2023 Mazda CX-50 – First Drive Review By Larry Nutson
New overlanding creds
By Larry Nutson
Senior Editor and Bureau Chief
THE AUTO CHANNEL
I recently traveled to California’s Central Coast on the invite of Mazda to drive the all-new 2023 Mazda CX-50. The CX-50 is an addition to the Mazda product lineup. It’s a two-row, five-seat compact sport utility vehicle (SUV) designed expressly for the U.S. and Canada.
The CX-50 is not only designed for the U.S. but it’s built in the U.S. at the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing Plant in Huntsville, Alabama. Production started in January 2022.
So, yes, the CX-50 is a new model from Mazda. It looks a lot like the CX-5 but does not replace the CX-5 which is Mazda’s biggest U.S. seller. The CX-50 is longer (6.7 inches to be exact), lower and wider than the CX-5. Thus, there’s more rear seat legroom and more cargo space.
All 2022 Mazda CX models, the SUVs, will have standard i-Activ all-wheel drive in the U.S. There are a lot of SUVs on the market that might best have the “S” for “Sport” left off of their designation. The Mazda CX models are not among them. Mazda prides itself in delivering an engaging and lively driving experience in its vehicles. All-wheel drive further enhances this.
With all-wheel drive and over 8 inches of ground clearance the CX-50 delivers overlanding ability not previously found on a Mazda. Not only can you leave the paved roads to get to your recreation spot but you can also tow up to 3,500 lbs. whether it be power sports toys or a camping trailer.
The CX-50 has one of the largest outside dimensions (length, width, height) in the compact SUV segment. It looks like a Mazda. It has that characteristic Mazda look we’ve come to know with a touch of added ruggedness. The designers were not trying to be unique but rather broaden the Mazda customer range.
The CX-50 is tough looking. Wide cladding over each wheel opening has a concave shape matching the body lines. Air inlets are set in the front and rear fascia. The CX-50 comes with Mazda’s first panoramic moon roof.
There are ten different vehicle packages available. Under the hood there is either a 187-hp 2.5-L four-cylinder engine that develops 186 lb-ft of torque or a 256-hp turbocharged version of this engine that develops 320 lb-ft on 93 octane fuel. You can save some money and drive this engine on 87 octane but output is reduced to 227 hp and 310 lb-ft, with no impact on fuel consumption.
Both engines are mated to six-speed automatic transmission driving the standard all-wheel drive. Gear selection is with a traditional shift lever. With many vehicles today having automatic transmissions with more than six speeds, Mazda prefers its six gear ratios for quicker downshift response when you push on the throttle.
New is Mazda Intelligent Drive Select, or Mi-Drive. Sport, off-road and towing drive modes can be selected with the Mi-Drive switch and will help the CX-50 drive naturally in a wide variety of conditions, such as snow, off-road terrain or trailer towing. Mazda’s approach with the drive modes is to make the CX-50 drive comfortably in all driving conditions giving the driver a confident feeling especially when overlanding or towing.
EPA fuel economy ratings with the base 2.5-L engine are 27 mpg combined, with 24 city mpg and 30 highway mpg. The turbo engine is EPA-rated at 25 mpg combined, with 23 city mpg and 29 highway mpg.
In the coming years, the CX-50 will also be offered with electrified powertrains, including a traditional hybrid model.
The ten-package model lineup consist of the 2.5 S in base, Select, Preferred, Preferred Plus, Premium and Premium Plus packages. The 2.5 Turbo is available in base, Premium and Premium Plus packages. A 2.5 Turbo powered Meridian Edition (shown in the photo below with the trailer) with knobbier all-terrain tires and some styling tweaks for the true off-roader will be coming later this year.
Inside, Mazda provide nicely comfortable and supportive seats. Rear doors open ninety-degrees for easy entry. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Bluetooth wireless connectivity support smartphone use. There’s a 10.25-inch touchscreen on all models except the base 2.5 S which gets an 8.8-inch version. Heated and ventilated front seats and a heated steering wheel are available.
Mazda CX-50 2.5 S has a starting MSRP of $26,800. The Mazda CX-50 2.5 Turbo starts at $36,400. Destination charge is $1,225. Have a look at www.mazdausa.com for more facts and figures.
Mazda gave me plenty of time behind the wheel of a 2.5 Turbo version…about five hours worth. I drove the Central Coast California freeways, state roads that took me up into the San Padres National Forest, and some lightly traveled narrow but paved twisting and winding roads that let me push the CX-50 to some extent. Fun!
Mazda uses G-vectoring control (GVC) working through the stability control system to apply brakes as you add steering input. The GVC transfers weight forward, improves turn-in and adds yaw damping.
I also did a bit of mild off-road overlanding on a dirt two-track road that included a few steep hill climbs as well as descents. Mazda rigged up a handful of CX-50s with trailers so we could experience the towing mode and how it works to neutralize the effects that a trailer can have.
The 2.5 Turbo delivers plenty of punch. I would stick with this engine if you drive a lot in hill country or often carry a load in the cargo area.
All in all, the CX-50 is practical, fun, engaging and ready to get a bit dirty.
This report comes from an invitation-only Mazda launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Mazda provided my overnight accommodations, meals, and transportation.
© 2022 Larry Nutson, the Chicago Car Guy