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A blue 2021 Ford Escape is driving on a winding forest road after winning the 2021 Ford Escape vs 2021 Mazda CX-5 comparison.

Modern SUVs Head to Head; 2021 Ford Escape vs 2021 Mazda CX-5

Two of the best compact SUVs on the market right now are the 2021 Ford Escape and the 2021 Mazda CX-5. Both of them are commonly well-regarded in their class and largely leave any competition behind. But while both of them are elite in this class of vehicles, they do so in different ways. The Escape is an all-around performer with impressive interior volume and a selection of engines and drive types to suit any customer. Meanwhile, the CX-5 also has several variants to choose from, but each is somewhat less focused on a particular goal than the purposeful Escape variants. This is especially true of the CX-5 when it comes to customers looking for high efficiency, as the Mazda lacks hybrid and plug-in hybrid options.

Overall, the CX-5 focuses on its driving dynamics, whereas the Escape focuses on what small SUV buyers want most: practicality and capability.The Escape offers more space and interior volume, allowing for a happier passenger experience thanks to the spacious cabin. The cabins of both the Escape and the CX-5 are filled with technology, but the software and hardware of the Escape is more diverse and better suited to making the overall experience of going from point A to B comfortable and engaging. Safety is another area where neither vehicle is lacking, but the Escape’s litany of drivetrain technologies and active sensors all working in concert presents a better overall package.

While the CX-5 is great dynamically, the Ford Escape is a more practical vehicle. However, you don’t have to just take our word for it. Let’s put these vehicles head to head to see which is the best in the segment.

Head to Head: The Interior

The 2021 Ford Escape and 2021 Mazda CX-5 are both equipped with sleek, well-made interiors. They are close enough in overall quality that, in many cases, it is the smaller or harder to notice things that make the difference between them. One of the main differences is that the dimensionally smaller CX-5 tends to make its interior space smaller in general when compared to the Escape.

The interior of the 2021 Ford Escape is accessible and down to earth, yet filled with technology. The Mazda CX-5’s interior is more old-fashioned, with analog gauges that contrast distinctly with Ford’s all-digital gauge cluster. This digital cluster, despite the Escape’s lower pricing, is a standard feature that is quite customizable. In addition to this useful and modern gauge cluster, the Escape also features a center infotainment screen. This screen has an available voice-activated navigation function, further adding to the interior’s capabilities. While certainly not a dealbreaker, little things like the Escape having six cupholders to the CX-5’s four are clues to the more practical nature of the Escape in general.

A black 2021 Mazda CX-5 is driving on a wet city street and shown from a high angle.

Head to Head: Passenger Room

A key component of being comfortable in a compact SUV is not just having enough space to sit unhindered but feeling like you have more room than you need. This latter ability is what makes a vehicle feel spacious instead of simply adequate. The interior dimension numbers seem very similar when comparing the 2021 Ford Escape versus the 2021 Mazda CX-5. The seemingly small differences between them are what provide that instinctual feeling of comfort and calm that comes from a space not just being big enough but spacious.

The Escape’s total passenger volume is 104 cubic feet, while the CX-5’s is 103.6. The seats and footwells are positioned in a way to allocate that extra room where it can be used best in the Ford, leading to more front row maximum legroom, shoulder room. This better allocation of interior space also gives those in the backseat of the Escape more second-row headroom and shoulder room while matching the CX-5’s second-row hip room measurement.

Head to Head: Cargo Space

While the cargo area does not carry the same personal effects that the passenger area does, in a small SUV, more of it is better. The Mazda CX-5 is no slouch when it comes to interior space, with 59.6 cubic feet of total cargo space and 30.9 cubic feet of space behind the second row. That said, the Escape’s larger volume makes for a noticeably larger cargo area at 65.4 cubic feet in total and a maximum of 37.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row. All this means is that the Escape has more space for more of your items, whether that’s with the rear seats occupied with people or folded down for extra space.

Head to Head: Technology

The 2021 Ford Escape and 2021 Mazda CX-5 both feature impressive technology suites that would make luxury vehicles of a decade ago blush. These features include touchscreen infotainment systems, Apple Carplay, Android Auto, satellite radio, and a Wi-Fi hotspot built into the vehicle. Both the Escape and CX-5 boast all these features, but there are some that are exclusive to the Ford. These include an available wireless phone charging pad, a premium ten-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system, and a heated 10-way adjustable driver’s seat.

Head to Head: Safety

All new cars and trucks feature impressive and reassuring safety systems that achieve new heights of passenger protection. The 2021 Ford Escape and the 2021 Mazda CX-5 both exemplify that. They both include numerous driver assists and other important safety equipment.

Driver assists and the sensors that power them offer not just the first line of defense in a safety sense but also allow for a more luxurious and comfortable driving experience. The assistance packages available on the Ford Escape and the Mazda CX-5 are known as Ford CoPilot360 and i-Activesense, respectively. On both the Escape and the CX-5, these packages offer blindspot detection, advanced cruise control with active sensors, lane keeping assistance and lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking, and automatic high beams. All these features combined make day to day driving much easier and much safer.

A white 2021 Ford Escape with cargo on the roof is parked in front of a river and bridge.

Head to Head: Drivetrain

One of the most desirable systems available on both the Escape and the CX-5 is the available all-wheel drive. Not just in terms of safety, but also in the more conventional terms of efficiency and power delivery. Both the Escape and the CX-5 feature torque vectoring, which up until very recently was a feature reserved for only high-performance sports cars. This capability allows more power to be put selectively through separate wheels.

When paired with computer control, torque vectoring allows for seemingly magic grip to be pulled out of the slick ground in ways that even standard all-wheel drive vehicles would have trouble doing. This is largely because the onboard systems of the Escape and CX-5 can detect where grip is available several times per second and allocate power to where it can actually be used. Both the Escape and the CX-5 have torque vectoring available even on their front-wheel drive variants, but it is best used on all-wheel drive equipped vehicles. The CX-5 is very close to the Escape in terms of this capability, but the Escape does go further, with more advanced traction control that includes Roll Stability Control.

Head to Head: Powertrains

An essential feature of any vehicle is the engine and overall powertrain system. This is the system that gets the vehicle moving and is a feature sometimes overlooked by small SUV buyers. The engine options for the Ford Escape cover much more ground and much more directly fit particular needs than the more straightforward options available for the CX-5. The Escape has a total of three powertrain options, two of which can be combined with all-wheel drive.

The Escape’s options cover a wide breadth of use cases, from an inexpensive 1.5 -liter turbocharged engine to a powerful 2.0-liter turbocharged workhorse to an incredibly efficient hybrid system that uses a 2.5-liter engine as one component of its complete package. The CX-5 has two engine options, a 2.5-liter that is turbocharged and a 2.5-liter that is not. All-wheel drive is also an option with both variants of the single 2.5-liter inline-four engine.

It should be noted that the Mazda CX-5 does not offer any kind of hybrid option. So, when taking into account economical transit and the high miles per gallons statistics, the Escape can be far and away the better option. The Escape even features a plug-in hybrid version, which for many around the town duties, will never need to visit a gas station at all.

Head to Head: The 2021 Ford Escape Wins

The 2021 Mazda CX-5 is an impressive small SUV, but for the vast majority of people looking to buy a vehicle in this segment, the 2021 Ford Escape is simply the better choice. Equipped with more interior space, more maximum power, more maximum MPG, and more options to tailor it to your life, it is a proposition that is very hard to beat. While the 2021 Escape isn’t on dealership lots yet, we can’t wait to see just how much the 2021 Ford Escape is capable of.

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