2023 Mazda CX-50: Sports car performance, off-road capabilities
Mazda has long been known as a favorite brand of driving enthusiasts because of the excellent driving dynamics built into every vehicle they make. Mazda vehicles are consistent leaders in handling, steering, and engine response. Mazda has offered the CX-5 compact crossover SUV since 2013, and now they're adding the CX-50 as an additional product in that crowded compact segment. The older CX-5 will continue to be sold alongside the new model.
What makes the CX-50 special is its thoroughly modern technology. Mazda has delivered an upgrade to the driving modes and the all-wheel-drive system. Where the CX-5 was available in front-wheel drive or all-wheel, every CX-50 will include the i-Activ AWD system as standard equipment. Additionally, the CX-50 will include Mazda Intelligent Drive Select, called Mi-Drive for short. This feature adds a variety of selectable driving modes to help the CX-50 deliver the best possible performance in a wide variety of conditions, such as light off-road driving, normal highway driving, in snow and winter weather, and when towing.
CX-50 buyers will be able to choose between two engine packages. The basic CX-50 comes with Mazda's long-proven 2.5-liter four-cylinder Skyactiv engine, rated at 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque. The top trim levels are available with the same basic engine, but turbocharged to produce up to 256 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque. The top power figures apply when the CX-50 is filled with 93 octane premium fuel. Oregon's 92 octane premium fuel will deliver slightly less horsepower, but not enough to notice a difference.
Both engine options are paired with a six-speed automatic transmission with full-time AWD. However, Mazda's tech is just getting started. The CX-50 uses sensors throughout the vehicle to deliver data to the main computer. Using data as varied as the windshield wiper setting, outdoor temperature, and the amount of power going to the wheels, the i-Activ AWD system can very nearly predict when the CX-50 is likely to lose traction. The system engages the rear wheels for additional traction before the driver even notices a slip.
Mazda also includes G-Vectoring Control, which senses when the driver turns the wheel for a corner, and cuts engine torque just enough to shift weight onto the front wheels. This gives the CX-50 sharper steering response than most crossovers in its class.
When it comes to dashboard tech, the CX-50 is state-of-the-art. The base trim will receive a large 8.8-inch full color center display, while all upgrade trims get an even larger 10.25-inch screen. The system supports both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, as well as the native Mazda Connect infotainment system and voice control. A 12-speaker Bose audio system and onboard GPS navigation are optional on higher trim levels.
Safety is critical on any family-oriented SUV, and the CX-50 brings a full suite of standard advanced driver assistance safety features on all trim levels. Luxury features such as blind spot monitoring, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, rear cross traffic alert, automatic emergency braking, and a rear view camera system are all standard. A few select features are included on the top 2.5T Premium Plus trim, including traffic jam assistance, front and rear parking assist, reverse automatic braking, and active blind spot prevention. Mazda's SUVs routinely receive Top Safety Pick+ ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and while the IIHS has not rated the CX-50 yet, it is very likely that this SUV will also receive top marks. Reliability is a big part of safety, and Consumer Reports named Mazda the most reliable automaker in 2021, and the organization recommends all 2022 Mazdas.
On the road, the CX-50 will appeal to the driving enthusiast and the basic driver alike. Road noise was a little higher than we've noticed on comparable models, but that could just be rough roads. Besides, the CX-50's excellent steering and handling more than made up for any noise increase. The driver's seat was firm, but the seats also offer exquisite lumbar support, delivering a comfortable all-day driving experience.
We took the CX-50 on a light off-road course, about like venturing to a remote campsite anywhere in the Pacific Northwest, and with its off-road driving mode, the little SUV just goes where you point it. Finally, we tested the towing capacity of 3,500 pounds with the turbo, and the tow mode eliminates any trailer sway, even when a big Semi blasts by going the other direction. The naturally aspirated base models can still tow up to 2,000 pounds.
The CX-50 is arriving soon at area Mazda dealers. Pricing is a little higher than the existing CX-5, but you're getting a lot more tech and capability with this car. Still, with a variety of CX-5 and CX-50 trims available, it's easy to find a Mazda crossover to fit your budget. Just be sure to drive the 2023 Mazda CX-50 before you make any SUV buying decisions this year.
2023 Mazda CX-50
Base price: $26,800
Price as tested: $36,400
Type: Compact crossover SUV
Engine: 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (256 hp, 320 lbs-ft)
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
EPA estimated mileage: 23/29
Overall length: 185.8 inches
Curb weight: 3,907 pounds
Final assembly: Huntsville, Alabama
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