2023 Mazda CX-50 Review – Playing Dress-Up



2022 Mazda CX-50 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus AWD

2.5-liter turbocharged four (227hp @ 5,000 rpm, 310lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm on regular unleaded, 256hp @ 5,000 rpm, 320lb-ft @ 2,500 rpm on 93 octane)

Six-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive

23 city / 29 highway / 25 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

10.4 city / 8.1 highway / 9.4 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

Base Price: $42,775 US / $47,431 CAN

As Tested: $43,170 US / $47,681 CAN

Prices include $1,225 destination charge in the United States and $2081 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

Americans have got a fever, and the only prescription is more crossovers. Virtually every automaker trying to do business in this country has some sort of lifted wagon – if not a handful. Large ones, small ones, performance ones, economy ones. No convertible crossovers anymore, thank goodness. They’re shoehorning a crossover into nearly every possible market segment.

Here, we have the 2023 Mazda CX-50, with a name very much like their popular CX-5. And it’s very close in size to said CX-5. Of the six distinct non-electric vehicles offered by Mazda, four are crossovers – but why did they bring us something so very clearly similar to something they’ve been selling well for many years without replacing it?

Oh, and don’t give Mazda any ideas about a Miata crossover, please.

Mazda says the CX-50 was developed – let me get the marketing language right here – “to support the active and outdoor lifestyles of customers…” Images accompanying the press release show the CX-50 in nature – on groomed trails and adjacent to trees. Yeah, I know my photos have the car posed on a gravel lot near a river, too.

As such, the CX-50 sports additional black plastic lower body cladding. The styling beyond the plastic is distinct, too – with a bit more ground clearance and a lower roofline than the CX-5 – making the entire car look longer. I won’t deny that it’s a handsome look, especially with the wheel wells filled up with the twenty-inch wheels fitted to this Premium Plus trim.

But I’m not sure it necessarily speaks to a rugged outdoor active lifestyle. Beyond the standard all-wheel drive and the selectable drive mode with an off-road mode, I don’t see a single thing on this car that makes it any more capable where the pavement ends than your typical crossover. No skid plates, no all-terrain tires, no locking differentials.

Will the CX-50 buyer care about this? I’m not sure that they will. Because once they get behind the wheel, they’ll find a comfortable, roomy, and above all luxurious family hauler. The ride quality is superb, with minimal wind and road noise and no harshness transmitted to the cabin from impacting expansion joints. The panoramic moonroof does bring nature in just a bit should you choose.

The turbocharged engine has plenty of power to get up to speed without drama, and while the six-speed automatic is down a few cogs from some competitors, it shifts smoothly and feels very well matched to both the engine and the nature of the CX-50. The driving experience is basically identical to that of the CX-5 – which is to say, pleasant.

Infotainment is getting better from Mazda, with a display that is clearer and more snappy to respond than in years past. But it’s still commanded by a central dial near the shifter, with a couple of buttons to toggle for music or nav. Wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are welcome additions.

Let’s consider, then, what should be the best comparison in the entry-luxury compact crossover market – the Lexus NX. Tim took a look at the NX 350 last week. Dimensionally, both the NX and this CX-50 are quite close inside and out – the Mazda has a slightly longer wheelbase (110.8 inches versus 105.9 for the Lexus) within roughly the same length (185.5 inches for Mazda, 183.5 inches on the Lexus). Cargo space is a win for the Mazda as well – 31.4 cubic feet behind the rear seats, versus 22.7 cubes on the Lexus.

And yet picking the entry trim of the NX 250 and simply adding all-wheel drive will run $41,025 delivered – without a number of features (like heated/ventilated seats, the moonroof, and leather) the Mazda gives on this $43,170 Turbo Premium Plus package. Matching the two up shows the value here, and the quality of the materials and appointments within the Mazda (caveat for the infotainment here) are at least every bit the equal of the Lexus.

Mazda is a luxury brand now. This is not my father’s Mazda of the GLC era, lined as it was with repurposed mouse fur. I’m sure Toyota isn’t thrilled that they’re helping to build (at the Alabama joint venture facility) such a vehicle that might make cross-shop their own premium line, but that’s how great a job Mazda has done here.

To be fair, no amount of black plastic cladding can ever make this an off-roader – not with the snazzy twenty-inch wheels and low-profile tires fitted here. That’s ok – the slight nod toward off-road fashion is like that one nice pair of running shoes I once bought, thinking I might get off the couch and start running to lose some weight. Nope. They’ve been relegated to very comfy lawn-mowing sneakers – and at least until they turned green, they looked good doing so.

With the 2023 CX-50, Mazda is leaning in hard to court those who imagine themselves with an active and outdoor lifestyle. Whether it succeeds is a question yet to be answered.

[Images: © 2022 Chris Tonn]

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