Mazda’s tech interface, which had been one of the main drawbacks of the CX-5, is significantly more advanced and improved for 2021. The dashboard screen is larger and easier to see while running an interface redesigned and faster user. The button that controls it is large, ergonomically placed on the center console and, like BMW’s iDrive controller, can rotate menus or move up/down, left/right through icons. This last feature is essential for using Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Browsing through playlists or contacts is actually easier with a button, but selecting icons on the menu screen takes longer than with a touch interface. Thankfully, the smartphone integration is smart 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.
BYRON HURD: Hi everyone. It’s Byron. I’m here in the 2021 Mazda CX-5 Signature. It’s a turbo model. It’s quite busy. And for our purposes, the most important thing it has is Mazda’s updated infotainment system. So I’m going to give you kind of a quick rundown on that, show you what we’re talking about here.
So Mazda went the other way from a lot of people with this most recent update and completely ditched the touchscreen idea and went back to the rotary control system, which rotary systems have kind of of a turbulent past. In some cases, we love them. In some cases, we hated them. Really, it was down to how well the interface was designed and how intuitive it was to use without looking at any of the controls, or having to fiddle around with things, or dig too deep into the menus as you navigate the road.
This system isn’t perfect, but honestly, it’s probably an upgrade from how things were before. Frankly, smartphone integration and everything is great. The new widescreen is nice too, as you can see. You can put a lot of stuff here. And I’ll go ahead and show you how much by switching to Apple CarPlay.
I think it’s actually one of the best implementations of a CarPlay or Android Auto interface that doesn’t involve the touchscreen. Because normally you’d think, oh, you’re trying to imitate a smartphone, aren’t you? So you’d expect it to be a touchscreen interface. And obviously, that’s not the case.
But what is good is that it is quite intuitive to use. You can toggle the button with a quick jog to the right or left. To get into different menu settings, you can see it bouncing around here as I navigate. And I just press the button left or right to cycle through them.
Once you’re in one of these menus, you can click to make it full screen, or open it, toggle it, interact with it, whatever you need to do. And then, once you have that, the knob works quite intuitively. The idea is that you go left or counterclockwise to move down or left and vice versa for right or up. It works quite well.
Jogging between the different menus is fairly intuitive. You can also do little things like scroll left and scroll right in this window, which is quite nice. And then open the menu for more advanced controls, zoom out, zoom in, etc.
Exit CarPlay now, also quite simple. You just click back once you get to this main screen. You access the rest of the Mazda stuff, you can always jog right back to CarPlay if that’s what you want. So a couple of good things about that – the navigation system, while perhaps a bit outdated compared to what you get with a smartphone, still works reasonably well.
The voice interface is pretty good at recognizing commands, but not flawlessly. It’s not as good as what you get with some of the newer AI-enabled systems, but it works pretty well. The good thing is if you’re using Apple CarPlay with that, and you need to navigate to something while you’ve got it plugged in, you just activate voice control in the car, and it brings up Siri, which is a lot smarter than Mazda’s. in-dash system.
The good thing is that if you activate voice control while driving and your iPhone is connected, it doesn’t talk to Mazda, it talks to Siri. And Siri is a little smarter than Mazda, and that makes things a little easier. That said, it’s still a very functional system. It’s an improvement in many ways over what Mazda had before, especially when it comes to screen real estate alone and how they use it.
And I’ll also say that I don’t really miss the touchscreen. Frankly, the way the interior of this car is designed, reaching it would be a bit of a pain anyway. And this control system 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 such lengths to design this single independent system that works pretty well. They just didn’t quite understand the interface and control system the first time around.
Alfa’s idea was, well, our interface isn’t very good. We’re just going to make it a touchscreen and improve the other things instead. Mazda has decided to double down on the interface and the results are actually better than expected.