An all-new Mazda model is always a point of celebration for us. Whether it’s the 2-passenger MX-5 sports car or the three-row CX-9 crossover, the brand always manages to make the vehicle stylish and great fun to drive.
So, we sort of set the bar high for the all-new CX-50 crossover. Is Mazda up to the task? Let’s find out!
The Outdoorsy One
The first look at the CX-50 is interesting, because, well, it doesn’t look like other Mazdas. But not in a bad way. When the manufacturer decided to design it – and this is for the US – they wanted to create something more adventurous with a greater outdoor capable look than the CX-5, which is a similar size.
Up front, there’s the familiar Mazda pentagon-shaped grille with angry LED headlight on either side. But below those lights you have large intakes on either side that gives a real feeling of added width and aggression.
The profile is definitely in the off-road camp with massive squared-off fender flares and black fender liners, and a black lower body molding that looks ready to take a beating. Massive 20-inch alloys with a black metallic and machine cut finish really give some visual muscle.
Out back (not to be confused with Outback) The look is once again a fresh direction with rectangular taillights replacing the afterburner-style round lights we find on other models. Large side gills echo the front and give a much wider vibe, while nice fat dual exhaust pipes look sporty and capable. The finishing touch was our tester’s Zircon Sand color, a grey green that’s very outdoorsy and stands out, even with the popularity of the creamy gray green/cement color schemes that are popular with many manufacturers right now.
Overall, we love the look – but you’d be hard pressed to say it’s a Mazda. It could be anything from a Subaru to a BMW – everyone seems to have jumped on the ready-for-the-outdoors design bandwagon. Maybe it’s more obvious to Mazda owners – we had one CX-5 owner pull us over and asked a lot of questions about the CX-50. It resonates with the times.
Upscale Cabin for the Woods
Inside will feel very familiar to those who are Mazda savvy. We’re good with that, since in the last few years, the maker has made some of the most beautiful, well-designed interiors you can find. It’s Audi-level of goodness without the Audi level of expense!
Our tester was the Turbo Premium Plus, so you’re greeted by leather-trimmed seats with tasteful contrasting stitching. The front seats are well padded, heated and ventilated for 4-season comfort. A thick leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob feel good to the hands.
It’s interesting, too that the CX-50’s seating position is a smidge lower than the CX-5. You notice it most getting in – it feels a little less of a step up. But once you’re in, you get the excellent visibility we’ve all gotten spoiled by in crossovers. The CX-50 also has a bit less headroom, but we didn’t really notice it.
The rear seats are spacious and comfortable, and we really like the amount of cargo space, even with the rear seats up. Drop them – made easy with a handy lever in the cargo area – and you’re ready for the trip to the home improvement store or Best Buy.
No need for a new big screen for us – the CX-50 is plenty entertaining. We’re big fans of Mazda’s large gauges, and the CX-50 continues with a large analog 8,000 rpm tach and coolant and fuel gauges, while the center 160 mph speedometer is actually a 7-inch LCD that looks analog. The display does other nice stuff, like displaying speed limit signs, stops, fuel range and more, all in an easy to see package. Our tester also had a nice heads-up display that comes in handy.
Info-tainment comes via a beautiful 10.3-inch widescreen nestled in the top of the dash. Access is easy through the easy to use click-wheel on the center console, and we are thankful that Mazda still includes a volume knob! The 12-speaker Bose audio system fills the cabin with quality sound, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both wireless, made all the better by wireless charging that is exclusive to the Turbo Premium Plus.
Yeah, it looks great, and the interior’s a treat, but we’re always most excited about getting behind the wheel of Mazda products. And we were pleasantly surprised that the CX-50 steps up the game a bit.
While lower-level models feature a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder that makes a reasonable 187 horsepower, we can’t resist the turbo version that bumps it up to a glorious 256 horsepower and 320 lb.-ft of torque. Mmmm turbo…. We’ve liked the turbo application in everything we’ve driven from the Mazda 3 on up.
In all of those, we’ve noted that Mazda seems more interested in tuning for smoothness and refinement rather than all-out sportiness. Maybe they heard us, because in the CX-50 there is a notable new-found sportiness, especially in Sport Mode.
Combined with a quick-shifting 6-speed automatic and all-wheel-drive – both standard – the CX-50 channels its inner Miata and takes off with authority and a nice little rasp to the exhaust. Shifting via lever or steering wheel paddles add even more fun. We’d guess 0-60 mph in a little over 6 seconds. That’s quick – and it feels even quicker! All that fun, plus you still get an EPA highway estimate of 29 mpg which is really appreciated with our high fuel costs.
We always love the chassis setup on Mazda product, and the CX-50 again wins kudos, the steering is nicely weighted and feelsome, that tad-lower height makes it want to corner even more than the CX-5 – no slouch, either – and the AWD gives lots of grip. It’s fun to toss around.
Since Mazda is positioning this as an adventure vehicle, the suspension is set up with good travel for handling light off-road conditions, and the bonus of that is an excellent ride quality that’s smooth and comfortable. Win-win!
How Much for Mazda’s Latest?
Mazda always likes to give you a nice spread to choose from. You can get a CX-50 2.5 S for just $26,800, for a spacious, stylish crossover that’s fun to drive, and includes wireless Apple CarPlay and Mazda Radar Cruise Control w/ Stop & Go, plus AWD, a great value.
Our tester was the top of the line 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus, which starts at $41,550. Adding in Zircon Sand Metallic paint ($395) and destination, and we rang the bell at $43,170.
We’d certainly consider the Toyota RAV4 which comes in very close at $42,095. As a driver’s machine, we’d go for the Mazda. And if you love the Mazda brand, a comparable CX-5 is notably less expensive at $40,820 – so you are paying a premium for the added style of the CX-50.
Great looks, classy interior and thrilling to drive, the 2023 Mazda CX-50 is tops in its class!
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.