2023 Mazda CX-50

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2023 Mazda CX-50 Test Drive Review: Take A Walk On The Wild Side

The Mazda CX-5 is our reference compact crossover for style, quality, and sophistication at family car pricing. Now, the Japanese brand has added a new quality to its format with the adventure-seeking Mazda CX-50. The CX-50 inserts ruggedness into the equation by adding off-road chops to a standard all-wheel-drive system and a longer wheelbase for enhanced practicality. The new CX-50 is available with two of Mazda's proven Skyactiv-G engines - a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder unit making 187 horsepower or a more powerful turbocharged version making 256 hp in ideal conditions. In both instances, power is sent to a clever all-wheel-drive system via a six-speed automatic transmission.

Mazda is making a bold move by adding a new line to its deliberately well-pruned model lineup. It looks like a smart one. It's a market generally ruled by Subaru, and the CX-50 is clearly set to go up against the Outback, but TRD trims from the Toyota RAV4 lineup are also in its sights. Mazda has its own philosophy for building an adventure vehicle, so we took ourselves up to Santa Barbara to give the new CX-50 in Turbo Premium Plus guise a workout on some of Northern California's roads and dirt tracks.

Read in this review:

  • Exterior Design 9 /10
  • Performance 9 /10
  • Fuel Economy 7 /10
  • Interior & Cargo 9 /10
  • Infotainment & Features 8 /10
  • Reliability 8 /10
  • Safety 10 /10
  • Value For Money 10 /10
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2023 Mazda CX-50 Changes: What’s The Difference vs The 2022 CX-50?

The 2023 Mazda CX-50 is an all-new arrival, introducing a Mazda SUV for outdoor enthusiasts. 10 trims will be available (although the Turbo Meridian special edition will be a late release) along with two powertrains. The CX-50 comes with a 2.5-liter engine that is either naturally aspirated or turbocharged. In the case of the latter, and provided it's running on premium gas, the CX-50 delivers 256 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque. Every model in the lineup comes with a standard all-wheel-drive system plus an off-road driving mode. Mazda's signature Kodo design language works well on the CX-50, and for the first time on any Mazda, a panoramic moonroof will be available.

Pros and Cons

  • Rugged yet classy styling
  • More capable than CX-5
  • Strong turbocharged engine
  • Upscale interior
  • Appealing starting price
  • Decent towing capacity
  • Effective driving modes
  • Turbo models priced much higher
  • Still not intended for hardcore off-roading
  • Smaller trunk than Honda and Toyota rivals

Best Deals on 2023 Mazda CX-50

2023 Mazda CX-50 Trims

See trim levels and configurations:

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
2.5 S
2.5L Inline-4 Gas
6-Speed Automatic
All-Wheel Drive
2.5 S Select
2.5L Inline-4 Gas
6-Speed Automatic
All-Wheel Drive
2.5 S Preferred
2.5L Inline-4 Gas
6-Speed Automatic
All-Wheel Drive
2.5 S Preferred Plus
2.5L Inline-4 Gas
6-Speed Automatic
All-Wheel Drive
2.5 S Premium
2.5L Inline-4 Gas
6-Speed Automatic
All-Wheel Drive
See All 2023 Mazda CX-50 Trims and Specs

Handling and Driving Impressions

Mazda has taken a very definite approach to the CX-50's dynamics. According to the automaker, the car should perform the same whether you're cruising on backroads, working through a tight dirt track, or towing a heavily-laden trailer. Hence, the CX-50 has four drive modes. There's Normal, Sport, Off-Road, and if you connect a hitch, Towing mode appears. Starting in Normal mode, as Mazda understands the vast majority of its journeys will be on tarmac, the CX-50 drives like the CX-5. The ride is firm but smooth, it's quick when called upon, and everything from the throttle control and braking is precise and responsive without having any sharp edges. That sounds like faint praise until you've driven a modern Mazda and realize what a brilliant achievement that is. The same translates into the dynamics, which are fun while remaining predictable. The Mazda CX-50's size also isn't so large that it feels unwieldy. One of the neat tricks Mazda's all-wheel-drive system pulls off is managing weight transfer electronically while still feeling natural. The CX-50 might be adjusting torque to shift a little of its weight balance to the front wheels when it knows you're going to corner, but you won't feel it, and if you're pushing the car, you still need to be able to drive.

Sport mode isn't a violent change in the CX-50's attitude, but the gears hold for longer under acceleration and downshift earlier when decelerating. On-center steering becomes more responsive, and the CX-50 becomes eager to tackle a twisting road. As advertised, the Off-Road mode doesn't make itself apparent until turning into a corner on a dusty track, and it just turns. Put it back in Normal mode and take the same corners at the same speed, and you're suddenly making the corrections you were expecting. It's not a miracle worker, but it brings a genuine consistency to cruising a dirt road. On steep inclines, the AWD system shifts torque around to where the weight has shifted to and keeps the grip consistent.

Towing mode is a new one for Mazda, and again, the keyword here is consistency. The AWD starts paying attention to the fact that heavy load on the back lightens the load on the front wheels and adjusts accordingly while on the move. The result is that you find a 3,000-pound trailer doesn't need the usual constant small inputs into steering to keep the vehicle in a straight line. Simply turning off Towing mode with a trailer hitched up quickly confirmed this.

Verdict: Is the 2023 Mazda CX-50 A Good SUV?

Mazda keeps its model range tight, which allows the automaker to spend time on its cars to get everything right. The CX-50 expands the lineup, but Mazda has, again, got things right. It's a beautifully measured car that weaves style, comfort, fun, assured driving dynamics, and a sense of adventure into a family-friendly package. The automatic comparison is to the Subaru Outback, a vehicle that has a solid reputation for rugged reliability. Mazda's CX-50 won't gain that reputation quickly, but we know Mazda has the chops to compete and brings a clever and consistent approach to its all-wheel-drive system. The CX-50 is a brilliant package that won't disappoint, whether you use it for urban adventures or slightly rockier roads.

2023 Mazda CX-50 Comparisons

Toyota RAV4
Mazda CX-5 Mazda

2023 Mazda CX-50 vs Toyota RAV4

For years now, Toyota has had no trouble selling thousands of RAV4s in the USA each month. The most capable RAV4 is the TRD Off-Road but it starts at a rather expensive $36,465, but a base FWD RAV4 is just over $26,000. The TRD's 2.5-liter engine makes 203 hp, making it more powerful than the base CX-50 but less powerful than the CX-50 2.5 Turbo. Each SUV is similarly capable off-road, both with 8.6 inches of ground clearance and with comparable approach/departure angles. Likewise, they can each tow up to 3,500 lbs. But whereas the Toyota's reliability is legendary and it has a bigger trunk, the Mazda wins you over with its classy styling, both inside and out. Right now, Mazda has no alternative to the hybrid and plug-in hybrid RAV4s that are far more efficient, though. At around the $36,000 mark, the Mazda CX-50 2.5 Turbo is our choice.

See Toyota RAV4 Review

2023 Mazda CX-50 vs Mazda CX-5

Starting at $25,900, the CX-5 is a little cheaper than the newer CX-50. With less ground clearance and no real off-road aspirations, the CX-5 remains a fine choice for many buyers who want the practicality of an SUV but won't ever drive across harsher terrain. The two vehicles offer similar packaging and the same engines, so performance is comparable. However, the turbocharged CX-50 can tow up to 3,500 lbs, 1,500 lbs more than the turbocharged CX-5. Despite its greater capability, it's the CX-50 that's marginally more efficient, managing 1 mpg more across the combined cycles for both engine choices. At $38,650, the range-topping CX-5 is close to $3,000 cheaper than the equivalent CX-50. If you will never go off-road and don't have any serious towing needs, the CX-5 will do just fine. But the CX-50's spread of talents is wider.

See Mazda CX-5 Review

2023 Mazda CX-50 Popular Comparisons

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