2023 Mazda CX-50 Review

2023 Mazda CX-50 - Mazda harvests the power of zero


The all-new Mazda CX-50 five-door compact crossover debuts in the 2023 model year with several familiar family imprints including road-hugging handling and a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine available in a naturally-aspirated or a recommended turbo edition.

The nimble Japanese company already was home to three popular, gas-powered five-door crossovers; the subcompact CX-30, compact CX-5 (not to be confused with the new add-a-zero CX-50) and mid-size three-row CX-9. All include pricing within the bounds of the working class.

Along with a growing number of crossover selections, Mazda continues showcasing its iconic, fun-in-the-sun Miata MX-5 two-seat convertible.  Pickup trucks and heavy body-on-frame sport utilities have never factored into Mazda’s ‘zoom-zoom’ DNA. At the end of the 2021 model year, Mazda sadly phased out its sole remaining four-door sedan, the well-regarded Mazda6.

Since the 2022 model year, all Mazda crossovers come standard with advanced all-wheel drive marketed as i-ACTIV. It’s not full-time all-wheel drive (powering all four wheels whenever the engine hums) but ‘active,’ all-wheel drive, sending power to front tires during normal situations and summoning the rear tires to join when sensing slippage.  While traditional ‘active’ all-wheel drive conserves fuel, it’s been prone to hesitation prior to activation.

Mazda’s i-ACTIV design addresses this issue by collecting data not only from wheel speed and engine dynamics, but 27 other variables up to 200 times per second.  These variables include G-forces, outside temperature, braking activity and even windshield wiper speeds helping create a seamless, instant shift from front wheel to all-wheel activity.  

One wonders how the arrival of the five-passenger CX-50 will impact its CX-5 compact counterpart, already ranking as the company’s most popular U.S. offering.  Interestingly, Mazda retired the CX-3 subcompact from its lineup at the end of the 2021 calendar year two years after the newer platformed CX-30’s 2020 arrival.  Mazda indicates CX-5 is here to stay and it’s hard to argue with such stellar sales.  Think of the CX-50 as a companion, not a rival to CX-5.

In the 2021 model year 146,421 CX-5 units sold, a 16 percent increase over 2020’s results in a Pandemic-filled time frame, more than doubling its closest family competitor. The second-generation version of the CX-5 arrived in 2017 with a mid-cycle refresh in the 2021 model year.

Size wise, the all-new CX-50’s wheelbase (distance between front and rear axles) measures a substantial four inches longer than CX-5 and boasts almost six more inches of length. The 2023 CX-50 builds upon a stretched version of the spry CX-30 subcompact platform.

The CX-50 is assembled at a brand-spanking new production facility located in Huntsville, Alabama, which Mazda co-shares with Toyota.  Operational since 2021, the plant also assembles Toyota’s Corolla Cross.

Expect a gas-electric hybrid CX-50 version to join the Mazda lineup during the next couple of years, a platform most likely co-produced from existing Toyota technology; not a bad partner since Toyota sold more gas-electric hybrids than any other manufacturer during the past two decades.  

Mazda calls forth its 2.5-liter, naturally aspirated 187 horsepower, four-cylinder engine to serve as its base engine in all of CX-50’s many trim levels (Base, Select, Preferred, Preferred Plus, Premium and Premium Plus). A 2.5-liter turbocharged version of this 2.5-liter four raises stakes to 227 horses (opt for premium 93 octane fuel and receive 256 horses).  

The turbo version comes in Base, Premium, Premium Plus and Meridian trim. The 2.5-liter engine, familiar to Mazda shoppers, already powers several others including the slightly smaller CX-5. The engine mate with a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission.

Fuel economy rates acceptable at 24 miles per gallon city and 30 mpg highway. Subtract one mile in each category if selecting the turbo edition. Both CX-5 and CX-50 offer numerous trim levels with standard content increasing as one steps up the trim level latter, few add-on option packages are offered simplifying the purchase process.

All trims include Mazda’s well-regarded G-Vectoring Control Plus, delivering a constant steering feel while keeping passengers planted during spirited turns and lane changes. As driver’s steer out of a corner, GVC Plus applies a light brake force through reduced engine torquing to outer wheels motivating the vehicle back into to a straight-line motion. The GVC Plus also limits slippage during inclement weather.  

The new CX-50 adds a new off-road driving mode joining Normal and Sport choices, part of a new Mazda Intelligent Drive Select (Mi-Drive in Mazda speak) standard only with the turbo engine. Selection of the drive modes takes place via a tab adjacent to the vertically arranged mechanical automatic transmission shifter. Mazda dips its toe into the off-road mud with this all-new Mi-Drive, a direction Mazda has not pursued aggressively in past years. A higher ground clearance of 8.6 inches also aids off-the-beaten trail travel.

The CX-50s structure will never replace a body-on-frame design and four-wheel low used in sport utility vehicles designed for deep off-roading, but gravel roads and muddied state park trails may now be explored with confidence not available in past Mazdas.

Pricing starts at $26,800 for a base, naturally-aspirated four. Our Turbo Premium Plus tester started at $41,550 and with a $1,275 destination charge ended at $42,875. By comparison, the returning 2022 CX-5 with same engine starts close by at $25,900.

A few exterior cues differ from Mazda crossovers past including squared wheel wells in place of the circular variety and a lower roof line.  An available panoramic moon roof is now available, a first for any Mazda. Dual exhaust tips adorn the lower back end with turbo models goosing up in size. All trims nicely include power-operated rear hatchbacks with programable height adjustments.

Rear doors swing open an impressive 90 degrees, allowing for easy leg entry.  Two adults or three pre-teens fit in optimal comfort.  Three adults could squeeze in for very short jaunts in this compact. Seatbacks fold down in a 60/40 format allowing access to the cargo region growing the cargo volume to 56.3 cubic feet, average-at-best for a compact crossover.

As with its family members, it’s a pleasure to drive, without much in the way of a high-tech overload once settled in the driver’s seat.

The highly analog-style instrument panel includes familiar, easy-to interpret guidelines including three circular gauges.  The center speedometer orb serves as the animated choice with digital flair while a fully analog tachometer gauge resides to the left and on the right, a temperature-gauge shares space with a large fuel gauge also with analog needles providing optics. Steering wheel face buttons summon different digital windowpanes inside the center circle.  Cruise control and secondary radio functions also adorn the three-spoke steering wheel face.

A flat rectangular multi-function screen sits atop the central dash within a scooped-out pit just within the driver’s stretched reach.  It’s touch sensitive, but potentially out of reach for the short of wing spanned. The base, naturally aspirated engine version receives an 8.8-inch screen while all others enjoy a 10.25-inch full-color size.  Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration come standard with CarPlay adding wireless charging.

To eliminate over-stretching, the screen works in conjunction with the Mazda Connect infotainment system complex complete with large circular commander control dial between the front buckets and smaller companion stalk monitoring volume and on/off functions.  Voice command is also available.  The larger dial guides an in-screen icon with a twist and confirmation with a press down.  Found myself more in tune with secondary steering wheel buttons to maneuver through the system.  

Simplistic HVAC operation takes place from a lower central dash horizontal port composed of dual zone temperature dials flanking a long display window with buttons below monitoring front/rear defrosters, fan direction and fan speed. The push-button electric starts situates just to the left.

2023 Mazda CX-50 turbo
Price as tested: $42,875
Engine:  2.5-liter four-cylinder turbo
Horsepower:  256
Wheelbase: 110.8 inches
Overall Length: 185.8 inches
Overall Width:   72.9 inches
Overall Height:  63.9 inches
Fuel Economy:   23 mpg city, 29 mpg highway
Powertrain warranty: Five years/60,000 miles
Assembly:  Huntsville, Alabama

Dave Boe

Dave Boe, a lifetime Chicago area resident, worked at the Daily Herald, Illinois' third-largest daily newspaper, for 24 years. In 1989, the Daily Herald began a weekly Saturday Auto Section and he was shortly appointed editor. The product quickly grew into one of the largest weekend sections in the paper thanks to his locally-written auto reviews, the introduction of a local automotive question-and-answer column, a new colorful format and news happenings from Chicago area new-car dealerships.

Five years later, a second weekly auto section debuted on Mondays with Boe adding an industry insight column and introducing a "Love Affair with Your Car" column where readers sent in their own automotive memories for publication. During the next 10 years, the number of weekly auto sections Boe edited and coordinated grew to five and featured expanded NASCAR racing coverage, a dealer spotlight/profile feature and a Car Club Calendar where grass-roots automobile clubs could publish upcoming events for free. Boe also introduced more local automotive columnists into the pages of the sections, all of whom were seasoned members of the well respected Midwest Automotive Media Association. In 1997, Boe earned the Employee of the Year award from the Daily Herald.

Boe is a founding member and current president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association. He has degrees in Journalism and Business Administration from Northern Illinois University.