2023 Mazda CX-50 Proves Just as Compelling as the CX-5
We can forgive Mazda’s unoriginality as it chases the same outdoorsy, rugged image that’s done so well for Jeep, Subaru, and many others. But we’re inclined to look past the marketing images showing the new 2023 CX-50 crossover festooned with camping accessories and instead celebrate this new model for its pleasant on-road driving demeanor, appealing design, and class-above refinement—all for about the same price as other mainstream compact crossovers.If that sounds like a familiar refrain, it’s because we’ve heaped similar praise upon Mazda’s other compact SUV, the CX-5, which has won multiple 10Best awards and is the bestselling Mazda by a long shot. The company asserts that there’s enough room in this popular segment for two similarly sized vehicles, and Mazda won’t be the first to double down on this type of crossover: Jeep sells the Cherokee and the Compass, and Ford has both the Escape and the Bronco Sport. While the CX-50 and CX-5 share powertrains and are similarly sized, there are some notable differences in the packaging. The CX-50 has a body that’s longer, lower, and wider than the CX-5’s, and its proportions look station wagon–esque—more Subaru Outback than Forester. This carries through to the interior, as you sit much lower in the CX-50’s driver’s seat and experience a more carlike view over the long hood. We think the CX-50 looks great, and far more modern than the CX-5, which received a facelift for 2022 but still has a design dating back to 2017.Mazda says it has beefed up the CX-50’s engine cooling to increase towing capacity: Equipped with the optional turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-four, the CX-50 is rated to tow 3500 pounds, while the CX-5 Turbo is limited to 2000 pounds. Towing and Off-Road drive modes join the Normal and Sport selections from other Mazda models and bring different calibrations for the steering, transmission, all-wheel-drive system, and throttle response. An upcoming off-road-themed CX-50 Meridian Edition model will offer all-terrain tires along with a hood graphic, a basket rack, and a few other accessories. While our drive route included a short off-road portion, most of our time spent in the CX-50 was on pavement. We drove the fully loaded 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus, which starts at $42,775. Given that its turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-four—which makes 256 horsepower on 93-octane fuel and 227 horsepower on 87-octane—and six-speed automatic transmission are shared with upper trims of the CX-5, much of the driving experience is familiar. (We’d assume the same will apply to the CX-50’s base powertrain, a naturally aspirated 187-hp 2.5-liter inline-four also shared with the CX-5.) The turbo engine provides a strong swell of torque early on, and the transmission shifts crisply and—especially in Sport mode—does a great job of predicting what gear you want to be in. We enjoyed hustling the CX-50 through corners, as its body motions are predictable and its steering accurate. The CX-50’s suspension tuning feels a bit softer than the CX-5’s, which results in more body roll, but the extra width and lower seating position help offset the additional side-to-side movement, and the benefit to ride quality is noticeable.Quiet, comfortable, and confident, the CX-50 drives more like a Volvo XC60 than a Toyota RAV4. And while we only sampled the top trim’s interior, which has upscale brown or black leather with contrasting stitching, we found the cabin to be considerably nicer to look at and to touch than anything in the mainstream segment. The infotainment system is similar to what you’ll find in other Mazdas, with a control knob on the center console, but with newly enabled touchscreen functionality for when you’re using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. While headroom is slightly diminished compared with the CX-5, the CX-50 is plenty spacious for four adults, if not quite as cavernous as the Honda CR-V. The cargo floor is over three inches lower than the CX-5’s, and there’s slightly more cargo room behind its rear seats.Although the CX-50 carries a bit of a price premium—it starts at $28,025, or $900 higher than the 2022 CX-5’s starting price—we can see several reasons for choosing this newer model given its more stylish exterior, plusher interior, and similarly pleasant driving experience. Soon, the CX-50 will add another calling card in the form of a hybrid with a Toyota-sourced powertrain that should offer considerably better fuel economy. Plus, Mazda suggested that because the CX-50 comes out of its new plant in Huntsville, Alabama (a joint venture with Toyota), it may be easier for U.S. buyers to get their hands on a CX-50 than a Japan-made CX-5—an important factor in today’s supply-chain-constrained times.
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