Mazda CX-50 — A noteworthy new compact crossover

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biderman

(July 3, 2022) Mazda offers choices. Good choices, because Mazda builds excellent SUV crossovers. This gives customers the option of better fitting their needs and pocketbook when shopping Mazda. For instance, in 2020 Mazda introduced the subcompact CX-30 in direct competition to the popular CX-3. Now there's yet another choice for the Mazda faithful or for prospective Mazda buyers — the new compact CX-50 or the similarly sized highly rated CX-5.

Mazda dropped the CX-3 from the lineup following the 2021 model year as the CX-30 sales soared, so could the same fate await the CX-5? We think not. The CX-5 — which has been one of Mazda's best sellers in North America for several years — and the CX-50 will live together quite nicely for some time to come, each offering something a bit different although their size is nearly identical and the two vehicles share the same drivetrains.

The CX-50 enters showrooms this summer as a 2023 model, the first vehicle to come off the new Huntsville, Ala., assembly line at a new manufacturing plant shared with Toyota. Built on a new platform, the CX-50 is aimed at such heavyweights as the Hyundai Tucson, Nissan Rogue and Toyota RAV4. It portrays a more rugged persona than the CX-5, a trait that has suddenly become popular inside the industry.

Mazda says the CX-5 is built to offer more for the urban lifestyle, whereas the CX-50 is meant to attract weekend explorers who hanker to occasionally get off the beaten path.

The current CX-5 was introduced in 2017 and has received incremental improvements over the years. Where the CX-5 separates itself from the competition is in its outstanding handling traits. Hit a winding stretch of road and you will discover all is right with the world when behind the wheel of the CX-5. It's a handling champ.

Ignore the "weekend explorer" angle and look beyond and you will find the 2023 CX-50 has a very pleasant on-road demeanor and acquits itself quite nicely going hard and fast in the turns and bends of a rural paved road — in fact we think it's the equal to the CX-5. It features a modern upscale design, a boatload of technology, and the same Mazda refinement found in its other products — including the CX-5. It really separates itself from the CX-5 with a more imposing off road persona.

There are some measurable differences between the two siblings. The CX-50's body is 1.4 inches lower, 3-inches wider and 5.7-inches longer (185.8 inches compared to CX-5's 179.1 inches) that includes a 4.6-inch longer wheelbase. It has a more athletic stance with wider haunches. Cargo space behind the seats is nearly identical with the CX-50 rated at 31.4 cubic feet and the CX-5 at 30.9 cubic feet. Perhaps the biggest difference is something that can't be measured, but perceived with the eyes — the CX-5 despite yearly upgrades still wears a 2017 design, the CX-50 looks far more modern.

Another difference — although relatively small — is price. The CX-50 in base trim begins at $28,025 topping out at $42,775. The CX-5 begins at $27,475 and tops our at $40,225. Edmunds days expect to pay about $700 over MSRP for a mid-level trim CX-5 and more than a grand over MSRP for a mid-level CX-50.

As to similarities look no further than the drivetrains. Both vehicles use a 2.5-liter four-cylinder base engine making 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque, and both can be purchased with an optional turbocharged 2.5-liter producing 227 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque on regular gas and 256 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque using the more expensive premium gas. Both engines are paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive is standard in the CX-50.

We saw very little difference in performance between the two, although we did not drive them back-to-back. In both vehicles we prefer the larger engine,  which is more satisfying to drive including merging and passing. This is not to say that the  187-horse CX-50 is not adequate — it is — and if saving a few grand in these days of nearly mandatory belt tightening is important we recommend you becoming a CX-50 owner with 187 ponies upfront.

The interior is generally quiet — but we think the CX-5 wins in the quiet department — and comfortable with front seats that should wear well over long journeys. At the same time, rear seaters also have decent seats and adequate leg and hip room if they aren't more than the, say, 6-foot, 5-inch variety. One thing that might bother some riders — we are not in that group — is a firmer ride than in many competitors. The trade-off, of course, is the vehicle's outstanding handling traits.

Inside, the CX-50 maintains Mazda's minimalist look sans a huge center infotainment screen and a myriad of buttons and touch points. The infotainment system has either an 8.8-inch center display screen (base 2.5 S trim level) or a 10.25-inch display. You control the infotainment system with a dial controller on the center console, but the display works as a touchscreen too. The touchscreen functionality is best when you're integrating your phone by way of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, both of which can operate wirelessly. As in other Mazda products and in previous years, we wish for a simpler, user-friendly way to access SiriusXM stations.

The CX-50 comes standard with all of the typical advanced driver aids such as adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring and lane keeping assist. The available surround-view camera system also gives a good indication of obstacles around the vehicle. It's particularly helpful when off-roading, but the cameras only operate up to 10 mph.

The CX-50 comes in nine trim levels including five with the standard engine and four with the turbocharged variant. Mazda says it expects the 2023 S Premium Plus turbo to be the biggest seller with a starting price of  $37,700. Our 2.5 Turbo with the Premium Plus package carried a bottom line of $43,170 including a $1,225 destination charge.

2023 Mazda CX-50


Base price: $26,800; as driven, $43,170
Engine: 2.5 liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 227 @ 5,000 rpm regular, 256 on premium
Torque: 310 foot-pounds @ 2,000 rpm, 320 foot-pounds premium
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: all wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 110.8 inches
Length: 185.8 inches
Curb weight: 3,907 pounds
Turning circle: 36 feet
Luggage capacity: 31.4 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 56.3 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds
Fuel capacity: 15.8 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 23 city, 29 highway, 25 combined
0-60: 6.6 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Tucson, Ford Escape

The Good
• Energetic turbocharged engine
• Upscale interior
• Brings driving joy

The Bad
• Finicky infotainment system

The ugly
• Top trims can top 45 grand