2023 Mazda CX-50 Review

2023 Mazda CX-50 - Don't be confused, the CX-50 is a worthy compact crossover competitor.


Mazda has an all-new compact crossover ready for 2023. It's called the CX-50. Not to be confused with Mazda's CX-5 crossover, the CX-50 is an all-new 5-passenger, 4-door wagon that rides on a wheelbase that is 4.6 inches longer than the CX-5. It's also 1.4 inches lower, 3 inches wider and 5.7 inches wider than the CX-5. To confuse matters even more, the CX-50 shares engines with the CX-5 but a platform with the smaller CX-30. In marketing speak, Mazda says the CX-50 is designed to be more athletic and adventurous a than the CX-5. That means CX-50 competitors include the Ford Bronco Sport, Honda Passport, Subaru Forester.

Trim levels include the 2.5 S, 2.5 S Select, 2.5 S Preferred, 2.5 S Preferred Plus, 2.5 S Premium Plus, 2.5 Turbo, 2.5 Turbo Premium, and 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus. 2.5 S models are powered by a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 187 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque. 2.5 Turbo models get a turbocharged version of that engine that makes 256 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque. Both engines are paired with a 6-speed automatic and come standard with all-wheel drive. Maximum towing capacity with the base engine is 2,000 pounds; 3,500 pounds with the turbocharged engine.

Prices range from $28,000 to $42,000. Standard safety features on all include blind-spot monitor, driver attention alert, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert, and forward-collision warning with brake intervention. All models come with Sport and Off-Road modes, LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers, push button starting, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, and infotainment system with support for wireless Android Auto and Apple Car Play.

Mazda was smart in offering two engines in the CX-50. The base engine provides barely adequate performance given the CX-50's 3,800-pound curb weight. Matters only get worse when you add a couple of passengers or a load from Home Depot. It's likely to provide the best highway fuel economy, though. Stepping up to the Turbo brings snappy acceleration and solid passing punch. The engine does feel a bit sleepy off the line unless you select Sport driving mode. When floored, the turbo motor can propel the CX-50 from 0 to 60 MPH in a few ticks below 7 seconds.

Though the standard 6-speed automatic may be down a couple of gears to competitors, but it's certainly a smooth shifting transmission and has a tall enough final ratio that the CX-50's engines are positively loafing at highway speeds. Thankfully, it doesn't hunt between gears when rounding corners or cresting mild hills.

Coming standard with all-wheel drive helps differentiate the CX-50 from the similar-size CX-5. Though the system does not have a low range, the CX-50 proves quite capable on trails. It's no rock climber, though.

EPA estimates for the turbo motor are 23 MPG city, 29 MPG highway and 25 MPG combined. The normally aspirated mill eeeks out 1 MPG better in city and highway driving. Both engines will run fine on regular-grade gasoline, but Mazda recommends premium-grade fuel with the turbo for best performance.

With a sporty ride and crisp handling, the CX-50 carries on Mazda's recent trend toward dynamically capable vehicles. Ride quality definitely firms up when you opt for the Turbo, but even the non-turbos have quick and firm steering and minimal body lean. Brakes provide good stopping power and an easy-to-modulate pedal. Overall, the CX-50 provides a communicative and rewarding driving experience without an unduly harsh ride.

Still, the CX-50 does ride more firmly than competitors like the Toyota RAV4 or Honda CR-V. Even close competition like the Subaru Forester and Ford Bronco Sport provide better bump absorption.

Interior noise levels are impressively low. There's very little tire noise and wind noise is minimal at highway speeds. Both engines are vocal in hard acceleration, but exhaust noise is never a problem.

Inside the CX-50 is a model of elegance and simplicity. Materials are a step above what you would find in most competitors.

Driver's face a hybrid instrument cluster that's part analog and part digital. It's a good compromise, providing necessary information at-a-glance and still somewhat customizable. The Base CX-50 comes with a smallish 8.8-inch infotainment screen, but all others get a more respectable 10.3-inch screen. Both versions run Mazda Connect, which is controlled by a console-mounted jog dial. The system is very basic, but provides quick access to important vehicle functions. There are separate controls for the HVAC system and also an audio volume knob. Wireless Android Auto and Apple Car Play are standard, but only the Turbo Premium Plus gets a wireless charging pad.

The CX-50 offers reasonable room for four large adults. Legroom in both the front and back is generous, though the low roofline does complicate entry/exit. Seats are firm, but comfortable with ample support. Outward visibility is good forward, but somewhat restrictive to the rear because of thick rear pillars.

In terms of safety features, the CX-50 comes standard with most of the expected features. The adaptive cruise control works well in stop-and-go traffic and maintains a safe distance and lane corrects nicely. There's also a head-up display on higher trims. It's clear and properly illuminates and dims depending on ambient light conditions.

Compared to the Mazda CX-5, cargo room behind the back seats has increased to 31.4 cubic feet, but overall volume decreases by a few cubes to 56.3 cubic feet. Mazda claims the space is both wider and longer in the newer car, and thus more useful. Most competitors offer similar space, if not a bit more. Interior storage is minimalist. There's a small bin at the front of the center console, a modest covered bin and a smallish glove box. Map pockets are usefully sized and the wireless charger, though somewhat size limited is conveniently located and holds phones securely.

Bottom Line - If the CX-50 were to replace the CX-5, I think everyone would be more than happy, but since it hasn't quite yet, there's some confusion. Yes the CX-50 is a bit more capable off road, but it's every bit as sporty and fun to drive as the CX-5 and also plays the upmarket interior card just as well. Pricing is reasonable and reliability should be quite good. As Mazda transforms its lineup, the brand becomes more and more appealing to a wider range of shoppers. Mission accomplished.

Mark Bilek

Mark Bilek is the Senior Director of Communications and Technology for the Chicago Auto Trade Association and the General Manager for DriveChicago.com. He is also responsible for developing and maintaining the Chicago Auto Show Web site.

Mark has been reviewing vehicles for more than two decades. Previously, he was associate publisher at Consumer Guide, where he oversaw publication of Consumer Guide Car & Truck Test, Consumer Guide's Used Car Book, and ConsumerGuide.com. He was also responsible for publication of "Collectible Automobile" and various hardcover automotive titles. In 2001 and 2002 he served as president of a Midwest Automotive Media Association. Mark has appeared on NBC TV, ABC TV, Fox News, WGN and MotorTrend TV as an automotive consultant. He hosts the Drive Chicago radio show on WLS 890 AM and was a regular guest on WGN Radio's Steve & Johnnie show. Mark lives in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three sons.