Flash Drive: 2023 Mazda CX-50 AWD

Beyond Pavement into Nature

Mazda has added another SUV to their lineup. The all-new 2023 CX-50 joins the CX-30, CX-5, and CX-9. This past week in Santa Barbara, Mazda invited the automotive media to drive the CX-50 on the highway, twisty mountain roads and then off-road to experience soft sand, steep climbs and descents. This drive route was to demonstrate the handling, ride capabilities and characteristics of what may become the best-selling Mazda.

2023 Mazda CX-50
Mazda adds another SUV

This Flash Drive review highlights the CX-50. Clean Fleet Report will write a more detailed Road Test review in the coming months. Until then, here are some notes to get started.

  • All Mazda SUVs will now come only with all-wheel drive (AWD)
  • The CX-50 is not a replacement for the CX-5. These are two completely different vehicles, built on different platforms and in different countries
  • The CX-50 is built at the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing (MTM) plant in Huntsville, Alabama
  • The CX-50 was designed for, and is initially only being sold in North America
  • There are 10 different CX-50 trim levels
  • 14 factory accessories are available, including attachments for a surfboard, SUP, kayak, skis, bicycles and a roof tent
  • The CX-50 is slated to be offered with electrified powertrains (date to be announced), including as a hybrid
  • Seven exterior colors; four interior colors
  • 3,500-pound maximum tow rating with the turbocharged engine
  • Wireless Apple and Android phone compatibility
  • Wireless phone charging

Getting There

2023 Mazda CX-50
A bit more at the hip

Mazda says the CX-50 is a “rugged and capable crossover SUV, purpose-built for active lifestyles” that enables drivers “to venture further into the outdoors and off-road.”

The Skyactiv-G 2.5-liter engine is standard, which is a smooth and responsive four-cylinder that puts out 187 horsepower (hp) and 186 pound-feet (lb.-ft.) of torque, while running on 87 octane. During our 6+ hours driving, Clean Fleet Report’s CX-50 was powered by the optional 2.5-liter twin-scroll turbocharged 4-cylinder that produces either 227 hp and 310 lb.-ft. of torque when using 87 octane or 256 hp and 320 lb.-ft. of torque when pumping 91 octane. Based on your budget and the need for more oomph, going for high-test could be worthwhile.

The 2.5L turbo is quiet and provides respectable acceleration, with 0 to 60 times around 7.5 seconds. Fuel economy is rated at 24 mpg city/30 highway/27 combined mpg for the base engine and 23/29/25 for the turbocharged CX-50 we drove.

The CX-50 comes standard with i-Active AWD and Intelligent Drive Select, which Mazda calls Mi-Drive. This allows the driver to select the drive modes of Normal, Sport, Off-Road and, when connected to a trailer, Tow. The smooth shifting 6-speed automatic transmission (with paddle shifters) instantaneously uses driving data, based on the selected drive mode, to deliver the best traction in all conditions.

Hitting the Paved Road

Mazda consistently produces the best-handling cars and SUVs that are not sold as a sport or performance model. Their engineers know how to design a chassis that produces high quality driving dynamics. The CX-50 continues this long tradition as the ride was smooth and confident at highway speeds, and agile when attacking the twisties. This is not surprising coming from a company that makes the fantastic handling MX-5 Miata.

2023 Mazda CX-50
Grip to go

The list of suspension and chassis technology is long on the CX-50, beginning with the G-Vectoring Control system that adjusts engine torque, shifts weight to the front wheels in response to the steering wheel motion, increases steering response, and applies a bit of the anti-lock brakes to ease cornering. The 3,907-pound curb weight never feels heavy, resulting in a solid, safe and confident ride in all driving conditions.

Mazda’s goal was to create a feedback loop between the driver’s input and the car’s response. During our time pushing hard through corners above their posted speed, the CX-50 handled very well and with no surprises. When diving into a tight corner, the CX-50 dug in nicely the harder we turned. On a continuing arc radius or a double apex, there was little steering input needed to correct and stay planted. Our only wish is for the brakes to have a bit more pedal feel, which would help with trail braking to set the CX-50 into a corner.

Playing in the Dirt

With 8.6 inches of ground clearance, the MX-50 rides high enough to safely leave the pavement and hit gravel and washboard dirt roads on the way to the lake cabin or camping spot. The i-Active AWD system has been designed to deliver driving dynamics for a varied array of surface conditions, and on the upper trim levels, the 245/45 Goodyear Eagle Touring all-season tires, mounted on black and bright machine alloy wheels, were up to the task when we ascended a steep, loose-dirt hill.

The suspension has been tuned to handle dirt roads (think unpaved and not rock crawling) so the driver and passengers feel confident getting the underside dirty. In low-speed off-road situations, there is maximum torque from a standstill and the traction control is optimized for torque transfer from right to left/left to right. The bottom line is–if occasional off-roading is part of your adventure, then the CX-50 should be right for you.

Soul of Motion Exterior Design

2023 Mazda CX-50
Kodo even standing still

Mazda has been positioning itself to be more upscale in the past few years, hoping to become a near premium brand. Employing its Kodo: Soul of Motion design theme, the CX-50, compared to the CX-5, is wider, longer, lower, and squarer. The front grille has thankfully gone on a diet, now slimmer and more mature. The narrow LED head and daytime running lights take up as little real estate as possible on the front fenders, and the turn signals are mere slits sitting just above the bright lower fascia. Note how the turn signals have a soft fade-out as they blink.

The long hood, laid-back windshield, and short front and rear overhangs complete the look. The biggest design change are the wide rear fenders, giving the CX-50 a more commanding look. The black body cladding wraps completely around the CX-50 and adds to the rugged look, but can be a bit much, so it looks better against dark paint.

The body-color shark fin antenna, bright roof rails, panoramic roof, integrated spoiler over the raked power lift gate, bright twin exhaust ports, and LED tail lights finish-off the new design. Had the rear wiper been tucked under the spoiler it would have taken Mazda a step closer to near-premium.

Class-Above Interior

The interior is driver-centric with impressive materials Mazda says are “inspired by the outdoors.” What we experienced were comfortable seats and easy-to-use controls in a pleasant environment.

2023 Mazda CX-50
The driver wins

Five inches longer than the CX-5, the CX-50 uses this extra space for a spacious interior and for ample cargo area. The CX-50 is designed for people with active and outdoor lifestyles; the rear area can accommodate an impressive amount of gear, even with the rear seat upright. Lower it, and two adults, along with a roof top tent, could comfortably live out of the CX-50.

Up front, a simple, clean and logical dash layout has plenty of soft touch materials. Three, easy-to-read round black face and white letter gauges are part of a 7-inch LCD multi-information display for the speedometer, odometer, average fuel economy and many other readings.

The center display, which is not a touch screen, is 8.8 inches in the base model that houses an eight-speaker sound system, but that increases to 10.25 inches (also not a touch screen) for the 12-speaker Bose Centerpoint premium sound system that rocks the cabin. A note about the color screen: it becomes a touch screen when using Apple Car Play or Android Auto, where apps and maps can be controlled with the touch of a finger. But when returning to the native Mazda system, controls are made through the Commander wheel located on the center console, or the controls on the leather-wrapped steering wheel.

In our Road Test review later in 2022, Clean Fleet Report will go into detail on the infotainment system, comfort, safety features, and technology. To summarize, the all-new 2023 CX-50 at the top trim levels is not wanting for anything. It is highly equipped and will match features with any of its competitors.


All prices include the mandatory $1,225 destination and handling fee.

2023 Mazda CX-50
Where the extra inches show up

2.5 S                                      $28,025

2.5 S Select                          $29,425

2.5 S Preferred                    $30,625

2.5 S Preferred Plus           $33,065

2.5 S Premium                    $35,525

2.5 S Premium Plus           $37,625

2.5 Turbo                             $37,625

2.5 Turbo Premium           $40,775

2.5 Turbo Premium Plus  $42,775

Observations: 2023 Mazda CX-50

Mazda is on a roll with 2021 its biggest sales year since 1994. The company also made news with its first step into electrification with the MX-30 EV, to be followed by two new plug-in hybrid SUVs that will be released in 2023. Now, the all-new CX-50 is Mazda’s first adventure-oriented SUV.

They may no longer be using Zoom-Zoom as their slogan, but fun-to-drive is the DNA that comes with the Mazda name, and none of this is lost on the CX-50. While it is not marketed as a sport SUV, it has many of those capabilities. It will be positioned to the adventurer who has the desire to go off-road from time to time.

2023 Mazda CX-50
Ready to get away

The front cabin comfortably seats two, with the rear seat capable of carrying three adults (two for longer trips). The rear cargo capacity is plenty large enough for two on that long weekend camping trip, but may be a tight squeeze for all the gear necessary for four. Then again, the roof has been reinforced to handle a three-person tent, so it can easily handle a cargo carrier or even hook-up a trailer for more flexibility. So, grab your friends and take off for a few days.

Mazda wants you to explore and discover with the 2023 Mazda CX-50, maybe by heading-out to that mountain lake for some fishing and kayaking, or to the top of a mountain road for some mountain biking. Go to your Mazda dealer to see the appeal of the CX-50 that starts with a new fresh design, and leads to it being built on an all-new platform with an enhanced AWD system.

Make sure to opt-in to the Clean Fleet Report newsletter (top right of page) to be notified of all new stories and vehicle reviews.

Story and photos by John Faulkner.

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Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at [email protected]

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