Pros—Rugged styling. Fast. Roomy. Nice interior. Supple ride. Good handling. AWD
Cons—Thick windshield pillars and outside mirrors partly block vision when turning corners.
Bottom Line--The CX-50 is a good fit between the Mazda CX-5 and CX-9.
Subaru is going for the out-doorsy image with its new, rugged looking CX-50 compact sport-utility vehicle, which is longer and lower than the automaker’s popular CX-5 SUV, which sits on an older platform. The CX-50 is no rock crawler, but with its AWD and fairly high ground clearance can tackle unpaved roads leading to a cabin in the woods, or such.
Rivals include the Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4 and even the Ford Bronco Sport.
Mazda wants potential CX-50 “think American” buyers to know the CX-50 is built in a new $2.5 billion joint-venture Mazda/Toyota manufacturing plant in Alabama.
The CX-50 and CX-5 share the same four-cylinder engines and automatic transmission, but have different interiors, a firmed-up suspension and major mechanical changes. The CX-5 also sits on an older platform.
Helping distinguish the CX-50 are 45-series tires on black 20-inch alloy wheels, large dual exhaust outlets, a nicely integrated rear roof spoiler and turbo badges. My test CX-50 also had Zircon Sand Metallic paint to go with its rugged persona, but other colors, including Soul Red Crystal Metallic and Wind Chill Pearl, are available.
There are various versions of the CX-50 priced from $26,800 to $41,550. They start with the 2.5-liter 187- horsepower non-turbo model that costs $26,800 and provides decent performance. But one can move up to the model with the Premium Plus package, which has a 2.5-liter four that has 227-horsepower with regular grade fuel and 256 horsepower with premium fuel.
That’s a high horsepower jump, but the CX-50 Premium Plus I drove had a window sticker that put it at horsepower at 227. It was enough to give my test SUV rapid acceleration in town and fast passing on highways. The 0-60 mp.h. time is 6.6 seconds, and there’s a 3,500-pound towing capacity.
Estimated fuel economy is 23 miles per gallon in the city and 29 on highways. An unobtrusive engine stop/start system helps fuel economy at, say, long stop lights. The fuel tank holds 15.8 gallons.
The six-speed automatic transmission didn’t miss a beat and could be briskly manually shifted. The CX-50 has three driving modes: Norman, Sport and Off-Road. No legal rough terrain exists in the Chicago area where I drove, so I ignored the Off-Road mode.
Sport increases steering feel and enhances throttle response. The ride is supple either in Normal or Sport mode, although occupants can still feel some bumps. Daily use is best in Normal mode. It’s refreshing not to face a bunch of driving modes; they are a pain to keep adjusting, if you want t bother, in many vehicles.
Handling feels secure, thanks partly to the all-wheel drive system, dynamic stability control and G-Vectoring control, which is a new brake-based weight transferring system to help cornering. The brake pedal had a progressive action, although I initially felt the steering should be quicker. However, it soon proved to be well-suited to the car’s general handling. Still, the steering felt a little slow through tight corners.
There’s good room for four tall adults, although five fit if the occupant in the second row doesn’t mind sitting on a stiff middle-area seat. That area is best occupied by a pull-down armrest with dual cupholders. All doors open wide and have good-sized storage pockets. There’s also a covered bin with dual openings in the front console and several additional cabin storage areas.
Getting in and out is easy, really car-like. Occupants don’t have the towering view of surrounding traffic, as provided by some SUVs. In fact, they sit rather low. A driver has a good view down a long hood but must contend with large windshield posts and big remote outside mirrors that block vision when turning around street corners.
The large cargo area has a low opening and a power up/down hatch. Easy fold-down split rear setbacks greatly increase the cargo area from 32.4 cubic feet with the seatbacks up to 56.3 cubic feet with them folded down. The only drawback is that the long load floor is a bit narrow between the wheels.
Interior materials are top-notch, and gauges and controls are easy to use. However, my test SUV’s 10.25-inch center color display took some practice to use, and I didn’t mess with it while driving—although Mazda thankfully also provides some hard manual dashboard controls that can be used instead of the screen, which has a console rotary dial to help control it.
The cleanly styled, soft-touch-surface interior has attractive stitching on doors, seats and the dashboard. Features include a push-button start, tilt-telescopic steering wheel, power leather-trimmed driver and passenger seats, heated steering wheel, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, power sliding glass moonroof, dual-zone automatic climate control with rear air conditioning vents and a Bose audio system with 12 speakers.
My test CX-50 options included heated rear seats, a 360-degree view monitor, traffic jam assist, front/rear parking sensors, blind spot prevention, navigation system and traffic sign recognition. With freight, the bottom line price was $43,170.
Safety features include radar cruise control, rearview camera, lane departure warning system, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and air bags with front/rear side air curtains,
It’s clear that Mazda, as always, wants to keep things simple for a driver so he/she can have some fun with its vehicles. This creative automaker is still working on its Wankel engine and continues to make its affordable two-seat Mazda convertible sports car when other automakers have long since given up on such a car.