What Is It?
Although the brand-new Mazda CX-50 is similar in size to the Japan-based automaker’s top-selling CX-5, it is not intended to replace that compact crossover but rather appeal to a more outdoor-oriented driver. Projecting a powerful, rugged appearance compared to the refined elegance of CX-5, with the CX-50 Mazda hopes to attract buyers who appreciate more traditional SUV styling and will take advantage of its capability. And the good news: Despite its off-road demeanor, the 2023 Mazda CX-50 continues to deliver on the brand’s proven formula of excellent on-road driving dynamics and fun-to-drive experience that savvy drivers have come to know and expect in every Mazda product.
For our testing, Mazda provided us with a top-of-the-line 2023 CX-50 2.5 T Premium Plus finished in Polymetal Gray Metallic with a Black interior, featuring black leather seats with brown trim. Building on a starting MSRP of $41,550 for 2.5 T Premium Plus, the price as tested for this particular 2023 Mazda CX-50 was $43,170 including an additional charge of $395 for metallic paint and a destination and handling fee of $1,225.
The 2023 Mazda CX-50 is offered in a surprising nine trim levels — six with a normally aspirated 2.5-liter engine and three with a 2.5-liter turbocharged unit. As the model’s top trim, the 2.5 T Premium Plus includes leather seating surfaces with contrast stitching, a panoramic sunroof, heated / ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a 12-speaker Bose audio system and Active Driving Display, a head-up display system.
Created specifically for the North American market, the 2023 Mazda CX-50 intends to project a more powerful, rugged stance than CX-5 thanks to a more traditional SUV profile. To further honor that design direction, the brand-new CX-50 sports fender cladding and lower black trim around the entire vehicle to create a more muscular look. Mazda’s new grille suits the look and size of the vehicle well, contributing to its portrayal of an aggressive attitude.
The 2023 Mazda CX-50 interior design has a horizontal dashboard to emphasize additional width, as well as a low dash height to create a more open feeling within the cabin, further enhanced by an optional panoramic sunroof. In keeping with the styling found in many vehicles today, the 10.25-inch center screen sticks up from the dash to simulate a tablet. Touchscreen functionality is enabled for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, although the Mazda Connect Infotainment System is still operated by a controller on the center console.
Mazda Connect Infotainment
Although we prefer the center screen to be more integrated with the dash rather than mimicking a tablet, we do appreciate the touchscreen for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. The fact that the screen will not also operate the Mazda Connect Infotainment System underscores that Mazda needs to work on creating a better interface. Too many functions, such as changing the radio station, require multiple steps that must be repeated to make a second adjustment.
Originally developed for the larger CX-9, Mazda’s powerful 2.5 T engine boasts abundant low-end torque, which is even more evident in the smaller CX-50. Drivers will notice the torque immediately — for normal acceleration and everyday driving, very little throttle input is required for most situations. And the torque is always available at any speed — often with no need for a transmission downshift unless aggressive acceleration is suddenly necessary.
Mazda Intelligent Drive Select, known as Mi-Drive, offers three standard modes: Normal, Sport and Off-Road, with Towing replacing Sport once a trailer is plugged in. Mazda engineers have developed G-Vectoring Control to improve steering response and feedback by shifting weight to the front tires in response to steering wheel motion. GVC is one of the factors adjusted by Mi-Drive for different conditions.
In Normal mode, Mi-Drive uses maximizes efficiency and the traction control prioritizes acceleration over minimizing wheelspin. In Sport mode the GVC is tuned to improve steering response, and the transmission shifting is adjusted to avoid shifting in the middle of a corner. Off-Road mode provides stability on loose gravel and dirt, so the GVC is adjusted for more precise steering response and increased minimum torque to the rear wheels. For low-speed driving Off-Road mode is optimized for traction with maximum rear torque available from a start; the traction control is tuned for diagonal torque transfer, the shifting focused on low-speed control and the idle speed increased when facing uphill.
On the Road
As much as we like the off-road looks of the 2023 Mazda CX-50, the on-road characteristics of this crossover deliver a dynamic experience that might come as a pleasant surprise to many new customers, although it’s something that those in the know expect from the Mazda product portfolio. The Mazda CX-50 2.5 T really shines during spirited driving on winding back roads. In Sport mode the transmission holds the lower gear longer, and the driver can also shift manually with paddle shifters.
The chassis and steering of the 2023 Mazda CX-50 feel responsive and balanced, with the GVC and torque split tuned to improve both corner turn-in and the rear-end tracking to maintain balance through corners. This responsiveness is especially noticed with the CX-50 in Sport mode, helping the compact crossover attack corners more aggressively and while delivering precise power to the rear wheels.
The interior of the 2023 Mazda CX-50 complements the exterior design, thanks to a sporty vibe and ergonomic, intuitive layout for the controls. The seats are comfortable and supportive, and the brown accents offer a pleasant contrast to the black leather. The interior is spacious for a compact crossover, since the CX-50 is 3 inches wider than CX-5 and rides on a wheelbase lengthened by 4.6-inches to provide additional interior volume.
The all-new 2023 Mazda CX-50 2.5 T Premium Plus is a crossover possessing more rugged looks and more interior space than the similarly sized CX-5, as well as engaging driving dynamics and a powerful turbocharged engine. For Mazda shoppers seeking a more traditional SUV look with off-road capability — as well as the driving dynamics and fun on-road driving experience expected from Mazda — the CX-50 could be an exceedingly versatile and satisfying ticket to ride.