We appreciate Mazda’s dedication to keeping cars pure and fun to drive, and the new CX-50 is no exception. This compact crossover is designed to be a bit more adventurous than the CX-5, with a little more ground clearance and more rugged looks. We drove the powerful Turbo model in top-of-the-line Premium Plus trim.
While the CX-50 shares a lot with the CX-5, it's 5.7-inches longer and 0.3-inches wider than its more urban brother. It looks ready to conquer new places in its nature-inspired Zircon Sand Metallic paint, accented by black trim on the lower body, fender flares, and bumpers. This not only provides contrast but also helps protect the bottom of the vehicle from scuffs and scratches you might encounter if you choose to leave the pavement.
The CX-50 offers two engine options: a 2.5-liter, naturally-aspirated 4-cylinder that makes 187 horsepower and 186 lb-ft. of torque or a 2.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that produces an ample 256 horsepower and 320 lb-ft. of torque. EPA fuel economy for the turbo engine is rated at 23 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. Equipped with the base engine, it can tow 2,000 pounds, and with the turbo, it'll pull up to 3,500 pounds, more than enough for a couple of performance jetskis and a trailer. Both engines are mated with a 6-speed automatic transmission - something we still appreciate compared to the numb CVTs found in some competing crossovers these days.
Mazda's very smart i-Activ all-wheel-drive system also comes standard. While the CX-50 shares a lot with the CX-5, it's 5.7-inches longer and 0.3-inches wider than its more urban brother. It looks ready to conquer new places in its nature-inspired Zircon Sand Metallic paint, accented by black trim on the lower body, fender flares, and bumpers. This provides visual contrast and helps protect the bottom of the vehicle from scuffs and scratches you might encounter if you leave the pavement.
The twin-scroll turbo engine and transmission combo provide plenty of get-up-and-go, with a 0-to-60 time of around 6.5 seconds on 93 octane premium fuel. It's not sports car quick, but we had no problem passing cars on the highway or launching far ahead of other vehicles at stop lights. It's also got a nice smooth torque curve and is devoid of noticeable turbo lag. The AWD system helps distribute extra torque to the rear wheels for quick launches and to improve traction on rough and uneven terrain. We were pleased with the direct feeling of the CX-50's power steering system, along with its engaging ride dynamics.
Mazda has touted the CX-50 as a vehicle you can enjoy as a comfortable daily driver but also take on the kinds of light off-roading you might encounter on your way to enjoy outdoor activities. In this, they did succeed. We spent the week alternating our drive time between paved roads and rough dirt, rock, and clay trails. The suspension is tuned brilliantly, offering a sporty feel in everyday driving while not punishing off-road. And we had no trouble with wheel-slip on loose gravel and rock.
The CX-50's 8.6-inch ground clearance is better than most other crossovers and beats the CX-5 by 0.7 inches. In practice, though, this Mazda feels more like a rugged station wagon than a trail-carving SUV. Its 18.0-degree approach angle and 25.0-degree departure angle are fine for easy trail riding and gentle hills but aren't ideal for steep slopes or traversing big boulders.
Mazda's interiors continue to impress us, especially in the higher trim levels. Our Premium Plus vehicle had high-quality but sporty-looking leather-wrapped seats, with an eye-catching zig-zag stitch pattern that repeats across the dashboard and doors. The front seats offer good comfort and come equipped with both heat and cooling. The steering wheel, shift boot, and shift knob are also recipients of the leather treatment. There are bits of real metal surrounding the vents and the door handles.
A 10.25" widescreen display sits atop the dashboard for interacting with the CX-50's infotainment system. The upright placement helps keep your eyes on the road, though it requires a longer reach to use as a touchscreen. Fortunately, there's also a knob in the center console, which provides an alternative control method. The current version of Mazda's infotainment system is clean, minimal, and easy to navigate. It's also got support for wireless Apple CarPlay, and wired Android Auto. The 12-speaker premium Bose sound system in the Premium and Premium Plus models offers satisfying amounts of volume without distortion. The Premium Plus also gets a wireless phone charger, though, for some reason, we couldn't get our iPhone 13 Pro Max to connect to it properly.
The center console is thoughtfully designed for ergonomics, without the overwhelming number of buttons and knobs found on some vehicles. Here, you'll find access to media controls, the drive mode selector, the electronic parking brake, and the brake auto-hold button. One minor gripe is Mazda's use of piano black plastic in this area, a material notorious for its ability to scratch, show fingerprints, and attract dust. This is one material that needs to go away permanently.
The back seat of the CX-50 is reasonably comfortable for a crossover of its size, though knee room is a little tight for taller passengers. Still, anyone under six feet tall should be fine sitting in the back on longer drives. You'll find dual USB charging ports at the back of the center console, along with heat and AC vents and controls for the heated outboard seats.
The rear seats can fold in a 60/40 split to make room for up to 56.3 cubic feet of cargo. With the back row in use, that drops to 31.4 cubic feet, which is double the amount of space you'd get in most car trunks. In addition, Mazda offers numerous accessories to accompany you on your adventures, including a metal roof platform, cargo netting, a roof-top tent, and roof racks for bikes, kayaks, skis, surfboards, and more.
We really enjoyed our week with the 2023 Mazda CX-50. It's a fun and engaging daily driver, with just enough off-road capability to give you confidence on dirt roads and moderately rocky trails. The interior is sophisticated without being stuffy, and Mazda continues to do the best in their class at a driver-centric cabin design, letting technology support the driver rather than distract from the road. The base price for the CX-50 Turbo starts at $37,150, with the Turbo Premium Plus model shown here starting at $42,300. If you like the styling and size of the CX-50 but don't need as much power, you can get into a base CX-50 2.5 S for as little as $27,550.