind of Alive...”


  • avatar
    slavuta

    I’ll wait to see what they do with inline-6

  • avatar
    thegamper

    The turbocharged CX-9, and Mazda6 are the only vehicles in the crop of new turbo Mazdas that I have driven. It provides a pretty nice ride, power feels pretty good. I would say they feel quick but not fast. Handling does feel pretty sharp in the CX-9 for what it is and the turbo Mazda6 feels very competent but short of exciting. Honestly I don’t have a press fleet of vehicles to compare them to, just other vehicles I have owned or tested. It is my understanding though that the powerplant is essentially transplanted with no significant changes to each of Mazda’s models receiving the turbo treatment. I would be most interested to test it in the Mazda3 because you just cant go wrong with that much torque in a relatively light vehicle with AWD.

    I am a former owner of a 2006 Mazdaspeed 6 and can testify that the experience is completely different between now and then. The direct injection 2.3 turbo as found in the Speed6 and Speed3 of the past was a powderkeg just waiting for you to set it off with some throttle input. Once you did, the cars were dialed up to 11 bonkers….which is what made them so exciting.

    I agree that putting the more powerful turbo in Mazda’s newer vehicles provides the already well tuned and “sporty” donor vehicle the shot of adrenaline to take it to a different level. But it really isn’t the Mazdaspeed of yore.

    Even so, I think a few years on my odometer and some additional miles on the old bones have made me appreciate the more sedate and sophisticated approach of the newer turbo vehicles. The newer turbos play much nicer in the arena of real life and everyday driving than the Mazdaspeeds ever did….and any vehicle with the name “Speed” in it has to be bad for insurance rates. So really, Mazda is chasing the sweet spot in the market and putting some actual power where its marketing has been for years….finally. These new turbos are hopefully just the start with more to come.

    • 0 avatar
      NG5

      I am very interested in the 3 with AWD. I don’t care about manual as much as long as i can pick a gear from time to time. I test drove a CX-3 on a hard snowy day on all-seasons and it was very fun even if I think it would be difficult to own a vehicle that small inside. If the 3 drove more fun, I would seriously want one as a next daily car.

      • 0 avatar
        tankinbeans

        I currently drive a Mazda3 AWD, but with the standard NA 2.5 and it’s wonderful. The only caveat being that you’d want to make sure to pick one up without the Bridgestone Turanzas because they’re complete and utter garbage. I think Mazda offers 2 separate tires as OEM, but I can’t recall the other.

        Side note: I never realized there was such an animal as all-weather tires, not to be confused with all-seasons. I searched around online to replace the OEM Turanzas and settled on Vredestein Quatrac 5s. They split the difference between all-seasons and dedicated winter tires.

      • 0 avatar
        tankinbeans

        I currently drive a Mazda3 AWD, but with the standard NA 2.5 and it’s wonderful. The only caveat being that you’d want to make sure to pick one up without the Bridgestone Turanzas because they’re complete and utter garbage. I think Mazda offers 2 separate tires as OEM, but I can’t recall the other.

        Side note: I never realized there was such an animal as all-weather tires, not to be confused with all-seasons. I searched around online to replace the OEM Turanzas and settled on Vredestein Quatrac 5s. They split the difference between all-seasons and dedicated winter tires.

        • 0 avatar
          ABC-2000

          tankinbeans;
          I don’t know anything about Bridgestone but I do know that my 2006 3 hatch came with Good Year RS-A that were bold at 25K miles and I do not do any aggressive driving, then, my 2011 3 hatch, came with Yokohama Avid, also, were almost gone at 32K miles.
          I don’t understand why Mazda have such poor choice of tires.

          • 0 avatar
            tankinbeans

            This is the first time I’ve ever preemptively replaced tires. I looked up reviews for the OEM tires and they’re just barely “fair” per customer reviews, with a fairly obvious geographic distribution for those who find them acceptable.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      “any vehicle with the name “Speed” in it has to be bad for insurance rates”

      Insurance rates depend on different things, including performance of specific car in specific area. If insurance detects that Civic crashes more often in Chicago, it will be increasing this model insurance cost. Why then Tesla is expensive to ensure?
      In fact, Mazda6 without any turbo is expensive to insure in my area. My 2017 Mazda6 is significantly more expensive to insure vs 2019 Highlander.

      • 0 avatar
        tankinbeans

        I know insurance for my Mazda3 was slightly higher than for the CX-5 I’d traded with virtually identical features. In my area SUVs and CUVs tend to cost less, at least within the same insurance company.

        I would guess the Tesla Model Y is cheaper to insure than the Model S. I’d further guess that the Model S is cheaper to insure than the Model 3.

        I’m sure there are actuarial reasons why these guess might be the case.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    I’ve had brief seat-time in a CX-5 plus turbo which didn’t have flappy paddles. I think were there flappy paddles, since a manual is a no-go – at least for now, it would have been all the better.

    My biggest nit to pick with the automatic transmission is that it stumbles a bit off the block, especially getting on the freeway. With the flappy paddles one can dial in 2nd to enter the freeway and then disengage at speed. I know there’s the manual shift mode, but remembering to knock it back when it’s not really needed can be cumbersome, whereas if the flappy paddles are used without manual shift mode the transmission reverts after a period of time.

  • avatar
    ajla

    If I wanted a boring almost fast car I’d get a used Lincoln.

    Also, this goes back to a comment I made years ago that almost everyone wants a Buick they just don’t want a Buick badge.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      almost everyone wants a Buick… (raises hand)

      they just don’t want a Buick badge… (lowers hand)

      I think we should make a distinction between “fast” and “quick”. I’d argue these turbo Mazdas are properly “quick”. They feel great punching it to overtake that damn semi you’ve been stuck behind for the 10 mile stretch of orange barrels. They probably feel like they aren’t breaking a sweat when the cruise is locked at 75 mph (and for some of us that encourages us to even faster).

      Those of us who are pissed at Ford and GM for slowly but surely killing everything that isn’t a truck/SUV/CUV or true performance car and would buy the trim level of those now gone vehicles with the highest hp/tq engines they would sell us will likely be very happy at Mazda.

      You know, disaffected Buick and Lincoln owners. ;-)

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      almost everyone wants a Buick… (raises hand)

      they just don’t want a Buick badge… (lowers hand)

      I think we should make a distinction between “fast” and “quick”. I’d argue these turbo Mazdas are properly “quick”. They feel great punching it to overtake that damn semi you’ve been stuck behind for the 10 mile stretch of orange barrels. They probably feel like they aren’t breaking a sweat when the cruise is locked at 75 mph (and for some of us that encourages us to even faster).

      Those of us who are mad at Ford and GM for slowly but surely killing everything that isn’t a truck/SUV/CUV or true performance car and would buy the trim level of those now gone vehicles with the highest hp/tq engines they would sell us will likely be very happy at Mazda.

      You know, disaffected Buick and Lincoln owners. ;-)

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    I’m just shocked to know that Mazda builds a 4,396lb vehicle. Horsepower seems easy these days, when is someone going to really innovate in weight saving?

  • avatar
    daniel1967

    Long time reader, posting for the first time.
    I have a 2011 CR-V SE AWD, a 2013 Forester X Limited, and a 2017 Mazda CX-5 GT. Contrary to what I am reading everywhere (TTAC, Car and Driver, Motortrend etc. etc.), I find the CX-5 the worst handling of the 3 vehicles I own. I am not sure why my experience is so different from others’. If an exit ramps sign says 35mph, I can take it easily at 42-43 mph in the CR-V and Forester, but maybe 37-38 mph at most with the CX-5. The CX-5 feels tall and tippy. I keep the tire pressure 2-3 psi above recommended for all vehicles. All vehicles are stock, no accidents. Anybody care to comment on this?

    I had a 2019 CR-V loaded as a loner a few weeks ago. Again I found the steering numb, the CVT transmission feeling like a rubber band, suspension completely disconnected from the road etc. God awful vehicle.

  • avatar

    Weak sauce (or is it near-beer) comes from most of the Japanese majors. TRD ? Suspension is where it ought to be, engines nope. Acura A – Spec ? One nice styling job and expensive wheels. No engine. Honda ? If you force us we’ll do an Si and a dozen Mugen, not that you’ll ever find one without a 10k dealer markup. At least the Germans and Americans will often sell you a version with actual performance, but the Japanese majors, who ably demonstrate performance in the euro market, leave it alone here for mass market, Consumer Reports friendly, doesn’t annoy the insurance people, dull motors.

  • avatar
    gerdwithgerd

    The problem is that Mazda decided to bail on quality for Gen 4 Mazda 3s. That POS rear suspension is a serious issue, and the fact that you can’t combine a manual with the turbo is criminal. Why can’t I combine a manual with AWD and the turbo?
    OTOH it likely increases the future value of my 2017 GT. But still a little disappointed with the Mazda 3 offerings for Gen 4.

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