The nation is suffering through serious inflation right now, driven, in part, by rising new vehicle prices. So, with Mazda supplementing the old CX-5 crossover with the all-new CX-50, and we were curious to learn what justifies that bigger number — and the new model’s somewhat higher cost.
To find out, I took a series of flights out to Santa Barbara, California where the Japanese brand was offering a first drive of the new CUV. To its credit, it lined up a route that packed in more miles than I’d normally expect to clock in a full week — with stops along the way where I had the chance to take the 2023 Mazda CX-50 off-road and then clock a few more miles while towing.
No, you won’t be taking the CX-50 out on the Rubicon Trail, and it doesn’t have the muscle to haul a 30-foot boat or a big horse trailer. But, across the board, the new crossover proved itself well suited for what most potential buyers would ask of it. And it boasts a striking design that stands out in a sea of look-alike utility vehicles, while packing in a solid list of tech and safety features.
Following up on the familiar CX-5, the 2023 Mazda CX-50 has a lot to prove, considering the current crossover is handsome, reasonably well equipped and quite capable. In a wise move, the CX-50 has been “purpose-built for the U.S. market,” a senior Mazda executive explained during a pre-drive briefing. That becomes apparent in its design, interior space and road-going manners.
Though both crossovers share powertrains, the CX-50 is longer, lower and wider. And it adds the sort of moderate towing and off-roading capabilities that have become increasingly popular in the age of COVID, Americans responding to lockdowns and work-at-home mandates by spending more time outdoors.
Automakers have responded with a flood of more capable packages and models, such as the new Wilderness line from Subaru. The CX-50 isn’t likely to attract serious off-roaders, those who might want to tackle the trails of Moab, but it proved reasonably adept on a less challenging course. And it adds up to 3,500 pounds of towing capacity, fully 1,500 more than the CX-5 Turbo.
With an overall length of 185.8 inches, roughly matching that of the BMW X3, the Mazda CX-50 is bigger than the CX-5 in most key dimensions. It’s also a bit more squared off, a shape that sends the message that it’s more rugged and capable.
The overall look is a wee bit more wagon-like than the CX-5. There are subtle curves to an otherwise slab-sided design, with muscular rear wheel arches and what would seem requisite cladding around the wheel wells. The roof is flatter than on the old crossover — and it’s been strengthened, the new CX-50 offering a pop-up roof tent capable of sleeping up to three adults.
There are some familiar Mazda features, like the large version of the brand’s diamond pentagon grille. It’s framed by slim headlamps that roll into the front quarter panels.
The overall look is handsome and does convey the sense of power and capability Mazda designers were aiming for.
The interior is, on the whole, roomier than the CX-5, though the CX-50’s lower overall height does sacrifice a bit of headroom. There is plenty of space for four passengers, five in a pinch. And you’re likely to be surprised by the amount of cargo room the crossover provides, Mazda bragging that it features the deepest cargo bay in its class.
As has been the norm with most Mazda CUVs, the 2023 CX-50 offers what you might call “class-above” interior refinement. Even the base model is tastefully executed, higher-level trims offering details like double stitching on the seats and instrument panel.
The IP is anchored by a 10.25-inch infotainment display that, in an about-face for Mazda, now has optional touchscreen capability. But the crossover retains a rotary control knob on the center console. There’s also a digital instrument cluster that reconfigures itself depending upon what driving mode you’re operating in.
Buyers will have a choice of two powertrain packages. In a move that should be particularly welcome at a time when fuel costs are nudging record levels, those who go with the turbo option will be able to fill up using premium or regular — though the latter grade fuel will cost you a little bit of power.
That 2.5-liter inline-4 makes a max 256 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque using premium, or 227 hp and 310 lb-ft on regular. It also delivers 23 mpg city, 29 highway and 25 combined, while having a towing capacity of 3,500 pounds.
The other option is a 16-valve naturally aspirated 2.5-liter inline-4 making 187 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque.
Bother engines are mated to 6-speed automatic gearboxes — something of a surprise in an era when more and more manufacturers are switching to 8-, 9- and even 10-speed transmissions.
All versions of the CX-50 come with all-wheel drive. Indeed, all Mazda crossovers are now AWD only,
If you’re looking for maximum fuel economy, incidentally, hang tight. Mazda is expected to add a Toyota-derived hybrid for the CX-50, though timing is still uncertain.
Safety and Technology
Mazda bucked industry trends several years back, shifting back from touchscreen to a rotary infotainment control knob. With the CX-50 you can opt for a 10.25-inch touchscreen — though you retain the rotary control. From my perspective that’s the best of both worlds. There are some things that knobs still do better, including the ability to quickly zoom in and out on navi maps.
All versions of the infotainment system feature wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Another tech feature Mazda offers won’t be readily apparent. Dubbed “G-Vectoring,” it helps smooth out steering so you’re less likely to have to make constant, if subtle, inputs that can tire you out over time.
The 2023 CX-50 also features the latest suite of advanced driver safety technologies offered by Mazda, such as forward collision warning with emergency auto-braking, and blind-spot detection.
The CX-50 offers a drive mode selector that automatically adjusts various vehicle functions. There are familiar setting including normal and sport, the latter giving you crisper, more aggressive shifts. But it adds two more that reflect the crossover’s increased functionality.
- Off-road mode starts off with a higher idle speed and revised shift pattern, while initial focusing torque on the rear wheels. This approach improves traction when you start moving on less than ideal surfaces.
- Tow mode, meanwhile, activates only when a trailer is attached, replacing sport mode on your digital display. The benefits became apparent immediately as I switched back and forth between normal and tow. It results in an overall more stable ride, among other things, helping compensate when there are heavy crosswinds.
There was a fallacy to Mazda’s long-running “Zoom-Zoom” ad campaign, the brand rarely offering the most power in any segment of the market. Its real focus has been on sporty ride and handling. And that carries through with the CX-50, as became apparent during more than five hours of driving on public roads — and a bit more off-road.
The CUV provided a quiet, smooth and comfortable experience on highways. But it really showed its stuff when we took to the back roads, weaving and bobbing around tight turns with confidence. There’s a slight bit of body roll, but not enough to be bothersome in even the most aggressive of cornering maneuvers.
Notably, while I was clearly ready to wrap things up, the comfortably supportive seating in the CX-50 meant I didn’t feel the normal aches and pains one might expect to feel after clocking almost 300 miles of driving.
One footnote for those serious about getting most off-road capabilities out of the 2023 Mazda CX-50: wait for the launch later this year of the new Meridian Edition. It will come with all-terrain tires, as well as a basket rack and distinctive hood graphics.
Mazda has consistently produced a series of solid, reliable crossovers. And the 2023 CX-50 is another case in point. It offers attractive styling, good performance, reasonable fuel economy — and introduces new capabilities, such as towing and off-roading, that could win over buyers who hadn’t previously considered one of its offerings.
If you liked the old CX-5 but want more room and capabilities, the new CX-50 is clearly worth checking out, though it does carry a bit of a premium, with a base price of $28,025, or $900 more than the entry trim package of the CX-5.
The new CX-50 is being assembled in the U.S., if that matters, rolling off a new assembly line that Mazda set up in partnership with Toyota. Production is already underway and you should be able to place orders now and take delivery this spring.
The automaker is counting on the 2023 CX-50 to keep its new plant humming. After spending a long day behind the wheel, I came away duly impressed by what Mazda has come up with and am confident it will find plenty of buyers, despite all the competition it faces in this crowded segment of the market.
2023 Mazda CX-50 — Frequently Asked Questions
When will the Mazda CX-50 be available?
The new CX-50 is being built in Alabama in a plant shared with Toyota. Production is underway and deliveries are expected to begin this spring.
How much is the 2023 CX-50?
Pricing on the 2023 Mazda CX-50 starts at $26,800. The 2.5-liter Turbo is a bit pricier, starting at $36,400.
Is the CX-50 electric?
Not exactly and not yet. The current versions available are gas-powered; however, a hybrid version is in the works and set to arrive sometime next year.