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Driven: 2023 Mazda CX-50 Is the New Mazda in the Middle

The 2023 Mazda CX-50 is true to the brand’s philosophy of offering a premium look and spirited handling that’s a cut above the competition. The CX-50 is also significant on two counts, it’s built in the U.S. at a new joint-venture plant with Toyota in Alabama and is part of a realignment in the company’s SUV lineup.
2023 Mazda CX-50 45 photos
Photo: Matt DeLorenzo
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Larger than the CX-5, the CX-50 is positioned between that model and the three-row CX-9, in a space formerly occupied by the short-lived CX-7. This compact two-row, five-passenger SUV also takes a page from the same playbook that has seen the CX-30 supplant the smaller CX-3. It wouldn’t surprise us that once the CX-50 is firmly established that the CX-5 slowly fades away.

All CX-50 trims come with all-wheel-drive and a choice of either a normally aspirated or turbocharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engines. The non-turbo makes 187 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque, while the turbo is rated at 227 horses and 310 lb-ft of torque. Fueling that engine with 95 octane bumps the output to 256 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque.

Given that all-wheel-drive is standard, the CX-50’s fuel economy is respectable with non-turbo models earning EPA ratings of 24 mpg city/30 highway for a combined 27 mpg. Turbo models get 23 mpg city/29 highway for a combined 25 mpg.

2023 Mazda CX\-50
Photo: Mazda
Buyers have a long list of trims to select from. The non-turbo S models come in base, Select, Preferred, Preferred Plus, Premium and Premium Plus. Turbo models include the standard T, Premium and Premium Plus Packages.

The CX-50 has a handsome exterior design with the familiar shield-shaped grille, flowing yet athletic lines and just the right amount of bright work and LED lighting elements to give it an upscale look. Our test, vehicle, a top-of-the-line 2.5 Turbo in Premium Plus sported 20-inch wheels that nicely filled the wheel arches. A rear roof spoiler, black roof rails and body cladding along with large dual exhaust tips give the CX-50 a purposeful look.

While the lower trims come with leatherette seating, all turbo models come with leather upholstery, soft-touch covered dash and door panels with stitching, and black metal trim inserts. There’s also a wide range of creature comforts that include heated/ventilated seats, a power glass sliding moonroof, and a 10.25-inch color center display. It’s not a touchscreen, however. Mounted high on the center dash for good visibility, this infotainment and navigation screen is accessed through a center rotary control that’s intuitive and easy to master.

2023 Mazda CX\-50
Photo: Mazda
Like all Mazda models, particular attention has been paid to driving dynamics. The CX-50, thanks to its stout turbo power, steps quickly off the line. The turbo spools up smartly and there’s ample power on tap for mid-range passing. Perhaps the only shortcoming here is that the transmission has only six gears in a market that sees some comparable vehicles upping both performance and fuel economy by employing eight cogs. At least Mazda has avoided the siren song of cheaper continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) that are less than responsive.

Even though there are only six gears, the paddle shifters allow for quick and seamless shifts if you decide to select the ratios on your own. The steering is precise and nicely weighted with good feedback. You’re never left guessing your line because the steering feedback and effort are too light.

In addition to the standard all-wheel-drive, the Mazda CX-50 employs G-Vectoring Control Plus that sends engine torque to the wheels with the most grip. This helps give the CX-50 its lively cornering capabilities.
Beyond the handling and upscale looks inside and out, the body structure on the CX-50 is solid, with great cabin isolation from outside noise. While the CX-50 shares the same assembly plant as the new Toyota Corolla Cross SUV, the Mazda comes across as a much more substantial offering.

2023 Mazda CX\-50
Photo: Matt DeLorenzo
Since it’s slightly larger than the CX-5, you’ll find the cabin more accommodating for five. There’s good rear seat legroom and the wider body adds to the spacious feel front and rear. The rear cargo area behind the back seat offers 31.4 cubic feet of storage, a space that expands to 56.3 cubic feet when the rear bench seat is folded down.

Pricing on the 2023 Mazda CX-50 starts at $26,800 for base models with features like leatherette and 17-inch wheels. The non-turbo range tops out at $36,400, which is also the base price of the least expensive Turbo model. The Turbo Premium Plus starts at $41,550. The only option on our test vehicle was the Zircon Sand paint scheme which added $395. You can go as high as $595 on optional paint with colors like Mazda’s signature Soul Red Crystal Mica or the Machine Gray Metallic.

The CX-50 is a welcome addition to Mazda’s SUV lineup and sets the bar high as its readies its replacement of the CX-9 that currently sits atop the range.
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