2023 Mazda CX-50 Review: Big Shoes To Fill

 

Verdict

7.4 / 10

Design | Comfort | Technology | Performance | Safety | Fuel Economy | Pricing | FAQ

I’ve lost track of how many times over the past decade I’ve answered the question “What crossover should I buy?” with “The Mazda CX-5.” That vehicle, which is still on sale today, has been a darling among the jaded, spoiled ranks of automotive media almost since its debut. I’m not sure the 2023 Mazda CX-50, which will almost certainly supplant the still-on-sale CX-5, will garner such a positive reputation.

Sure, the CX-50 and the CX-5 have a tremendous amount in common, despite the newer model riding on a version of the CX-30’s platform. Shared powertrains, infotainment systems, driving characters, and overall design ethos mean that Mazda hasn’t made the same generational leap as its competitors. While the CX-5 easily exceeded its rivals in drivability, composure, and style, the gap between the CX-50 and entries from Japan, Germany, the United States, and Korea is far narrower.

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Quick Stats 2023 Mazda CX-50 Turbo Premium Plus
Engine: Turbocharged 2.5-liter I4
Output: 227 Horsepower / 310 Pound-Feet
Efficiency: 23 City / 29 Highway / 25 Combined
Towing: 3,500 Pounds
As-Tested: $43,710

Design

9/10

  • Exterior Color: Zircon Sand Metallic
  • Interior Color: Black w/Brown
  • Wheel Size: 20 Inches

I’ll admit to disliking the CX-50’s more rugged-looking shape when the first images appeared, but that’s mainly because the current CX-5 just looks so damn nice. But in person, the CX-50 is downright handsome, with its own distinct visual personality. Fresher lighting, a more prominent grille, and a flatter hood are fine details, but the square wheel arches and more deliberate two-box design are what set the CX-50 apart. Also, I dig the hell out of the Zircon Sand paint on my tester.

Mazda’s flowing interior aesthetic gets tougher, more rugged detailing in the CX-50 via strong, vertical climate vents with satin-chrome surrounds and tan baseball-style stitching on the Premium Plus. But the infotainment screen still seemingly sprouts up from the dash and there are pleasant curves throughout the cabin, maintaining the natural, almost-organic design language of past Mazdas. Inside or out, this is the most attractive vehicle in the class and by a big margin.

That said, I’m concerned over Mazda’s build quality here. Opening the doors came with a tinny clang from the handles and there was a metallic thud from around the sunroof every time I shut one of the doors.

save over $3,400 on average off MSRP* on a new Mazda CX-5

 

Comfort

7/10

  • Seating Capacity: 5
  • Seating Configuration: 2 / 3
  • Cargo Capacity: 31.4 / 56.3 Cubic Feet

Despite the stouter styling, the amount of space for passengers and cargo doesn’t change much from CX-5 to CX-50. That means a generous front row with plenty of headroom, in addition to a pair of supportive, well-padded seats. Sightlines are excellent in all directions. The second row is quite roomy, too, and I wouldn’t hesitate to shove four 6-footers into the CX-50’s cabin.

The Turbo Premium Plus tester’s standard 20-inch wheels and 45-section tires hurt the ride quality, but even with the aggressive rolling stock and a firmer-than-usual suspension, the CX-50 is suitably compliant and stable. There is a bit of road noise, though, and the Mazda struggles to keep the whistling winds out of the cabin, especially around the A-pillars.

Technology & Connectivity

6/10

  • Center Display: 10.3-inch Display
  • Instrument Cluster Display: 7.0-inch
  • Wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto: Yes

All but the base CX-50 come with a 10.3-inch display that relies on a physical knob and buttons on the center console rather than the more popular touchscreen format. Because of that, Mazda is able to mount the display quite deep on the dash – the result is an attractive housing, but man oh man, I wish this were a touchscreen all the time.

The native operating system only accepts inputs from a physical knob and buttons. It reacts quickly to these commands, sure, but the menu structure is a mess. Say you want to stray from your usual preset satellite radio stations; rather than one, two, or even three inputs, it takes six. Programming destinations or tweaking the settings is similarly arduous.

Apple CarPlay adds another bewildering layer to things, because it accepts touch commands. I can’t begin to comprehend why Mazda would include touchscreen hardware that’s only usable via third-party software and not its own native OS, but here we are. And to make matters worse, the display is so far away that even using CarPlay’s touch commands is annoying at best. The 7.0-inch cluster display trails newer competition too, and that’s before taking into account its almost total lack of reconfigurability.

Performance & Handling

7/10

  • Engine: Turbocharged 2.5-liter I4
  • Output: 227 Horsepower / 310 Pound-Feet
  • Transmission: Six-Speed Automatic

The CX-50 is available with two powertrains – a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque or a turbocharged 2.5-liter with output dependent on fuel octane. Gas your turbocharged CX-50 with regular ol’ 87 and you’ll see 227 hp and 310 lb-ft, while 93-octane fuel ups the output to 256 ponies and 320 lb-ft.

My tester had the latter engine, and like all CX-50s, its power gets to the standard all-wheel-drive system via a six-speed automatic. The engine itself is merely a different page of the same book – it will feel familiar to anyone that’s driven a turbocharged CX-5, which sandwiches fantastic mid-range punch between laggy off-the-line character and peaky performance near the 6,300-rpm redline. The six-speed automatic is smooth and predictable once moving, although like the engine, it feels lethargic rolling off the line.

Handling has been a strongpoint for Mazda since before the Zoom-Zoom days, and the CX-50 is no exception. This is arguably the most entertaining vehicle in the class to throw around and it’s down mostly to the steering – the wheel itself has a thin rim and a smallish diameter, while the rack benefits from a tight dead zone relative to more relaxed rivals, which contributes to the feeling of quick reflexes that make the CX-50 so fun. The suspension is firmer than usual, too, and it feels like this Mazda will tolerate far more aggressive driving than most of the competition.

Safety

9/10

  • Driver Assistance Level: SAE Level 2 (Hands-On)
  • NHTSA Rating: Not Rated
  • IIHS Rating: Top Safety Pick Plus

The 2023 CX-50 is handsomely equipped on the safety front. Every trim comes standard with full-speed adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, automatic emergency braking, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic assist. Opt for the turbocharged Premium Plus featured here and the CX-50 adds rear automatic emergency braking, Traffic Jam Assist, and steering intervention for the blind-spot monitor.

These systems work well – the sensitivity is spot on, and it reacts to changing conditions – but the steering intervention could be much stronger. The lane-keep assist is lax and even the addition of steering intervention for blind-spot monitoring rarely feels like more than a gentle poke on the shoulder when it should be a solid tap.

Fuel Economy

4/10

  • City: 23 MPG
  • Highway: 29 MPG
  • Combined: 25 MPG
Efficiency City: Highway: Combined:
2023 Mazda CX-50 2.5T 23 MPG 29 MPG 25 MPG
2022 Chevrolet Equinox 1.5T AWD 25 MPG 30 MPG 27 MPG
2023 Honda CR-V 1.5T AWD 27 MPG 32 MPG 29 MPG
2023 Hyundai Tucson 2.5 AWD 23 MPG 28 MPG 25 MPG
2023 Nissan Rogue 1.5T AWD 28 MPG 34 MPG 31 MPG

Pricing

2/10

  • Base Price: $27,550 + $1,275 Destination*
  • Trim Base Price: $43,575
  • As-Tested Price: $43,970

The 2023 CX-50 will eventually start at $28,825 (including a $1,275 destination charge). The problem is that fully half of the CX-50’s trims, including all but one naturally aspirated trim, won’t be available until early 2023 at best. Waltz into a Mazda dealer as of this writing and the effective base price for the CX-50 is $38,425, or nearly $10,000 higher than it will be once production finishes ramping up.

For that price, you can score either a loaded naturally aspirated model or a base turbocharged trim. My range-topping Turbo Premium Plus starts at $43,575. There are no options aside from optional paint and dealer-installed accessories, although the top trim does include a few extra safety goodies, heated outboard rear seats, and a surround-view camera system that you won’t find elsewhere in the CX-50 lineup. That price is among the highest in the segment – and it’s much more expensive than the segment average, which sits at about $33,000.

But the CX-50 is a solid value if you’re shopping at the top of the mainstream compact crossover segment. Only loaded examples of the GMC Terrain Denali, Jeep Cherokee, and new Ford Escape (not to mention a few plug-in hybrids that don’t really compete with the CX-50) exceed my CX-50’s as-tested price. But while most of the market maxes out at $37,000 to $40,000, cars like the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Volkswagen Tiguan, and Hyundai Tucson are either much less powerful than the turbocharged CX-50 or lag it on interior quality (or both… sorry Toyota).

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