The average automaker’s lineup is an alphanumeric soup of, well, letters and numbers. I know those of us in the industry have deciphered most of it, hopefully the consumer has had some success as well. Mazda added another number to the CX-5 for the 2023 model year to make the new CX-50. Mazda is positioning the CX-50 not as a replacement for the CX-5, but to augment the lineup. It’s a more “active lifestyle” type of crossover with black cladding and a higher ground clearance than the CX-5. Mazda just loaned us a top spec 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus for the week, let’s see how it matched up to my “active dad lifestyle”.
2023 Mazda CX-50 Overview
The CX-50 is billed as having “rugged capabilities” that are “fused with artful composition”. Mazda calls it an “instigator of curiosity” and shows a bearded man backing his CX-50 up to a lake to go kayaking in the rain. I could go on, it is also “remarkably intuitive” yet “decidedly responsive”. I can’t really give Mazda too much grief for these superlatives, all automakers do it, I was just trying to get a sense of what the CX-50 is since it is so close to the CX-5.
Mazda will sell you nine varieties of CX-50, the 2.5 S variants are powered by a…yep…2.5L four-cylinder engine putting out 187 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque. Prices start at just under $27,000 for the base model all the way up to $36,400 for the Premium Plus version.
If you need some more power, the 2.5 Turbo is decidedly more robust with 256 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque on 93 octane fuel or 227 horsepower and 310 lb-ft on 87 octane. It’s cool that you get an option, most automakers just force the high test stuff on you. Turbo models start where the naturally aspirated engine left off at $36,400 for the base Turbo and $41,550 for the top spec CX-50 Turbo Premium Plus like our tester. All CX-50 models come with standard i-ACTIV AWD and a six-speed automatic transmission.
Our tester was painted in a cool Zircon Sand Metallic ($395) with standard Terracotta leather, and well, that about covers it. The top trim Premium Plus is quite well equipped. Here, check it out.
The differences between the Premium and Premium Plus aren’t drastic. From what I can figure, the upgrades include:
- Frameless auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink
- Auto-dimming driver’s side mirror
- Heated rear seats with 3 level adjustment
- Wireless phone charger
- Mazda Navigation System
- Traffic Sign Recognition System
And that’s it, so if you’re shopping for a CX-50 take note of the extra kit on the Premium Plus and decide if the additional $2,000 is worth it for those items. All-in you’re looking at $43,170 for this particular CX-50. Not a ton of cash in the current crossover market, let’s see if it’s worth the MSRP.
2023 Mazda CX-50 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus Inside and Out
It’s brown! Sure, Mazda calls it Zircon Sand Metallic but that’s brown. And it’s glorious! Mazda offers seven colors including the de-rigueur Soul Red that looks good on any Mazda as well as your normal grey, silver, white, black as well as a nice blue. Like a lot of new cars, most paint colors will cost you around $400-$600 unless you want black or blue. I gotta say, I really like the brown, it’s basically a lifted brown wagon, so it’s a manual transmission away from being cool.
The proportions on the CX-50 are similar to the CX-5 but feature the usual wheel cladding that just screams “I’m an off-roader”. Thanks Subaru, this is all your fault. It’s all pretty well done though, the only wonky bit is the black cladding under the headlights that sticks out far enough to rest a soda on. Still, this should fare well in the showroom, it’s a good looking thing. So, let’s move on to the interior.
Inside, the CX-50 is not a carbon copy of the 2022 CX-5 or CX-30. As you can see from the quick graphic below, there are variations in screen shape, HVAC control and vent placement, etc. That may re-align for the 2023 CX-5 and CX-30, but it’s all still fairly similar.
The CX-50 has a fairly usable interior. The wheel is nicely shaped, the controls were all within reach and mercifully Mazda now has a touchscreen option instead of just using the stupid little wheel. The screen isn’t exactly close, but at least it’s an option to use your finger to navigate the menu. It’s a small thing, but I really liked the cord pass-through out of the center console. The iPhone X that I had at the time (like a week ago) always overheated on Qi wireless charging, so I just used the cord. More on that in a moment.
There were some issues, and it’s mostly with the infotainment system. Like a lot of systems, Mazda is continuing to remove physical buttons. I wasn’t able to figure out how to easily change the XM radio station when using CarPlay. Again, it’s a common issue across other systems but it drove me nuts. Gone is the “tune” button, so after multiple menu presses I was able to get to the channel list for SiriusXM. However, it defaults to channel 000 every time, so if you are on channel 93 looking to just change to 94, you have to scroll all the way through again. I was finally about to get it to work a bit better by saving favorites, but I still find the Mazda infotainment system clunky. I also had a few connectivity issues with corded CarPlay where it would say my phone was connected but it was not.
Also, the cup holder is really far away, strange in such a family friendly vehicle. A minor thing until you need to reach out for it repeatedly to get that morning caffeine bump.
The center console is fairly spacious for the size of the vehicle and opens partially, or all the way. Not sure why you need that specifically, but whatever.
If you are looking for more interior space vs. the CX-5, the CX-50 can carry a bit more junk in its trunk (sorry). It is 185.8 inches long vs. 180.1 inches for the 2022 CX-5. That translates to 31.4 cu. ft. of cargo space (up a bit from the 30.8 cu. ft. in the CX-5) while head, shoulder, and leg room are all comparable to the ’22 CX-5. Overall, the CX-50 would make a great daily driver with room for five, solid space for car seats, and generous room in the cargo area.
Out on the road, it’s a comfy cruiser. Mazda seems intent on having “Sport Mode” on every vehicle they sell (which everyone does, I know). However, the sport mode in the CX-50 just seems to bump up the revs, not very engaging or useful in most situations. Still, there is a good case for considering the CX-50. It’s got 8.6-inches of ground clearance (well above the 7.5-inches on the CX-5) so you can do some light off-roading with it. Not that you can’t in a regular CX-5, I’ve done it, but the CX-50’s promises of delivering the right experience for all those active-lifestyle types seems plausible.
The fact that it’s not much more expensive than the slightly smaller CX-5 and has some beefy looking add-ons, good power, and a comfortable interior makes it a pretty attractive option in the Mazda lineup. Also, compared to the other compact SUVs out there, it compares pretty well. That base price is the same or less than competitors like the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Bronco Sport, and Jeep Cherokee, and the CX-50 is the only one with standard AWD. Take a look at the Subaru Forester, which obviously has standard AWD, and you’ll find a cheaper price but you’ll get a less premium vehicle from an amenities standpoint, so factor that into your criteria.
For this not-really-that-active dad, I think I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the CX-50 for a nice daily driver.