New crossover bigger than CX-5, aimed more for off-road use …
What do you do when you’re a smaller auto manufacturer, but you have one big hit in the hot crossover market?
Make another slightly larger version of it, right?
Welcome to Mazda’s world. The Japanese car maker has constantly been putting stylish and superb handling vehicles on the road, but other than the MX-5 Miata sports cars, the others rarely garner many buyers. That is until the Mazda CX-5 hit the market and gave compact crossover buyers a sportier looking and handling option, yet below luxury pricing.
Bingo, CX-5 moves to the top of Mazda’s success list.
Well, it’s still making the CX-5, but Mazda imagined if could be even better, well, at least bigger. So now comes the CX-50 (don’t be confused), which is about six inches longer, rides on a four-inch longer wheelbase, weighs 50 pounds more, and will tow 3,500 pounds, up 1,500 from the slightly smaller CX-5.
Mazda also followed the lead of every other crossover/SUV maker and raised CX-50’s ride height to enable marketers to tout it as more off-road worthy. OK, I know some folks bang ditches, mash mud and straddle boulders, but really?
No, the CX-50, even with 8.6 inches of ground clearance is meant for towing a small camper or boat to a state park camping site, not going axle deep in mud. It’ll do that and even has an off-road setting on its M-Drive toggle on the console. That also includes Sport and Comfort modes, the latter of which you’ll be using 99% of the time.
Funny though, we had an 8-inch snow dump while I was testing the CX-50, and I found the standard AWD was only partially effective and not nearly as helpful as my wife’s Subaru Outback AWD. I could still spin the tires and slip-slide around corners. I even toggled into Off-Road mode to see if that might help. If it did, it was barely noticeable. That said Mazda says its AWD system is designed to keep the vehicle moving even if a front and back wheel are off the ground. I didn’t try that.
Don’t go all mental on me now. Driving the CX-50 is a blast on dry or simply wet pavement. This being the 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus model it was loaded with goodies, most importantly the 2.5-liter SkyActiv-G four-cylinder with a turbo that kicks in quickly and delivers punchy performance. Horsepower is 227 normally, but can jump to 256 if you opt for 93-octane premium fuel.
Watch Mark’s video: 2023 Mazda CX 50 review by Mark Savage & Paul Daniel – YouTube
I like this powerplant even better in Mazda’s smaller CX-30 crossover as it gives it almost a tall sports car feel. But acceleration is quite good here as the CX-50 rushes up to highway speeds and the six-speed automatic handles all that power just fine.
Handling too is a Mazda hallmark and continues here. Steering feels heavy and precise so there’s no play in the wheel and the suspension lets you push it harder into a corner than you might most compact crossovers.
But anticipating that its customers will be bouncing around the off-trail rocks and mud a bit, Mazda has stiffened the CX-50’s suspension as compared with its popular predecessor, the CX-5. That may help off road, but in town where pot holes and chippy pavement are the main obstacles, the ride is overly firm. Some riders may opt for the CX-5 just for that reason, despite the longer wheelbase here.
Braking is fine and safety equipment is well represented too. For instance there’s a blind spot monitor, front and rear parking sensors, a 360-degree monitor, rear smart braking that come in the Premium Plus trim. Other standard safety equipment includes lane keeping and departure assist, rear cross-traffic alert and rain-sensing wipers.
Even if Mazda didn’t nail the exterior styling, as it always seems to with an aggressive beak-line nose, its interiors are top shelf, often feeling like they belong in at least entry-level luxury vehicles. It spoils riders in this pearl white (Wind Chill) tester with reddish-brown leather-trimmed seats and black accents. These are extremely well shaped and supportive, although a tad hard. That color is also used for accent stitching in the black door panels and across the black dash. Quite spiffy.
Other trim is chrome such as on air ducts and the steering wheel’s hub is loaded with satin chrome buttons so is a bit less reflective.
Everything is easy to see in the CX-50, especially the large 10.25-inch screen embedded neatly atop the dash, not looking like a bolt-on iPad as in many vehicles. But it’s not a touchscreen. Mazda insists, as other makes used to, that a knob on the console is the best way to get at info, nav, and radio functions while driving. It is not!
The system remains way too confusing to use unless the vehicle is parked and you have some time on your hands.
Otherwise the button array for the dual climate controls are easy to use as are the heated and cooled seat controls. Sadly the heated steering wheel button hides under the driver’s side temperature knob, so that requires a bit of care to engage. Likewise the wireless phone charger is tucked into a gap at the front of the split center armrest. Not so hard to put the phone in, but awkward to get out.
This interior has more legroom in the second row seats than the CX-5, a plus, but slightly less headroom. Long-legged, but short torsoed riders rejoice! Storage space remains fairly generous behind that split seat, which will lower to boost cargo room. Yes, there’s even a spare tire under the cargo floor. I know some vehicles have abandoned that practice, a tough lesson if you don’t know until you need it. The rear hatch also is powered and includes a wiper.
Overhead are Mazda’s first twin sunroofs and a powered shade. Bravo. While this trim level also includes heated rear outboard seats, a plus for Wisconsin buyers, and a fine Bose 12-speaker sound system with the volume knob on the console, or controlled via buttons on the steering wheel.
In addition to a touchscreen the Mazda also could use a flat-bottom steering wheel to reflect its sporty nature and allow for more knee room when the driver exits the crossover, mostly important for vertically challenged drivers.
Pricing remains a pleasant surprise, same with the CX-5. A base 2.5 model that uses the same engine, but sans turbo, goes for $28,825 with delivery. Horsepower is 187 and the digital info screen is smaller at 8.8 inches.
Move up to a turbo model and you’ll start negotiating at $38,425 and the tested Premium Plus lists at $43,575. It added only the pearl white paint for $395, but go with Soul Red, it’s way cooler. Total cost here was $43,970, a bit below average new vehicle pricing.
There are 10 trims, so one for each toe or finger, but a Meridian model aims even more strongly at the off-road market and comes standard with all-terrain tires and 18-inch alloy wheels. It lists at $41,620.
I was a bit disappointed in the gas mileage around town, managing just 22.6 mpg although to be fair it was fairly cold and snowy during this drive. The EPA says to expect 23 mpg city and 29 highway, right in the wheelhouse of other AWD compact crossovers. Also, in a purely highway drive I managed 28 mpg.
Note to readers: Mark will be testing Mazda’s CX-5 again very shortly, so watch to see how that compares with this newer CX-50. Plus watch for his annual Zoomie top vehicle awards coming next Sunday.
FAST STATS: 2023 Mazda CX-50 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus
Hits: Stylish, excellent turbo power, responsive handling, plus AWD standard. Interior feels luxurious and roomy, wide screen, twin sunroofs, heated steering wheel, heated/cooled front seats, heated rear seats, dual climate controls, smart cruise and good safety equipment and cargo space, Bose stereo, comfy supportive seats, power hatch, wireless charger.
Misses: Not a fan of the console-controlled info screen, this needs touchscreen. Ride is over firm, but well-controlled. AWD still allowed squirrelly feel in snow and modest MPG. Could use a flat-bottom steering wheel and the wireless phone charger is awkwardly located.
Made in: Huntsville, Alabama
Engine: 2.5-liter SkyActiv-G I4, turbo, 227 hp/310 torque (256 hp, w/93 octane gas/320 torque)
Transmission: SkyActiv-drive 6-speed, automatic w/Sport mode
Weight: 3,907 lbs.
Wheelbase: 110.8 in.
Length: 185.8 in.
Cargo: 31.4-56.3 cu.ft.
MPG: 22.6 (tested), 28.0 (hwy. test)
Base Price: $43,575 (includes delivery)
Wind Chill Pearl (white) paint, $395
Test vehicle: $43,970
Sources: Mazda, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage