The sport utility vehicle market is so strong, Mazda decided it needed two similar vehicles, the CX-5 and the debuting 2023 Mazda CX-50. The combination gives the unheralded manufacturer quality and quantity in likely the most competitive automotive segment beyond pickup trucks.
Key rivals, besides its CX-5 sibling, include the redesigned Honda CR-V, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester and Toyota RAV4. The Toyota RAV4 was the country’s 4th best-selling vehicle in 2021, the CR-V was fifth and the Rogue seventh. The CX-5 placed 18th.
With the CX-50, Mazda offers a more rugged alternative to the CX-5, first offered in 2012. The newbie’s exterior features a slimmer grille and more notable fenders. It’s more catered to off-road treks than its sibling. It has an increased towing capacity, 2,000 pounds with its base engine, 3,500 pounds in turbocharged trims.
The new Mazda also has a larger overall girth, 185.8 inches long, 72.9 inches wide and 63.9 inches tall. The Mazda CX-5 is 180.1 inches long, 72.6 inches wide and 65.4 inches tall.
Mazda has outdone itself with CX-50 choices. Marketed as a small SUV, it’s available in 10 trims: S, Select, Preferred, Preferred Plus, Premium, Premium Plus, Turbo, Turbo Meridian, Turbo Premium and Turbo Premium Plus.
The base engine is a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine with 187 horsepower and guided by a six-speed automatic transmission. The CX-50 turbocharged models feature 256 horsepower, and all offerings have an all-wheel drive.
Driving the new Mazda is comforting. It’s not the best in cornering, performance or comfort. But its key attributes are satisfying. It does everything well, if slightly a notch below the rivals’ top industry warranties. Acceleration is steady, turning astute, braking steady. Overall vision is satisfactory.
An eight-speaker stereo is standard but Premium and Premium Plus models come with a 12-speaker Bose stereo with SiriusXM satellite radio. Even among small SUVs, cargo space is a big deal. It’s one of the CX-50’s disappointments, with 31.4 cubic feet of space behind the second row and 56.3 cubic feet of space with the 60/40-split rear seats folded down. The better-selling brands have more room for larger items. Driver and passengers, however, have good legroom and headroom.
Mazda isn’t at the forefront of technology innovation, but the CX-50 has plenty of what’s important for safe driving and convenience. Apple CarPlay with wireless connectivity and Android Auto are included on all trims. Multiple USB-A ports, a wireless charging pad and a panoramic sunroof provide more reasons why the underdog Mazda is stalwart in its quest to increase sales.
The Mazda CX-50 utilizes a (10.3-inch) built-in navigation system, situated at the top of the central dash. Its placement gives the impression the screen should retract (It doesn’t.) Functionality is straightforward, with directions voiced clearly and maps and other direction indications clear. Voice commands are available to input addresses or select radio stations.
Safety features and driver aids include blind-spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control. All models offer a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, push-button start and a partially-digital gauge display. An eight-speaker stereo is standard but Premium and the reviewed Premium Plus models come with a 12-speaker Bose stereo with SiriusXM satellite radio.
Gas mileage economy is best achieved with the base level four-cylinder. It’s rated at 24 miles per gallon in city driving, 30 mpg on the highway. Turbocharged trims are rated at 23 and 29 mpg. Acceleration from 0 to 60 miles per hour is accomplished in 6.6 seconds.
Car buyers are often set in their ways, which isn’t a bad thing in the compact SUV market. The Honda CR-V, RAV4 and others are popular because they’re versatile, dependable, comfortable and safe.
The 2023 Mazda CX-50, at its top turbocharged trims status, is priced around $44,000. It’s good to have choices, and the new SUV offers another strong option.