Opinion

Road Test: 2023 Mazda CX-50 AWD

Road Test: 2023 Mazda CX-50 AWD

Mazda Wants You to Live A Little

The 2023 CX-50 is part of Mazda’s SUV quiver, smallest to largest, of the CX-30, CX-5, CX-50 and CX-9. Mazda says the CX-50 is a “rugged and capable crossover SUV, purpose built for active lifestyles” that enables drivers “to venture further into the outdoors and off-road.”

Mazda wants the CX-50 to be seen as its first-ever adventure-oriented SUV. It certainly has off-road capabilities for forest service roads and not-so-deep sand and mud. Realistically, the CX-50 will be used by families for all the regular tasks of commuting, errands, school chauffeuring and vacations, as are all others in the very competitive small/compact SUV category.

2023 Mazda CX-50 AWD SUV
A step up from the CX-5 in size

Getting There

Clean Fleet Report reviewed the CX-50 with the optional Skyactiv-G 2.5-liter twin scroll turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that produces 227 horsepower (hp) and 310 pound-feet of torque (lb.-ft.) of torque when using 87 octane–or 250 hp and 320 lb.-ft. of torque when pumping 91 octane. Based on your budget and the need for more oomph, going for high-test could be worthwhile.

2023 Mazda CX-50 AWD SUV
Efficient under the hood

The 2.5L turbo has noise when accelerating hard, but otherwise is quiet and provides respectable acceleration, with 0-to-60 times around 7.0 seconds. Fuel economy is EPA rated at 23/29/25 mpg for the turbocharged CX-50.

A 2.5-liter non-turbo engine is standard and puts out 187 hp and 186 lb.-ft., while running on 87 octane. The EPA rates the base engine at 24 mpg city/30 highway/27 combined.

The CX-50 comes standard withi-Active AWD and Intelligent Drive Select with paddle shifters, which Mazda calls Mi-Drive. This allows the driver to select the drive modes of Normal, Sport, Off-Road and Tow (when connected to a trailer, where it is rated at 3,500 pounds). The smooth shifting 6-speed automatic transmission instantaneously uses driving data, based on the selected drive mode, to deliver the best traction in all conditions.

Hitting the Paved Road

Mazda consistently produces the best-handling cars and SUVs that are not sold as a sport or performance model. Its engineers know how to design a chassis that produces high-quality driving dynamics. The CX-50 continues this long tradition as the ride was smooth and confident at highway speeds, yet agile when cornering. This is not surprising coming from a company that makes the fantastic handling MX-5 Miata.

2023 Mazda CX-50 AWD SUV
A touch of zoom–and cladding

The suspension and chassis technology on the CX-50 includes a G-Vectoring Control system that adjusts engine torque, shifts weight to the front wheels in response to the steering wheel motion, increases steering response, and applies a bit of the anti-lock brakes to ease cornering. The 3,907-pound curb weight felt solid, safe and confident in all driving conditions.

The feedback between the driver’s input and the car’s response is what makes a Mazda so easy to drive. When diving into a tight corner, the CX-50 dug in nicely the harder we turned, which is the trait of G-Vectoring. On a continuing arc radius or a double apex, there was little steering input needed to correct and stay planted. Our only wish is for the power-assisted front and rear solid disc brakes to have a bit more pedal feel.

Getting Dirty

2023 Mazda CX-50 AWD SUV
Not serious off-road tires

With 8.6 inches of ground clearance, the MX-50 rides high enough to safely leave the pavement and hit gravel and washboard dirt roads on the way to the lake cabin or camping spot. The i-Active AWD system has been designed to deliver driving dynamics for a varied array of surface conditions. The 245/45 Goodyear Eagle Touring all-season tires, mounted on black and bright machined 20-inch alloy wheels, were up to the task for mild off-roading.

The suspension has been tuned to handle dirt roads (think unpaved, not rock crawling) so the driver and passengers feel confident getting the underside dirty. In low speed off-road situations, there is maximum torque from a standstill and the traction control is optimized for torque transfer from right-to-left/left-to-right. The bottom line is, if occasional, non-technical off-roading is part of your adventure, then the CX-50 should be right for you.

Soul of Motion Exterior Design

Mazda has been positioning itself to be more upscale in the past few years, hoping to become a near premium brand. Employing the company’s Kodo: Soul of Motion design theme, the CX-50, compared to the CX-5, is wider, longer, lower, and squarer. The front grille is slimmer and more mature than earlier Mazda models. The narrow LED head and daytime running lights take-up as little real estate as possible on the front fenders, and the turn signals are mere slits sitting just above the bright lower fascia.

2023 Mazda CX-50 AWD SUV
An emotional sunrise

The long hood, laid-back windshield, and short front and rear overhangs complete the look. The biggest design changes are the wide rear fenders, giving the CX-50 a more commanding look. The black body cladding wraps completely around the CX-50 and adds to the rugged look, but can be a bit much, so it looks better against dark paint. In the case of the CX-50 we tested, the paint was Zircon Sand Metallic that carries a $395 premium. We received several compliments on the color, so this could be a good option.

The body-color shark fin antenna, bright roof rails, panoramic roof, integrated spoiler over the raked power lift gate, bright twin exhaust ports, and LED tail lights finish-off the design. Had the rear wiper been tucked under the spoiler it would have taken Mazda a step closer to near-premium.

Class-Above Interior

The interior is driver-centric with materials Mazda says are “inspired by the outdoors.” While overall comfortable, the front seat side bolsters felt a bit narrow and the seatbelt reminder chime annoyingly comes on loudly as soon as the engine is turned on. The CX-50 Premium is fully loaded with leather-trimmed front seats featuring top stitching; the driver gets 8-way power adjustments with lumbar and memory while the passenger has manual seat adjustments. Both are heated and ventilated.

2023 Mazda CX-50 AWD SUV
Moving on up

At five inches longer than the CX-5, the CX-50 has used this extra space for more leg room and a cargo area of 42.6-inches with the rear 60/40 seat upright; 75.4-inches when lowered. Mazda has targeted the CX-50, designed with seating for five, for people with active and outdoor lifestyles.

Up front, the dash has a simple, clean and logical layout with plenty of soft touch materials. Three easy-to-read round gauges with black faces and white letters, are part of a 7-inch LCD multi-information display for the speedometer, odometer, average fuel economy and many other readings.

The center display, which is not a touch screen, measures 8.8 inches in the base model that houses an eight speaker sound system. In the upper trim level CX-50s, the screen is 10.25 inches for the 12-speaker Bose Centerpoint premium sound system with AM/FM HD radio, SiriusXM, Bluetooth hands-free telephone and audio controls, wireless Apple Car Play and Android Auto. Controlling the system is through the “Commander Wheel” located on the center console, or the controls on the leather-wrapped and heated steering wheel. We find the Mazda audio interface to be cumbersome, with additional extra steps necessary to accomplish tasks that on other vehicles are much easier and simpler.

Safety and Warranties

The 2023 CX-50 comes i-Activsense, which offers an extensive list of standard and optional safety features, including front, side and air curtain airbags, four-wheel power disc ABS braking system, dynamic stability control, traction control, adaptive cruise control, rear view camera, tire pressure monitoring system, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning and lane keep assist, rear cross traffic alert, rear parking sensors, and an anti-theft alarm and engine immobilizer.

2023 Mazda CX-50 AWD SUV
Wheere the added inches went

The 2023 CX-50 has not been rated by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), but the 2022 model received a Top Safety Pick+ rating, the highest award.

The 2023 CX-50 comes with these warranties:

  • Powertrain – Five years/60,000 miles
  • Bumper-To-Bumper – Three years/36,000 miles
  • Roadside Assistance – Five years/60,000 miles

Pricing

The 2023 CX-50 will come in 10 trim levels, only five of which were available when this review was written in January 2023. These are the prices for the available models, including the mandatory $1,225 delivery, processing and handling fee.

2.5 S Premium Plus         $38,373

2.5 Turbo                        $38,375

2.5 Turbo Meridian          $41,175

2.5 Turbo Premium          $41,525

2.5 Turbo Premium Plus $43,525

Observations: 2023 Mazda CX-50 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus

Mazda wants the 2023 CX-50 to be seen as their first-ever adventure-oriented SUV. It certainly has off-road capabilities for forest service roads and not-so-deep sand and mud. Realistically, the CX-50 will be used by families for all the regular tasks of commuting, errands, school chauffeuring and vacations, as are all others in the very competitive small and compact SUV category.

2023 Mazda CX-50 AWD SUV
The aspiration

They may no longer be using Zoom-Zoom as their slogan, but fun-to-drive is the DNA that comes with the Mazda name, and none of this is lost on the CX-50. While it is not marketed as a sport SUV, it is being positioned to the adventurer with the desire to go off-road from time to time.

The front cabin comfortably seats two, with the rear seat capable of carrying three adults, two for longer trips. The rear cargo capacity is large enough for two on that long weekend camping trip, but may be a tight squeeze for all the gear necessary for four. Then again, with the roof having been reinforced to handle a three-person tent, it can easily handle a cargo carrier, or you can hook up a trailer for more flexibility. So grab your friends, and take off for a few days.

Mazda has done a very good job in fuel efficiency gains through its Skyactiv-G technology, but the company has a future goal of being carbon-neutral by 2050 That will include a quarter of its products being fully electric, and all other models being electrified in some form. Between 2022 and 2025, Mazda will introduce a range of new products including hybrid, plug-in hybrid and EV models. At some point in the not too distant future, the Mazda family of SUVs will be electrified. For now we have some enjoyable, efficient, driver-oriented combustion engines.

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Story by John Faulkner. Photos by John Faulkner and Mazda.

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Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

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