2023 Mazda CX-50 Review

2023 Mazda CX-50 - A perfect blend of sophistication and ruggedness


Mazda is expanding its lineup with the all-new five-passenger CX-50. It's the first model to be built at the new Mazda Toyota Manufacturing plant in Huntsville, AL. The CX-50 is similar in size to the existing CX-5, but the proportions are different. The CX-50 is both wider and longer overall but has a shorter height and a taller ground clearance. It is available with two powertrains in a variety of configurations. 2.5S models are equipped with a Skyactiv 2.5L naturally aspirated 4-cylinder that produces 187 horsepower and is available in six trims (base, Select, Preferred, Preferred Plus, Premium, and Premium Plus). Also available is 2.5L turbocharged option that produces up to 256 horsepower and is available in three trims (base, Premium, or Premium Plus).  The CX-50 comes standard with i-Activ All-wheel Drive technology and Mazda's new Intelligent Drive Select.

Pricing for the CX-50 starts at $26,800 for a base 2.5 S model and ranges to a starting price of $41,550 for a 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus. Competition is mixed as the CX-50 blends elements of the compact crossover with luxury and ruggedness, almost creating a new sub-class of crossovers. It's less traditional than the CX-5 and in my opinion competes more directly with vehicles like the Buick Envision, Chevrolet Blazer, Ford Edge, Nissan Murano, Subaru Crosstrek, Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport, and Volvo XC60. I spent a week in the CX-50 Turbo Premium Plus and here's what stood out...

Styling (+)
The exterior is both familiar, yet completely new. Mazda's expressive design language gets chiseled with a bolder and more rugged vibe.  The proportions are perfectly executed with a wide stance, minimal overhangs, a blend of materials, and attention to detail that makes the CX-50 a unique offering.  Up front is a muscular fascia with a wide black front grille flanked by LED headlights.  Thin amber LED light slits are hidden in the lower portion and function as the turn signals.  Further emphasizing the athletic stance is a chiseled hood that has defined character lines.  The side profile is sleek with a long nose and lower roofline. Wheel arches are enhanced with body cladding along with the lower portion of the body to give it the rugged appeal. Flared fenders give it dimension and around back are LED taillights, a dual exhaust, and a brushed silver lower portion of the fascia.  Future accessories from Mazda will further enhance the ruggedness, but for now it conveys that fine with just the right amount of sophistication.

Color Palette (+)
Mazda always delivers rich, vibrant paint colors that are high quality. For the CX-50, they've taken a different approach and are offering some new muted colors that work well. Among the standard black, white, and gray offerings are Polymetal Gray which was on my test car that varied in different lighting situations. Also new is Zircon Sand Metallic that I didn't expect to like as much as I did. I had the chance to see and drive one in this color at the Midwest Automotive Media Association Rally and thought it worked well with the design. All the available colors blend sophistication with some grit. Note that some colors are only available on the Turbo models.

Wheels (+)
Either 17", 18" or 20" wheels are available depending on the trim level of the CX-50. All wheels complement the rugged, but polished look and are available in a variety of finishes that include gray metallic, black metallic, and machine cut silver.  The 20" alloys on my test car filled the wheel wells and were paired with all-season tires. The five-design was striking when parked or while in motion.

Powertrains (+)
The standard powertrain is a 2.5L 4-cylinder that delivers 187 horsepower and 186 lb.ft. of torque which will be sufficient for many drivers while still delivering a smooth and peppy drive. However, for a more engaging driving experience opt for the available turbocharged 2.5L 4-cylinder with 256 horsepower and 320 lb.- ft. of torque.  Both options mate to a six-speed automatic transmission and will run on both regular or premium grade fuel. The same powertrains are also found in the similarly sized Mazda CX-5.

There is a $9,600 price difference from the base 2.5 S to the base 2.5 Turbo. The base turbo comes with Mazda Intelligent Drive Select with Towing mode, i-Stop, 20" alloy wheels and more. All CX-50s comes standard i-Activ All-Wheel Drive technology and new Mazda Intelligent Drive Select, or Mi-Drive with Sport, Off-Road and Towing modes on select packages. Drive modes can be selected with the Mi-Drive control and will help the crossover SUV perform naturally and confidently in a wide variety of driving conditions, such as off-road terrain, snow or while towing up to 3,500 pounds on select packages.

Performance (+)
I spent my time in the turbo option and was delighted at how well this vehicle handled. The lower, wider stance amplified the connection to the road making it feel more like a sport sedan over a crossover. Throttle response is quick, and it smoothly transitions through the gears. The turbo engine provides a strong swell of low-end torque as it goes from 0-60 in approximately 6.6 seconds. There is plenty of passing power on the highway and the option of sport driving mode is a welcome boost. The CX-50 has responsive steering and is very capable of handling quick turns as it is lower to the ground. It's athletic, agile, and controlled with very little body roll. It feels very stable and composed...perhaps the spirit of the Mazda6 lives on in the CX-50.

Off-Road (+/-)
Mazda is marketing the CX-50 as its new off-road friendly crossover as all models come with AWD and all-terrain tires. However, the CX-50 does not have a low range suitable for more serious off-roading and rock crawling. This one is more of a "soft-roader" that is suitable for overlanding on some light trails through the woods. I did have the chance to take it on our off-road course at the Midwest Automotive Media Association Spring Rally and was thoroughly impressed. Even the easy course was soaked by rain creating more mud pits and slick hills to climb and the Mazda conquered it all. It features a ground clearance of up to 8.6" which is on par with Subaru's 8.7" on their Ascent, Forester, and Outback. Also standard across the board is hill launch assist, MI-Drive off-road mode, and a traction control system. It's a great first attempt at building a crossover that looks rugged and has capability off the pavement.

Fuel Economy (+/-)
When it arrived with a full 15.8-gallon tank, it offered a range of approximately 400 miles. EPA ratings are 23/29/25 MPG city/highway/combined on the turbo model and it will run on either regular or premium grade fuel. Ratings increase slightly for the non-turbo and are average for the class.

Technology (+)

There are both good and bad aspects to Mazda's infotainment system depending on your preference. The 8.8" screen is not a touch screen and can be controlled via a jog dial just below the gear shifter or through steering wheel controls. While the jog dial controls may seem foreign to some, it is well placed and becomes second nature quickly.  The volume knob is immediately adjacent to the jog dial and is significantly smaller so that they can be identified without looking. The jog dial turns, tilts, and presses down to select much in the way a computer mouse operates. All models integrate with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and offer an infotainment system voice command.  Available upgrades include a Bose 12-speaker audio system, wireless charging pad, full color active driving display head-up unit, auto-dimming mirror, navigation, sign recognition and more. Mazda's implementation of the wireless charging tray is one of the best. It's placed between the gear selector and center console storage system on an angle where it's out of the way and rests nicely to charge without sliding around.

Interior (+)

Once again, Mazda delivers a premium interior on a mainstream vehicle. It is upscale and classy, especially in the Premium Plus model. Materials are luxury-level quality, especially when equipped with options like the two-tone leather with contrast stitching. The layout is clean and minimalist with an emphasis on horizontal lines that play well into the wider stance. Like all other Mazdas, the infotainment screen sits atop of the dash with well-positioned controls in the center console.

The seats are comfortable for extended drives with plenty of padding and the power seats help with ideal positioning.  Head and legroom are good up front, but head room is down slightly for taller rear passengers. Available leather heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, and a heated steering wheel all add to the premium vibe inside.  Mazda's first-ever power-sliding panoramic moonroof with one-touch open and close feature is also available on the CX-50 2.5 S Preferred Plus Package and up. Another bold option is a new terracotta interior color with orange stitching that is available exclusively on turbo models... pictures don't do it justice as it's actually a unique and classy option.

Cargo (+)
While there are other compact crossovers that have more space, I found the CX-50 to offer a respectable amount.  There's 31.4 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats and 56.3 cubic feet with the seats folded flat. The space is deeper than many which counters the lower roof height. Overall space is slightly higher than its CX-5 sibling.

Safety (+/-)
Standard driver assistance features include advanced smart city brake support with pedestrian detection, blind spot monitoring, driver attention alert, lane departure warning system, lane keep assist, rear cross traffic alert and a rearview camera. Also available are a 360-degree view monitor with front and rear parking sensors, traffic sign recognition, smart brake support (rear), traffic jam assist, and blind spot assist. The downside is that these additional options are only available on the 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus which is $2,000 more than the 2.5 Turbo Premium.

Final Statement (+)
If I were in the market for a vehicle right now, I would strongly consider purchasing the CX-50. It offers something different in its style with a wide stance, lower roofline, and large wheels that are well-proportioned to convey a rugged elegance. The ride is athletic and smooth while providing a comfortable cabin space for passengers. This is a different vehicle from the CX-5 that is priced well and should appeal to buyers looking for something that's ready to get a little dirty during the day but cleans up well for an evening in town.

First Impression Summary

Test Vehicle: 2023 Mazda CX-50 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus
Exterior Color: Polymetal Gray Metallic
Interior Color: Terracotta Leather
Options: Metallic Paint Color ($395)
MSRP as tested: $43,170 (With Delivery/Destination)

Jim OBrill

Jim is Director of Marketing for the Chicago Automobile Trade Association and Chicago Auto Show and a co-host of Drive Chicago Radio on WLS 890 AM Chicago. His passion for cars started young and he’s often referred to as the ‘car-guy’ among family and friends. As a former auto detailer, he has an eye for identifying solid used cars and tags along on many car buying adventures. Early in his career he worked at several car dealerships in various areas of the business. As a co-host on Drive Chicago and member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, Jim has had opportunities to attend track school and drive vehicles on multiple circuits such as Road America and Gingerman Raceway. With a background in photography, taking pictures of vehicles has always been a hobby.

Jim also enjoys the trails and taking trucks like his 4Runner off road. He has a special appreciation for older cars and can often be found spending free time at cruise nights or home washing one his four vehicles. Jim resides in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three kids. Follow Jim on Instagram at @jpcars22 for new vehicle content or @forgotten_survivors.312 for shots of older cars still on the streets of Chicagoland.