Is without doubt one of the surprising long-term unwanted side effects of COVID-19 the general public’s elevated curiosity in outside actions like tenting, climbing, and kayaking? The timing may very well be a coincidence, however it’s clear that automotive corporations are introducing an ever-increasing array of off-road-focused SUVs—or at the very least off-road-flavored SUVs—to satisfy the market’s embrace of those extra adventurous existence. Even well-established outdoorsy manufacturers like Subaru are getting extra outdoorsy.
Mazda’s new-for-2023 CX-50 represents a noteworthy growth in focus for the model. Historically, Mazda autos have been primarily tuned for on-road driving dynamics, however the CX-50 is extra overtly geared toward off-road driving and active-lifestyle adventures than any Mazda in current reminiscence. Mazda says it’s “purpose-built for outside fans.” Considerably, the CX-50 goals to ship enhanced all-terrain capabilities with out compromising the participating on-road driving character that’s Mazda’s stock-in-trade. Contemplating that even probably the most lively outside adventurers will spend the vast majority of their seat time on paved roads, it is a logical path for the CX-50 to comply with.
Mazda’s authentic reveal images showcased a CX-50 with a barely raised experience top, all-terrain tires, an adjunct roof rack, and a matte-black hood graphic with cutout “CX-50” lettering, however these options are usually not accessible on any CX-50 mannequin at launch. They’ll arrive later within the 2023 mannequin yr on a CX-50 Meridian Version mannequin, which Mazda says is “outfitted for outside journey and particular person expression.” Different Meridian-exclusive options embody 18-inch all-terrain tires on black-finished alloy wheels, aspect rocker garnishes, a pair of roof crossbars, and a roof-mounted cargo platform.
We categorize the CX-50 as a compact SUV, although it’s on the bigger finish of the category. When it comes to the CX-50’s exterior dimensions, Mazda has embraced the time-tested Detroit perfect of “longer, decrease, and wider.” In comparison with Mazda’s current-generation CX-5 compact SUV (which the CX-50 enhances, slightly than replaces, in Mazda’s lineup) wheelbase will increase by 4.6 inches and general size is up 6.7 inches. Width will increase by 3.1 inches and top is down almost as a lot. These modifications might sound delicate, however taken collectively, the change in general proportions is dramatic when in comparison with different Mazda SUVs that use the identical fundamental styling themes.
The CX-50’s exterior styling blends Mazda’s signature design cues with blackout trim and wheel-arch/lower-body cladding for a extra “rugged-outdoors” vibe. The profile view is kind of distinctive, with an surprising lowness to the hood and a comparatively low roofline. The sturdy fender flares are gracefully built-in into the in any other case easy bodysides, and the visible weight of the cladding helps make the remainder of the bodywork seem svelte. The outcome seems improbable to our eyes, a visually fascinating mix of magnificence, energy, and sportiness. Mazda’s pivot towards car-based station-wagon proportions units the CX-50 aside from the standard “trucky” SUV… we surprise if the CX-50 was initially envisioned throughout its improvement to have extra of a efficiency persona earlier than market situations prompted the mannequin’s focus to shift off-road.
Throughout a presentation on the CX-50’s press-preview occasion, CX-50 chief engineer Naoki Okano used the time period “station wagon” whereas describing the cargo space. Most automotive corporations keep away from the time period, since conventional station wagons are thought-about passé (and don’t promote very effectively) lately, however it’s apropos right here. In contrast to many SUVs, the place the cargo space has a comparatively small flooring mixed with higher vertical house, Okano described how the CX-50 was designed with an extended load flooring whereas sacrificing some top due to the decrease roofline. Mazda asserts this station-wagon-like configuration is simpler to load and maximizes usability and cargo accessibility. These design selections additionally make it simpler to load issues onto the car’s roof, which at the moment’s outside fans usually tend to do. It’s an attention-grabbing strategy that not many opponents comply with, and these inside selections virtually actually influenced the CX-50’s exterior proportions.
There’s nothing particularly new beneath the CX-50’s hood… at the very least not but. It debuts with Mazda’s acquainted 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine in both naturally aspirated or turbocharged type. The one transmission alternative is a 6-speed computerized, and it pairs with commonplace “i-ACTIV” all-wheel drive. The naturally aspirated engine is rated at 187 horsepower, whereas the turbo receives a 227-hp score (which will increase to 256 hp on 93-octane premium-grade gasoline). The bottom engine has EPA-certified fuel-economy scores of 24 mpg metropolis/30 freeway/27 mixed; the turbos are a bit much less environment friendly at 23/29/25. Mazda says electrified variations of the CX-50, together with a standard hybrid mannequin, can be added sooner or later.
The CX-50’s all-wheel drive system contains the Mazda Clever Drive Choose (or Mi-Drive) driver-selectable drive-mode system, and it provides an off-road mode and, on 2.5 Turbo fashions, a towing mode. The off-road mode is tuned to assist stability on gravel roads and enhance traction in low-speed conditions, however doesn’t embody any kind of hill-descent management. The tow mode is designed to assist shift weight onto the entrance tires, which helps keep the car’s regular steering response. It additionally adjusts the torque cut up to the rear axle to higher management yaw motions from the trailer. CX-50s with the bottom engine are rated to tow as much as 2000 kilos, whereas the turbos can pull as much as 3500 kilos.
At launch, CX-50 can be provided in 9 configurations. Base fashions with the naturally aspirated engine are available 2.5 S ($26,800), 2.5 S Choose, ($28,200), 2.5 S Most well-liked ($29,500), 2.5 S Most well-liked Plus ($31,940), 2.5 S Premium ($34,400), and a couple of.5 S Premium Plus ($36,400) trim ranges. Turbocharged fashions are available 2.5 Turbo ($36,400), 2.5 Turbo Premium ($39,550), and a couple of.5 Turbo Premium Plus ($41,550) type. The turbocharged Meridian Version arrives later, however Mazda is tight-lipped about how will probably be positioned and priced in comparison with different CX-50s. Vacation spot provides $1225 ($1270 in Alaska) to any CX-50. For comparability, Mazda’s 2022 CX-5 covers a worth unfold of $25,900 to $38,650. On the CX-50’s press-preview occasion in Santa Barbara, California, we drove a top-of-the-line Turbo Premium Plus mannequin that wore extra-cost Polymetal Grey Metallic paint ($395) that nudged the bottom-line worth to $43,170 together with vacation spot.
The CX-50’s doorways open vast, and the step-in feels a bit simpler and decrease than is typical for a compact SUV. The entrance seat is roomy and cozy, and this 6-foot 2-inch tester discovered it simple to dial in a snug seating place. There’s loads of headroom beneath the panoramic sunroof’s housing. (The CX-50’s accessible panoramic sunroof is Mazda’s first—it comes commonplace on 2.5 S Most well-liked fashions and above.) The rear doorways open vast, and entry and exit are very simple. Behind a entrance seat set for myself, I had simply sufficient headroom and legroom to be snug.
Our check car had a black leather-based inside which regarded convincingly upscale and was very tastefully trimmed. Comfortable-touch and padded surfaces are plentiful, with onerous plastics largely present in decrease sections of the inside in less-noticed locations like the edges of the middle console. Visible highlights embody advanced color-contrast element stitching and simply sufficient chrome accents so as to add some pizzazz. Sadly, the chrome trim extends to some small management buttons on the steering-wheel spokes that proved almost unattainable to decipher within the California solar.
The low hood and cowl assist create an expansive view ahead, and we appreciated that our check car’s head-up windshield show remained simple to learn once we have been sporting polarized sun shades. We additionally appreciated the intelligent location of the wi-fi charging pad—it’s aft of the shifter and hidden beneath the overhang of the central armrest. The placement is protected, but simple to entry. Your telephone sits in a textured despair that was completely sized for our iPhone SE and a colleague’s iPhone 11 Professional, however it would possibly show to be a good match for bigger telephones.
The gauge cluster mixes digital and analog shows; it seems nice and is straightforward to learn. The massive central show display is mounted in a despair atop the sprint. It’s 10.25 inches vast and boasts sharp graphics, however the display is comparatively compact top-to-bottom (the proportions remind us of the aspect view of a loaf of bread). Most infotainment features are accessed through the console-mounted “Commander Management” knob and its surrounding shortcut buttons. It’s potential to activate touchscreen functionality in a car settings menu, however it solely works with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Sadly, the show’s location leaves it considerably too far ahead and out of attain for simple use as a touchscreen.
On the street, the turbocharged engine is refined and gives ample energy (Mazda advised us our check car was stuffed with 91-octane premium, so it wasn’t making the total 256 horsepower accessible with 93-octane juice). Throttle response is great, and there’s no apparent turbo lag. The 6-speed computerized has been round some time (most rivals use constantly variable transmissions or an 8- or 9-speed computerized), however it’s very clean and at all times appears to be in the appropriate gear.
Dealing with is assured and secure, even sporty, within the curves. Most CX-50s experience on all-season road tires, with solely the upcoming Meridian rolling on off-road all-terrain rubber. All turbo CX-50s and the non-turbo Premium Plus mannequin put on 20-inch alloy wheels; the remainder get 17-inch alloys. Our check car was outfitted with 245/45R20 Goodyear Eagle Touring tires that rode comfortably on the California roads of our drive route, which contained a surprisingly numerous array of pavement sorts. On clean surfaces, the CX-50 is impressively quiet even at freeway speeds, with the Goodyears working virtually silently. However the state of affairs modified dramatically on coarse pavement, the place the tires kicked up a stunning quantity of street noise that was loud sufficient to be intrusive and immediate us to show up the radio. We additionally heard a persistent vibration or rattle from someplace on the passenger’s aspect of the inside whereas on particularly coarse pavement. At our subsequent cease, we checked the CX-50’s storage spots for the wrongdoer however couldn’t discover any apparent trigger for this audible irritation. We don’t know for positive that we “mounted” it, however the vibration by no means reappeared after we relocated the thick proprietor’s guide to the higher “shelf” part of the glovebox.
Mazda additionally gave us the chance to drive our check car on an off-road path that was ready for the occasion. The all-season rubber confidently dealt with the dusty dirt-and-gravel trails and tender rolling hills of the path. Essentially the most difficult sections have been steep filth hills the place the CX-50 set in Off-Highway Mode had ample traction to simply make it up and down. As talked about earlier, Mazda says they needed so as to add as a lot off-road functionality as they might with out introducing apparent compromises in on-road composure. After our day behind the wheel, we predict they did an excellent job balancing the 2.
The rear cargo space flooring is flush with the underside of the liftgate opening, and it’s certainly longer front-to-rear than is typical for a compact SUV. A shallow bin—perhaps simply large enough to squeeze in a gallon of milk—is tucked in behind the rear wheelhouse on either side. Cargo room with the rear seats up is 31.4 cubic ft, increasing to 56.3 cubic ft with the split-folding rear seatbacks folded. These seatbacks simply flip ahead and fold flush with the cargo flooring to create a clean, degree floor. By comparability, the smaller CX-5 gives 30.9 cubic ft behind the rear seats, however with the rear seats down it’s roomier than the CX-50 at 59.6 cubic ft.
Our first impression is that the CX-50 form of goes off in its personal path and doesn’t have any apparent shut opponents. We’re intrigued by the station-wagon proportions, so from that perspective (and Mazda’s concentrate on outside adventuring) the CX-50’s closest rival could be the considerably bigger Subaru Outback—an SUV-flavored station wagon that we categorize as a midsize automotive. Different compact crossover SUVs with an off-road-focused perspective are the Ford Bronco Sport, Jeep Compass, Subaru Crosstrek and Forester, and the Journey and TRD Off Highway variations of the Toyota RAV4. None of these have fairly the identical upscale really feel—or the identical athletic driving character—because the CX-50, nonetheless.
The CX-50 ought to start showing at Mazda sellers by this April. It’s the first Mazda car to be constructed on the joint-venture Mazda Toyota Manufacturing (MTM) plant in Huntsville, Alabama. We should always point out that whereas Toyota builds the Corolla Cross SUV in its half of this manufacturing unit, the Corolla Cross and CX-50 are fully unrelated.
At first, it might sound peculiar that Mazda has launched a brand new SUV that’s so shut in measurement and worth to its present CX-5, however the CX-50 justifies its existence fairly effectively. Mazda makes the a lot of the basic design thought of longer, decrease, and wider to create a really enticing and totally modern-looking SUV. We’re additionally impressed with the turbocharged drivetrain’s energy and refinement, and the CX-50’s on-road dynamics. Minor disappointments embody the uneven suppression of street noise and the time required to grasp the Commander Management infotainment interface.
We don’t suppose the image of the CX-50 as an active-lifestyle accent extension of the Mazda model has developed totally but, however our check car proved able to dealing with average off-road challenges on its all-season tires. Pricing on the prime finish clearly falls in keeping with Mazda’s aspirations as a premium model, however general the CX-50 is a really fascinating addition to the compact SUV class—whether or not you’re driving on-road or off-road.
2023 Mazda CX-50 Gallery
(Click on beneath for enlarged photos)