Built In America, With a Different Mission
Over the last few years, Mazda has been re-thinking their SUV lineup, enhancing off-road performance and even adding battery-electric powertrains; all without sacrificing style or the on-road performance the brand has long been known for. And that leads us to this CX-50. Its all-new from Mazda!
The first question about this 2023 Mazda CX-50 is where does it fit in? Bigger than the new CX-30 for sure, but don’t they already have a compact CX-5? Well, yes, they do, and the CX-50 is about the same size, but it’s built here in America at a new joint plant with Toyota. So, it is a different animal.
For starters, the CX-50 is slightly longer, lower, and wider, with substantially more wheelbase than the CX-5. So, it not only looks a little more wagon-like, but with more space inside. Next, where the tidy CX-5 plays up Mazda’s fun-to-drive philosophy to the fullest, the CX-50 was designed specifically for North American buyers. It has more ground clearance and broader shoulders, with added lower body cladding for a more off-road vibe, and even includes all-wheel-drive as standard, perhaps trying to out-Subaru Subaru. The CX-50 is also the first Mazda to offer a panoramic roof.
There is a bit more weight here than the CX-5, but it still drives sporty. Steering is heavy and the ride is on the firm side, consistent with the Mazda philosophy; but for a small utility, it feels exceptionally smooth on the highway and sounds good, too.
That pleasing audio coming from Mazda’s Skyactiv-G 2.5-liter I4 turbo engine with up to 256-horsepower and 320 lb-ft. of torque. The naturally aspirated version of this 2.5 comes standard and outputs 187-horsepower. Both engines shared with CX-5, as is its 6-speed automatic transmission. But the additional wheelbase and greater cooling allow for towing 1,500-lbs more, a good for a compact 3,500-lbs, but only with the turbo.
Behind-seat cargo space is about the same as the CX-5, at 30.0 cubic-ft., but the longer wheelbase allows for a greater max of 59.3 cubic-ft. As for the rest of the inside, well, it’s quite nice with a very upscale looking dash, and comfy upgraded seats with the premium packages. Regardless of trim, the CX-50 is well-equipped, and Mazda even includes thoughtful features like blind spot monitoring alerts in the available Head-up Active Driving Display.
Like other Mazdas, the infotainment screen sits on top of the dash. It seems far away from the driver, which is not that big of deal as it’s not a touchscreen, rather controlled by a console-mounted wheel which is fairly intuitive.
Next up for us was operating our way to Mason Dixon Dragway for further research.
There was good grip at launch, and a slight chirp of the tires, but ultimately a somewhat leisurely jog to 60 of 7.2-seconds. Power delivery is smooth and linear, and it does pick up steam as it gets down the track. Best ¼-mile time was 15.3-seconds at 90 miles-per-hour. Not long ago we would have praised Mazda for sticking with a 6-speed transmission, but modern 9 and 10-speed units have gotten quite competent of late. So, the 6 here just feels laggy and a bit behind the times.
No complaints on our handling course. The CX-50 felt like a Mazda. Confidence inspiring with lots of grip and only the slightest bit of understeer. There was some body roll, but it was very controllable with steering that was very direct and quick to respond. It’s one of those crossovers that ends up feeling more like a lightweight hatchback than a lumbering SUV; or even a nice sport-tuned wagon. The brake pedal had a firm feel, yet the brakes seemed slow to respond. However, in reality stops were short and consistent, averaging only 105-feet from 60, and there was little obvious ABS pulsing. All in all, very solid.
Base pricing for a naturally-aspirated 2.5S is $28,025, or just a few hundred dollars more than the CX-5; to which you can add a variety of Select, Preferred, and Premium packages. Turbos start at $37,625.
We’re not sure what the future holds for the CX-5. But, much like the CX-30 easily outshined the CX-3, this 2023 Mazda CX-50 is clearly superior to the CX-5-- and that’s saying something. The CX-50 maximizes your driving pleasure, like all Mazdas should, without forgetting the comfort and utility aspects of being a highly capable, up-to-date, Sport Utility Vehicle.
Engine: 2.5L I4 Turbo
Torque: 320 lb-ft
0-60 mph: 7.2 seconds
1/4 Mile: 15.3 seconds at 90 mph
60-0 Braking: 105 feet
EPA: 23 City / 29 Highway / 25 Combined