The Road Beat: 2023 Mazda CX-50
By Mitchell Weitzman
Mazda now has a confusingly named CX-50 alongside their excellent CX-5. This one's even better.
What is it?
A new crossover SUV from Mazda, the maker of the some of the best affordable vehicles on the planet. They curiously already make the CX-5, so what does adding an extra digit do exactly? It's eerily similar but improves upon what was already the best driving and finished vehicle in its class. In all rights, the CX-50 should cannibalize CX-5 sales; it's that good.
There's only an easy way to say this: The CX-50 is easily the most attractive and finished vehicle in its class, but that's not all—it gets even better: It's also the best driving vehicle in its class. Case closed? C'mon, I have to say more than that!
Next to the already handsome, if stout CX-5, the CX-50 grows nearly five inches. Couple that to exaggerated fenders and it gives the impression of a longer, wider, and lower machine—all aspects that make for alluring and improved aesthetics. A sleek and purposeful looking ride, this is one that ought to draw your pupil's gaze. The fenders also have a plastic cladding to add a utilitarian and off-road-esque feel that do not appear cheap at all.
The inside is typical Mazda fair, meaning it's finished in fine leather and materials throughout on this here loaded Premium Plus trim. The contrasting stitching on this example is particularly delicious. This is every bit as nice of a car inside as a gutted, option-less BMW X3 that'll cost you the same. I'm serious—it's not the last word in luxury, but it genuinely surprises for its price point while rendering a top-shelf RAV4 as a parts-bin afterthought.
I could care less about the looks and interior if the car drove like bile waste, but the CX-50 is motoring bliss for a family SUV. The steering is sublime, and in fact more tactile and responsive than some sports cars currently on sale. Confidence is key here, as the CX-50 doesn't necessarily have high grip limits, but it just turns in so intuitively and with legit balance. I reckon the engineers and test drivers developed the CX-50 on a rally course or gymkhana to achieve such handling prowess. On a looping, cloverleaf onramp, you can you push the CX-50 hard and have complete sense of control over its behavior. Understeer comes knowingly, not surprisingly, as you load the front tires. Add too much and you can relax the throttle as grip comes back, allowing you to tighten your line and nail the throttle—let the all-wheel drive traction carry you out. I haven't driven an SUV that isn't an M-badged BMW that displays such grace in the bends. Bravo, Mazda. Somehow, the ride quality is still pretty good, so it's not like they stiffened the crap out of it either to achieve such fluidity and composure.
Power is strong, thanks to Mazda's stirring 2.5L turbo inline-four; it's a gruff unit that lives for the mid-range. Horsepower might only be 227, but with torque peaking at 310 pounds-feet at only 2,500 RPM, there is usable shove that makes passing a breeze (horsepower jumps to 256, though, when filling up with premium 91 octane. I doubt you'll notice the difference in the real world.). The top-end is weak, but when are you going to be using that? Turbo lag is present when shifting the old six-speed automatic manually, but the surge can be fun. I averaged 24 MPG overall, which while not stellar, is decent enough given the performance advantage the CX-50 has over the geriatric-powered RAV4, Tucson, and CR-V alternatives to name a few.
Part of the CX-50's new appeal is also some advertised off-roading ability. CX-50s won't be replacing Jeep Wranglers anytime soon, but there are terrain-control modes to lend a hand for those venturing into the domestic unknown for the first time. Also noteworthy is its modest, but quite usable 3,500-pound tow capacity.
Very few, but the most glaring is a lack of interior space. Overall length might be an impressive 185 inches, but you wouldn't really know it once inside. The rear seats themselves are comfortable, but leg space is less than on rival crossovers and SUVs. That sleek and coolly sloping roofline doesn't help either, infringing on headroom for occupants. Open the tailgate and you'll find that total cargo volume is somewhat compromised as well. Simply said, a RAV4 is a bigger vehicle on the inside.
Then there's the price. At $43,170, this 2.5 Turbo with Premium Plus (aka, the one you want) borders beyond affordable. Yes, it's nice inside—very, very nice—and it's pretty, drives excellent, and has great power in this crowded field. But it’s a price you'll have to justify, and luckily I do think the Mazda acquits itself exceedingly well on pure merit.
Also, Mazda is still using a six-speed automatic when most others now use eight gears. There's little to complain about the current transmission, yet two additional ratios would benefit fuel economy and further utilize the stonking midrange the CX-50's gutsy motor has to offer. For those just looking for a nice vehicle, at the same price is Toyota's exceptionally boring and slow Venza Limited, but it does average 35 MPG from its hybrid powertrain.
It's the best
Did you expect anything else? The CX-50 is the best mid-size crossover/SUV today. It does so much so well, being the choice of those after a more luxurious ride and those wanting a fun, sporting edge. Mazda continues to set standards in all subjective and objective categories minus fuel mileage. The CX-50 deserves your attention.
2023 Mazda CX-50
As-tested price: $43,170.
Pros: Attractive inside and out; performance; drives well.Cons: Not the most spacious.