Awfully similar to the already available CX-5 in size, spec, and power. Different in personality and priority
Your eyes deceive you. This brand new 2023 Mazda CX-50, a two-row, compact crossover SUV, will not replace the current two-row, compact crossover SUV from Mazda, the CX-5. Yes, they look awfully similar in size—and spec—and power (because they are quite similar in size, spec, and power). But, trust me, the five and fifty will co-exist at Mazda dealers and do, ultimately, cater to two different buyers.
Think of the two Mazdas like fraternal twins. Sharing much, but each with its own DNA and, indeed, priorities on the road. For example, the CX-50 is 6.7-inches longer and runs on a set of axles stretched an additional 4.6-inch apart. The fifty gets beautiful new skin and a rugged stance with bulging fender flares for both the front and rear axle. What’s more, Mazda built it to tow as much as 3500 lbs. or 1500 more pounds than the five. Finally, by adding a zero to the end of the name, and a few other tweaks, Mazda claims this new crossover better handles trips off-road.
Let’s start with the fundamentals. Mazda will sell 10 different trims of CX-50. The first nine are already available and range in starting price from $28,025 for the base 2.5 S, all the way to $42,775 for a 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus. Among those trims, you choose from two different engines, in fact the same two engines offered in the CX-5.
Mounted in the less expensive trims of CX-50 is a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine producing a peak 187 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque. Spending more swaps that out for a turbocharged 2.5-liter four that kicks up output to a healthy 256 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque, as long as you fill the tank with 93 octane fuel. On 87, the engine computer notices and drops peak power to 227 hp and 310 lb-ft, respectively. Regardless of engine, however, that power channels through a six-speed automatic transmission and on to all four-wheels.
That’s right, every single CX-50 is all-wheel-drive, which is distinct from the CX-5.
Inside, more standard equipment includes wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Bluetooth connectivity, for cable free smartphone use. Base 2.5 S models get an 8.8-inch center console touchscreen, while every other version gets a super wide 10.25-inch screen. Available, but not standard are a panoramic moon roof, heated seats in front, ventilated seats in front, a heated steering wheel, and, if you go all the way to a 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus, a wireless charge pad for your smartphone and heated rear seats. Fancy.
Despite being less than 186-inches long, you get more than 31 cubic feet of storage behind that second row, which provides plenty of depth for a 64-quart cooler, folding chairs, luggage, whatever. And if you’ve no need for a second row, pull the hinges on either side to quickly fold them down for a largely flat floor and 56 cubic feet of storage space.
While Mazda did not yet release details and pricing for the tenth and final trim, the 2.5 Turbo Meridian Edition is expected later this year. This more adventure friendly edition will stand out and stand alone among the CX-50s with 18-inch wheels and all-terrain tires, along with unique styling and cladding. All other versions run on either 17-inch or 20-inch wheels and more street friendly all-season rubber.
Also still to come, but promised eventually, is a hybrid engine to join available propulsion options.
HOW DOES IT DRIVE?
What Mazda built is a slightly bigger, tougher, and more expensive CX-5. And, much like its twin, it drives phenomenally well. Mazdas almost always do. It’s a car company that puts more effort into satisfying the one behind the wheel than most.
Yes, I know, it’s a young family crossover, not a sports car. Doesn’t matter. Even in tight switchbacks, the chassis behaves. Chuck it into a corner and the bodies leans slowly as you feed in steering. All the while, good information is sent back through your hands and body. Feel! I love it. No one attribute excels or falls behind. The CX-50 behaves as one cohesive unit, everything in balance.
Of course, push too hard and it’s the front that loses grip first. After all, even though all four wheels receive power, this is still a front-wheel-drive based vehicle, replete with a heavy nose. But Mazda performs a neat trick to mitigate that issue. It’s called G-vectoring control, or GVC. GVC uses the stability control system to apply brakes as you apply steering. This happens gently enough for the driver to not perceive it, but strong enough to transfer weight forward and improve turn-in response. Brilliant.
And that’s true in all four drive modes: normal, sport, off-road, and towing. Mazda calls it Mi-mode. Different modes change steering weight, GVC, and transmission calibration. Unlike other drive modes, Mazda worked to make the car feel the same across different driving conditions. And having the opportunity to use all modes in appropriate circumstances, check out my video, I can tell you it largely works well.
My test car was a 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus, meaning I had the 20-inch wheels, larger center console screen, wireless charge pad, heated everything, and the more powerful of 2.5-liter options offered. When pressed that engine hustles, delivering great mid-range punch. Shifts come swiftly and speed increases faster than you’d expect, even with a 3500 lbs. trailer attached. And the exhaust emitted a more pleasant than expected tone.
It’s not perfect. Redline is a lowish 6300 rpm, and largely irrelevant as power peaks at 5000 rpm and precipitously falls off much past it, which causes full throttle shifts to happen at 5500 rpm. And even there, you feel power waning. Furthermore, because said engine is attached to a six-speed transmission, you don’t have quite as much ratio range as the best gearboxes on the market.
Mazda built a darn fine powertrain, just not a class leading one. And that’s true for fuel economy as well, the base 2.5-liter delivers 24 mpg in the city, 30 on the highway, and 27 combined. My turbo test car drinks a bit more, providing 23/29/25 city/hwy/cmb. Again, competitive, just not class leading.
Powertrain quibbles aside, Mazda built a wonder machine. A car enthusiast jack-of-all-trades. A compact crossover that provides plenty of comfort, charge ports, conveniences, safety, and practicality that today’s consumer looks for. It also provides enough driving engagement to satisfy the car enthusiast in you. A quality in cars that’s quickly becoming precious. But that’s true of the CX-5 too.
Where the CX-50 stands out is that it does so with four driven wheels no matter what, more ground clearance, better off-road cred, more towing capacity, and, frankly, a prettier package. Fraternal twins, perhaps, but I know which one I’d prefer.
Mazda CX-50 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus Specifications
Base price (2.5 S): $28,025
Price as tested: $43,170
Engine: Turbocharged 2.5-liter I-4
Power: 256 horsepower at 5000 rpm (on 93 Octane fuel)
Torque: 320 lb-ft of torque at 2500 rpm (on 93 Octane fuel)
Transmission: 6-speed automatic transmission
City 23 mpg
Highway 29 mpg
Combined 25 mpg
Length: 185.8 inches
Width: 72.9 inches
Height: 63.9 inches
Wheelbase: 110.8 inches
Weights and Capacities
Curb weight: 3907 lbs
Interior volume: 98 cu ft
Cargo volume (seats up/down): 31/56 cu ft
Calculated weight to power: 15.3 pounds per horsepower
Mfr’s claimed 0-60 mph: NA
Mfr’s claimed Top Speed: NA
Government classified size: Small Sport Utility Vehicle 4WD Options: Polymetal gray metallic paint, $395