It seems the new trend in SUVs these days is ruggedness. I mean, everyone now offers some sort of offroad-dedicated trim. From Honda’s Trailsport
models all the way to the Subaru Wilderness line of vehicles, each of them brings to the table a different take on off-roading. Mazda understands this trend, which is why it also wants to join the party with this, the 2023 Mazda CX-50, or if you prefer, a highly fortified version of the already excellent CX-5.
Different platform and stretched dimensions
Although the CX-50 seems to be nothing more than a CX-5
with extra body cladding, it’s an entirely different beast. For starters, it rides on the same architecture as the Mazda3, a considerably more modern platform when compared with the older one that underpins the CX-5.
The CX-50 is also longer and wider, but also somehow lower than a CX-5, an irony given its adventurous pretensions. In many ways, the CX-50’s proportions remind me of the Subaru Outback
. And that’s no coincidence as Mazda claims that it’s precisely the model the CX-50 was designed to compete against.
Then there’s the way it looks. While most of Mazda’s designs are elegant and organic, the CX-50 is all brawny and tough-looking thanks to its bulging fender flares and body cladding put there to protect its body and underpinnings. It all looks rather good!
Power comes from a choice of two well-known engines, either a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder unit that’s good for 187 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque or in this case, a turbocharged version of that same engine. Just like in a CX-5, if you feed it with 93 octane fuel or higher, you’ll unlock its full 256 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque. On regular 87-octane gasoline, those numbers drop to 227 horsepower and 310 lb-ft.
Both engines are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive comes standard. The CX-50 Turbo’s towing rating was also increased versus a CX-5 Turbo, climbing from 2,000 to 3,500 pounds.
So no, the CX-50 brings nothing revolutionary to the table. There’s no hybrid or plug-in option, but Mazda did hint at the fact that those could be coming soon.
A Unique Interior
Step inside a CX-50 and you’re greeted by the same excellent cabin execution as in other Mazda vehicles. Material quality and build quality is above average here, except some materials appear upscale until you touch them to reveal a flimsy plastic. At least Mazda does a decent job of hiding the cost cutting.
Just like its exterior design, the CX-50’s cabin is like a breath of fresh air. It looks nothing like other Mazda products due to its minimalist layout. The dashboard brings its own theme with a long, uncluttered horizontal mid-section adorned by vertical air vents. It looks both retro and modern at the same time, giving the cabin a sense of warmth.
In typical Mazda fashion, general ergonomics in a CX-50 are second to none, with all controls easily controllable via good old fashion physical knob dials that simply work. While the lack of a fully digital instrument cluster feels dated in this day and age, there’s no denying how effective it still is. I’m a personal fan of Mazda’s rotary knob dial to operate the infotainment system, but not everyone will appreciate it. Some might not like the fact that the screen’s touch controls turn off once the car starts moving.
It’s somehow easier to hop in the back than in the front thanks to a larger door opening, but also a roof line that’s not as aggressively raked. Once inside, even tall people will appreciate the leg and head clearance back there. I was however disappointed to not find any adjustments in the rear seat, but I did enjoy that large panoramic roof, a first for any Mazda vehicle.
Finally, although Mazda has stretched this wheelbase for CX-50 duties, this SUV remains on the small size when it comes to cargo space. Lower the rear seatbacks, and you’ll end up with 1,595 liters of total cargo space. While plenty cavernous, it’s nowhere near segment leaders like the Subaru Outback (2,140 liters).
Surprisingly Not as Agile as I Expected
Historically, Mazda products have displayed fantastic chassis balance and impeccable handling on a twisty road. I was therefore expecting something similar with the CX-50 only to discover that it’s arguably the clumsiest vehicle within Mazda’s lineup.
Mind you, it’s not as if people who will buy a CX-50 are seeking canyon-carving attributes, but it’s obvious that Mazda is pushing this platform to the limits of what it can handle. There’s heavy body roll when attacking a corner and the suspension damping is extremely soft.
The fact that it utilizes a torsion rear beam setup, and not an independent suspension layout definitely doesn’t help things. You constantly feel the rear end lifting when cornering hard, while the front end simply hangs on for dear life. The result is an SUV that constantly feels unsettled at the limit.
Tone things back a shot, though, and there’s no denying the CX-50’s smoothness of operation. It’s comfortable, quiet, and refined to the point that you could easily mistake it for a premium nameplate. I’ll add that power and torque from that turbocharged engine remains more than ample. There’s power at any RPM, with minimal turbo lag when punching the accelerator, making for effortless pulls.
While I do wish Mazda had given this thing more gears to shuffle, I remained impressed by the performance of its dated, yet highly precise six-speed automatic transmission. It responds to your commands quickly and holds on to revs to extract power when needed. I was even amazed by how fuel-efficient the darn thing was even with its aging drivetrain. I averaged 9.8L/100 km while I had it, during winter.
The 2023 Mazda CX-50 is therefore a little more than a play on letters and numbers. Mazda takes familiar parts and mixes them up in a blender to create an appealing family hauler with an adventurous edge. Add to that Mazda’s stellar reliability record and low running costs, and it’s fair to say that this is a no-brainer purchase for young families that are thirsty for new escapades.
2023 Mazda CX-50 GT
Five-door compact SUV
Front engine, all-wheel drive
Turbocharged 2.5L I4 (256 horsepower @ 5,000 rpm / 320 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm with 93 octane fuel).
: 6-speed automatic
: 10.4 L/100 km (city) / 8.1 L/100 km (highway) / 9.4 L/100 km (combined).
OBSERVED FUEL CONSUMPTION
: 9.8 L/100 km
889 liters (1,595 liters total)
$45,700 (as tested)