Wednesday, May 18, 2022
Reviews 2023 Mazda CX-50 First Drive Review: Almost a luxury SUV

2023 Mazda CX-50 First Drive Review: Almost a luxury SUV

2023 Mazda CX-50 Pros

  • Nice design

  • A ton of power and towing capability (2.5-litre turbo)

  • Exceptional value and features list

  • Solid off-road performance

2023 Mazda CX-50 Cons

  • Cramped rear seating

  • Not as versatile as other compact SUVs

  • Annoying driver assistance features


The all-new 2023 Mazda CX-50 is taking a page out straight out of the German luxury automaker’s SUV recipe book, modifying a traditional sport utility vehicle to make it look sportier and sleeker, and hoping to attract a new crowd without cannibalizing sales of the original model. The Mazda CX-50 is to the Mazda CX-5 what the BMW X4 is to the X3, or what the GLC Coupe is to the GLC… sort of.

2023 Mazda CX-50 exterior side
2023 Mazda CX-50 exterior

Sort of because the CX-50, although heavily influenced by the Mazda CX-5, is also quite different in styling, model lineup, and features. It also can venture off the beaten path in a way the CX-5 isn’t made to do. It’s about the size of the CX-5, although it’s longer, wider, and lower. It has a distinct look to it, and as with many other Mazda models it manages to evoke some emotion with its design unlike, say, a Toyota or a Honda.

Mazda designers took the CX-5 and molded it into a sportier, better-looking SUV. They then turned to the Mazda CX-9 to craft the CX-50’s features list and capability, giving the new Mazda SUV impressive towing muscle and a long list of standard and available equipment. Lastly, it gave it an off-road mode and an available Meridian package with things like all-terrain tires, a hood stripe and a roof platform.

2023 Mazda CX-50 off-road
2023 Mazda CX-50 off-road

The result is a distinct SUV that should achieve its mission of bringing a new buyer into Mazda showrooms, a buyer that didn’t match with either the CX-5 or the CX-9. Mazda hopes the new CX-50 will even attract traditional luxury SUV buyers who decide to stop by in between visits to the nearby Lexus or Audi dealership.

Exceptional value

The 2023 Mazda CX-50 comes in three trims here in Canada, GS-L, GT, and GT Turbo. Like in every Mazda, standard features are plentiful, but the CX-50 pushes the envelope a step further. The base GS-L trim comes with a 10.25-inch centre display with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Mazda Connected services, heated seats and heated steering wheel, and even a panoramic sunroof which is a feature you won’t find standard anywhere else in the segment.

2023 Mazda CX-50 interior
2023 Mazda CX-50 interior

Every 2023 Mazda CX-50 also come with all-wheel drive and a full suite of active safety technologies such as adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist. Blind spot monitoring is also standard. These two last features were more intrusive that I would have like, annoyingly sounding their respective warnings too often, but they can be deactivated if needed.

The list of features in the GT trim is just as impressive. With a starting price of $42,850 in Canada, the GT gives you ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, 20-inch wheels, leather seats, wireless phone charging, front and rear parking sensors with 360-degree camera, a BOSE sound system and LED lighting front and rear. The equipment list reads like a luxury SUV, but the price is nowhere near what you pay for these features in, say, a Lexus NX.

2023 Mazda CX-50 interior side
2023 Mazda CX-50 interior side

In the U.S., the 2023 CX-50 trim lineup breaks down differently. Compared to the Canadian market it’s actually quite complicated, with nine trims in total ranging from $26,800 to $41,550. That said, when you compare what you are paying versus what you are getting in each trim, the CX-50 still gives you more for less.

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As mentioned previously, Mazda hopes to attract a certain number of luxury SUV buyers with the CX-50, and they certainly did their homework when it comes to offering the features this type of buyer is looking for, but for a lot less money.

2023 Mazda CX-50 blue
2023 Mazda CX-50 blue

Performance worthy of a luxury SUV

My CX-50 tester was a GT Turbo trim, meaning it had all of the goodies listed above along with a 2.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that delivers 256 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque. This engine is available in most Mazda models including the CX-5 and even the Mazda3, and it is standard on the CX-9. These healthy power numbers are unleashed when using premium fuel, but you can also use regular 87 octane gas and you will still have over 300 pound-feet of torque under your right foot.

2023 Mazda CX-50 Meridian package
2023 Mazda CX-50 Meridian package

The performance is nothing short of impressive. The CX-50 reacts confidently in any situation, and whether you are accelerating a green light or passing on the highway, the new Mazda SUV pushes forward with the same energy as a premium SUV. Mazda didn’t provide any entry-level CX-50 models with the naturally aspirated 2.5-litre four-cylinder (187 horsepower), but at $45,350 this turbocharged engine is impossible to say no to.

I averaged just under 9.0 litres per 100 kilometres (26 mpg) on my roughly 4-hour journey, and a long stretch of highway gave me a fuel consumption rating of under 8.0 litres per 100 kilometres (29 mpg). Towing with this engine proved conclusive as well, as the CX-50 managed to haul a 3,200-pound camper up and down a hill and around corners with surprising ease. I wouldn’t recommend towing near the 3,500-pound limit regularly, but the CX-50 can do it and does it well.

2023 Mazda CX-50 interior
2023 Mazda CX-50 interior

Handling is sharp around tight corners, and the CX-50 puts the driver at ease like a luxury SUV. There’s a feeling of complete control behind the wheel with predictable, quick responses from the both the throttle and the steering.

The comfort is good for a mainstream compact SUV but won’t match up directly with some of the high-end models Mazda seems to be targeting, however. It’s not as quiet as a Lexus NX, for example, nor are the seats as plush. The comparison is much kinder to the CX-50 when looking at a Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 or Nissan Rogue. The CX-50 feels like it’s a step above those three in overall refinement.

2023 Mazda CX-50 towing
2023 Mazda CX-50 towing

Mazda gave us plenty of winding, wet dirt roads often covered in loose gravel where we put the CX-50’s off-road driving mode to the test. The results were impressive, specifically the precision of the steering that did a great job a communicating what was happening with the wheels.

The CX-50’s quick steering also made it easy to make corrections while the i-ACTIV all-wheel drive system’s reactions to wheel slip were almost immediate. The CX-50 isn’t necessarily meant to go and climb rocky mountain terrain at impossible angles, but what it does do very well is provide a strong feeling of stability and balance on traditional dirt and gravel roads.

2023 Mazda CX-50 off-road
2023 Mazda CX-50 off-road

Space could be a problem for some

The 2023 Mazda CX-50 performs better than its direct competitors, it is quicker (at least with the turbo engine), and it handles better. It’s a lot more fun to drive too. Where it comes up short is in the versatility department.

Mazda says the cargo area was designed kind of like a station wagon’s, which means it is long and wide, but not necessarily high. There isn’t as much space in the back as a CR-V, RAV4 or just about any other compact SUV. The CX-50 still offers a welcoming cargo area, but potential buyers will need to measure it against their needs and see if they can live with what the Mazda offers. The rear seats are also tight as far as compact SUVs go, but again it boils down to what you need as far as interior space.

2023 Mazda CX-50 rear seat
2023 Mazda CX-50 rear seat

Aside from the space and the annoying driver assistance technologies, however, there is very little fault to be found in the 2023 Mazda CX-50. It isn’t quite a luxury SUV, but it performs like one with the turbo engine and it is equipped like one. It sits in the middle between mainstream SUVs and premium models, but for the pragmatic buyer looking to get more for less, there isn’t a better option on the market.

2023 Mazda CX-50 cargo area
2023 Mazda CX-50 cargo area

2023 Mazda CX-50 exterior side
2023 Mazda CX-50 exterior

 

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Charles Jolicoeur
Charles Jolicoeur was studying to be a CPA when he decided to drop everything and launch a car website in 2012. Don't ask. The journey has been an interesting one, but today he has co-founded and manages 8 websites including EcoloAuto.com and MotorIllustrated.com as General Manager of NetMedia360. He also sits on the board of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada. Send me an email

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