2021 Mazda CX-5 Signature Infotainment Overview

Mazda's tech interface, which had been one of the CX-5 principal cons, is substantially more advanced and improved for 2021. The dashtop screen is larger and easier to see while running a redesigned and quicker user interface. The knob that controls it is big, ergonomically placed on the center console and, like BMW's iDrive controller, can rotate through menus or move up/down, left/right among icons. This latter feature is key for using Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Wheeling through playlists or contacts is actually easier with a knob, but selecting icons on the menu screen is more time-consuming than it would be with a touch interface. Fortunately, smartphone integration is clever enough to override Mazda’s built-in voice command feature when your device is plugged in, so you can talk to Siri or Google instead.

Video Transcript

BYRON HURD: Hey, everyone. It's Byron. I'm here in the 2021 Mazda CX-5 Signature. This is a turbo model. It's pretty loaded up. And for our purposes, the most important thing it has is the updated version of Mazda's infotainment system. So I'm going to give you kind of a quick walkthrough on this, show you what we're dealing with here.

So Mazda kind of went the other direction of a lot of people with this most recent update and ditched the idea of the touchscreen entirely and went back to the rotary control system, which rotary systems have kind of a checkered past. In some cases, we love them. In some cases, we hated them. Really it came down to how well designed the interface was and how intuitive it was to use without looking at any of the controls, or having to fiddle with things, or dig too deep into menus as you're cruising down the road.

This system is not perfect, but honestly, it's probably a bit of an upgrade over the way things were before. Frankly, the smartphone integration and everything is great. The nice new widescreen display is nice too, as you can see. You can fit a lot of stuff here. And I'm going to go ahead and show you how much by switching over to Apple CarPlay.

I think this is actually one of the better implementations of a CarPlay or Android Auto interface that doesn't involve the touchscreen. Because normally you would think, oh, you're trying to mimic a smartphone, right? So you would expect it to be a touch interface. And obviously, it's not.

But the nice thing is, it's pretty intuitive to use. You can toggle the knob with a quick jog to the right or the left. To get into different menu settings, you can see it bouncing around over here as I cruise through. And I'm just tapping the knob to the left or right to cycle through these.

Once you're within any one of these menus, you can click to make it full screen, or open it up, toggle, interact with it, whatever it is you need to do. And then, once you have that, the knob works fairly intuitively. The idea is you go to the left or counterclockwise to move down or left and the opposite for right or up. It works pretty well.

Jogging between the different menus is pretty intuitive. You can also do little things like scroll left and scroll right within this window, which is kind of nice. And then open up the menu for more advanced controls, zoom out, zoom in, et cetera.

Now getting out of CarPlay, also pretty simple. You just hit Back once you get to this main screen. You get to the rest of the Mazda stuff, you can always jog to the right to get back over to CarPlay if that's what you want. So a couple of nice things about this-- the navigation system, while perhaps a little antiquated compared to what you get with a smartphone, still works pretty well.

The voice interface is pretty good at recognizing commands, but not flawless. It's not nearly as good as what you get with some of the new AI-enabled systems, but it works pretty well. The nice thing is if you're using Apple CarPlay with this, and you need to navigate to something while you have it plugged in, you simply activate the voice control in the car, and it brings up Siri, which is much smarter than Mazda's in-dash system.

The nice thing is, if you activate the voice control while you're driving and you have your iPhone connected, it doesn't talk to Mazda, it talks to Siri. And Siri is a little bit smarter than Mazda, and that makes things a little easier. That said, this is still a very workable system. It's an improvement in many ways over what Mazda had before, especially when it comes to just the screen real estate and how well they utilize it.

And I'm also going to say, I don't really miss the touchscreen. Frankly, the way that the interior of this car is designed, reaching for it would be a bit of a pain anyway. And this control system actually works well enough that you don't really miss it. It's kind of similar to the case of Alfa Romeo, where they went to all this trouble to design this unique independent system that works kind of OK. They just didn't quite get the interface and control system right on the first shot.

Alfa's idea was, well, our interface is not very good. We'll just make it a touchscreen and improve the other things instead. Mazda decided to double down on the interface and the results are actually better than expected.