2023 Mazda CX-50

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What’s the difference between Mazda’s CX-5 and the new CX-50?

One is a little bit more than the other. A little larger, longer and wider – plus a bit more capable. And only slightly more expensive.

Mazda has done this before – with the CX-3 and then CX-30. The latter being a little more than the former. But the difference wasn’t enough to keep the CX-3 going. Mazda stopped selling the CX-3 not long after it began selling the CX-30. 

So the question seems to be: Is the CX-50 different enough to justify keeping the CX-5 around? Or will it prove to be the replacement for the CX-5?

What It Is

The CX-50 is Mazda’s newest small crossover. It’s a little larger than the compact-sized CX-5 but smaller than the CX-9.

It is also available with additional capability, in the form of a Meridian package that is similar to the TRD package Toyota offers with the RAV4 (and the Wilderness package Subaru offers).

All three offer more ground clearance and come with all-terrain tires. While not really off-roaders, they are set up to go better on-road, when there is unplowed snow on the road. And on wet (and muddy) grass.

The base 2.5 S trim stickers for $27,550 – just slightly more than the base 2.5 S trim of the CX-5, which stickers for $26,700.

A top-of-the-line 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus – which comes with a stronger (turbocharged) version of the 2.5 liter engine, plus a 12-speaker Bose audio system, a Heads-up Display, adaptive headlights, heated steering wheel and various other upgrades, stickers for $42,300. A similarly kitted out CX-5 Turbo signature stickers for $39,650.

Unique to the CX-50 roster is the Meridian Edition ($39,950) which comes with the previously mentioned knobby tires and lifted suspension, along with a more rugged appearance. The turbo engine is standard.

Like the CX-5, the CX-50 comes standard with AWD irrespective of trim.

What’s New For 2023

The CX-50 is an all-new model.

What’s Good

A little more – for not much more.

More than just one engine.

More available towing capability (3,500 lbs. vs. just 2,000 lbs. for the CX-5).

What’s Not So Good

A bit less total cargo space inside than in the CX-5.

Just one transmission (but it’s not a CVT).

Higher tow rating only comes standard with the optional engine.

Under The Hood

Like the CX-5, the CX-50 comes standard with a 2.5 liter four cylinder engine that isn’t turbocharged. This is because it’s not so small that it needs to be turbocharged to make enough power to adequately propel a 3,700 lb. (empty) vehicle.

Unlike the Ford Escape’s standard 1.5  liter three cylinder engine, which manages to make 181 horsepower – but only because it’s been breathed on, so to speak.

The Mazda’s 2.5 liter four makes 187 horsepower, which is enough to get the CX-50 (and CX-5) to 60 in about 9 seconds without needing to be breathed on.

Not speedily – but adequately.

Also, probably, longer-lived – as the 2.5 liter engine isn’t being asked to punch above its weight.

More than adequate is available, too. It isn’t in several other crossovers in this class, including both the Toyota RAV4 (2.5 liters, 203 hp and no more) and the Honda CR-V (1.5 liters, which also needs to be turbocharged to make its 190 horsepower).

The CX-50’s optional engine is the same 2.5 liter engine, turbocharged this time – to make 256 horsepower. So equipped, the CX-50 (and CX-5) becomes one of the quickest in the class, getting to 60 in just over six seconds.

As mentioned earlier, AWD is standard (it’s optional with the RAV4 and CR-V).

Also standard – with either engine – is a six speed automatic transmission. Not a CVT (continuously variable) transmission, as is standard with the CR-V (and the Subaru Crosstrek, which used to be available with a six-speed manual transmission).

This will appeal to those who dislike (or distrust) CVT automatics, which don’t shift (though some mimic shifts) because they have no gears and which – so far – have not proved to be as long-term reliable as conventional automatics that do have gears and shift up and down (rather than vary through ranges).

One other thing to know about the CX-50 (and the CX-5) as regards the optionally available turbocharged 2.5 liter engine is that it must have premium gas to make its maximum-rated horsepower. If you give it regular unleaded, the computer will know it – and dial back the turbo boost a bit to compensate for the lower octane, with the result of that being 227 horsepower rather than 256.

Even so, 227 is significantly more than you can get in other smallish crossovers like the RAV4 and CR-V, no matter what you feed them.

Interestingly, has mileage is essentially the same with either engine – 24 city, 30 highway with the 2.5 engine (no turbo) and 23 city, 29 highway with the turbo. So there’s no cost to pay – at the pump – for the additional power.

Other than having to pay extra – for premium gas – if you want the maximum power.

On The Road

Driving the CX-50 is like driving the CX-5, only better.

The longer wheelbase and width (more about this follows) give it the ride and feeling of a bigger vehicle, even though it’s about the same size as its CX-5 sibling. As is true of all Mazda vehicles, there’s verve here. You don’t feel like you’re driving an appliance – or an EV.

Floor it and see.

The turbo’d CX-50 I test drove bellows enjoyably when you do. It almost sounds like a four barrel’s secondaries opening up. No such sounds emanate – except artificially – from an EV. Or, for that matter, from most of the others in this segment that aren’t EVs but are appliances. Nothing against the RAV4 but it (and the CR-V) are as exciting to drive as oatmeal is to eat. They both get the job done – but one misses the steak and eggs sometimes.

This one fills that need.

While not a Miata – what is? – the CX-50 (and the CX-5) do an admirable job of conveying some of the intangibles that have caused the Miata to be so beloved by those who regard driving as something to be enjoyed while doing it.

Floor it and see.

You’ll also see something else, if you look down at the center console and check out the drive modes. There are two additional ones – turbo and Meridian version – one for towing and one for off-roading. You can pull a 3,500 lb. trailer with the CX-50, if you buy one with the turbo’d engine. The TRD version of Toyota’s RAV4 is rated to pull the same, but with  50-something fewer horsepower to do it. Which means you can do it – but not with the ease (because of the margin) that the Mazda can do it.

The Off Road setting dials in throttle response and shift points to best suit slow-slogging through unplowed snow, mud and wet grass. That plus the set of knobby tires that come with the Meridian make this Mazda comparable in capabilities to something like a Subaru Outback (or Crosstrek) with the Wilderness package or the TRD version of the RAV4.

The only thing that detracts from the experience is the interface for the audio system, which involves an awkward two-step process and remembering how it all works. There’s a big wheel and a small wheel on the center console. You use these to first select the function you want – e.g., change the channel you’re listening to – and then use the wheel to change it. You must remember which way to turn the wheel as it is not intuitive and must be memorized to use it fluidly.

This system afflicts all Mazda models, including the Miata.

The good news is there’s a simple rotary knob to adjust the volume of the stereo. The bad news is having to go through the rigamarole to find the station you want to listen to.

At The Curb

The CX-50 looks like it’s much larger than the CX-5, but it isn’t really. The latter is 180.1 inches long, the former 185.8 inches long. But the eye sees more than that because of the longer wheelbase – 4.6 inches longer than the CX-5’s. In addition to that, it is 3 inches wider and 1.4 inches lower. That plus some hunky-looking body cladding does the trick. There is probably enough visual separation between the CX-5 and the CX-50 to make the case for spending just a little bit more to get the CX-50 over the CX-5.

But that raises the question about keeping the CX-5 around.

In terms of interior space – for people and cargo – the CX-50 and CX-5 are nearly identical. The latter has 41 inches of first row legroom, 39.6 in the back and 30.8 cubic feet of space for cargo, behind the back seats (59.3 with these folded forward). The CX-50 has 41.7 inches of first row legroom, 39.8 inches in back and 31.4 cubic feet of space for cargo, behind the back seats (56.3 with these folded forward).

The standard equipment roster is also very similar – with some interesting exceptions. While both Mazdas come standard with remote keyless entry and 17 inch wheels, the slightly less expensive CX-5 comes standard with a larger (10.25 inch) LCD touchscreen (vs. an 8.8 inch unit in the base CX-50) and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. On the other hand, the CX-50 comes standard with an eight (vs. four) speaker audio system and standard roof racks.

The biggest difference is the availability of the Meridian equipment – in the CX-50. In addition to the lifted suspension (8.6 inches of clearance) and knobby tires, this one is also set apart via special decals and the availability of options such as brush bars and splash guards.

The CX-5 is not available with any of that.

One thing that neither the CX-50 nor the CX-5 are available with is the diesel engine Mazda had planned to begin offering in a number of models but which it appears will never be available in any U.S.-spec models because of U.S. regulations that have made it effectively impossible to sell diesel-powered passenger vehicles, notwithstanding the massive fuel efficiency (and longevity) advantages.

As well as the emissions advantages.

A diesel-powered vehicle will generally travel 8-10 miles farther on a gallon of fuel, which means it burns less fuel. Which means it emits fewer  . . . emissions. You’d think this would be desirable – to be encouraged – given the government’s insistence that ever-higher-fuel-economy (and ever-lower emissions) are desirable.

The fact that it is discouraged says something about the government’s competence – or its motives.

The Rest

Mazda will apparently be offering a hybrid version of the CX-50 later this year – with the hybrid drivetrain being sourced from Toyota. This is an interesting alliance – and in common cause, against the push toward EV everything. Toyota was one of the very first to offer hybrids and arguably, no one does them better. Mazda is a relatively small automaker whose buyers want cars with verve – which EVs lack.

Also practicality.

Mazda and Toyota seem to get that EVs are not “the future” – except for the relatively small number of people who can afford and want them. Better to make vehicles more people can afford – and want.

See in this regard the 2024 CX-90, with its new inline six cylinder/hybrid drivetrain. More about that here.

The Bottom Line

A little more CX might be just enough to make room for two CXs.

. . .

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12 COMMENTS

  1. I’ve been considering both the CX-5 and CX-50 and going back and forth about which one to buy. I think the CX-50 looks cooler, but the CX=5 is a bit cheaper and you get independent rear suspension which the CX-50 doesn’t have. With the CX-5, you only have to go up one trim level from base to get heated seats; not so on the CX-50. There are a lot more CX-5s on the lot right now so you’d probably get a better deal on one too.

    • Drive both. Good inventory was one of the reasons we got the CX-5. No no markup and no dealer add on charges even thought tint and door edge guards were already installed. Dealer also threw in a cargo mat and the nav SC card (should be included). Also, the CX-5 fits my 5 foot wife and our garage better. The 19s on the PP also give it higher ground clearance.

      Previously had a great 2018 Mazda 3 GT. The analogy I use as far as driving experience is the Mazda 3 drives like a sled and the CX-5 drives like a go cart. If you like the sled experience better the longer wheelbase and longer hood line of the CX-50 may suit you better.

  2. Picked up a ’23 CX-5 PP for my wife in February because it had all the equipment we wanted with the non turbo engine and it’s made in Japan. The quality is amazing, better than the MIM Mazdas (Mazda 3 sedans and CX-30s). The CX-50 is made in Huntsville, AL (Mazda Toyota) and in China (Changan Mazda).

  3. Mazda has a thing that is in increasingly short supply among car makers. Courage. They fearlessly, and at times unwisely, innovate. The rotary engine, not so wise, an affordable and very capable sports car, very wise. The very fact they even had a diesel engine planned, while the rest were busy trying to figure out how to make marketable EVs, and in this particular case, going with a gear drive AT instead of a CV, expresses that courage.

  4. I’m not usually a fan of Oriental rolling stock, but Mazda is the exception. Daughter has had three over the last 18 years all bullet proof and a blast to drive, this from a guy that had Alfa Romeos for my first two cars.

    Her current Mazda is a 2015 “6” again a reliable fun to drive car. My 2003 Ford Escape is a Ford/Mazda collaboration and after 20 years still the “go cart” of small SUVs. I prefer driving the Escape over the 2018 Grand Cherokee hands down.

  5. Does seem to be a lot to like about this. Good ground clearance, real auto, engine choice.
    Never owned a mazda, but always have them on the consideration list.

  6. Perfect timing Eric. My wife needed to replace her grand cherokee V8, and went car driving. You’re not going to believe what she bought. First her justification: “I’ve been driving suburban like trucks for 20 years raising the kids and it’s my time, at least for a little while until the grand kids come and I’ll be back into a big family car, and want a sports car.”
    She drove a lot of cars and came home with a Caddy CT4V Blackwing!!!!! I said, you know it’s RWD only. Yup don’t care, won’t drive in the snow, etc…. She is giddy over it.
    I just drove it. OMG, the fastest car I’ve ever driven and with luxury thrown in.
    Which reminds me of what we talk about a lot here. At least we still can buy cars that make us giddy. With a push of a button, the car snarls at you. It breaks the rear end free with ease and authority. I love it.
    So now she of course says we need a spare car for when our daughter comes home for a few weeks every quarter, etc…..
    So a friend just bought one of these mazda’s and she likes it, and thinks it will perfect as a spare car. A local Mazda dealer just so happens to have a boatload of off-lease CX-30’s and CX5’s a few years old for pretty cheap. Probably going to get one. Thanks for the lesson. I’m glad they are a regular trans too………….. We’ll probably get the non-turbo for a car that will get little use, but probably pay for itself over renting.

      • She wanted the stick, but we talked her out of it 🙁
        We know her, and she wants to be able to warm up the car in the winter.
        I come home last night and she says “I think I want the 5 Blackwing next w/stick”
        hahahaha….. honey, glad your dreaming, but the 5 BWg starts at 95K.
        Enjoy the 4 Bwg, use it, don’t baby it.
        All season tires are going on it this week, she doesn’t need to know. Cause I know what’s going to happen. She’s going to want to take a trip somewhere, and they’ll be calling for snow, and she’ll use my truck, so I will need the all-seasons on it.
        I already asked her if I could auto-cross it. No dice, yet………
        Caddy did a nice job with these and I dislike GM a lot.

  7. My plan is to get a CX-5 Turbo in the near future. Why a CX-5? It’s made in Japan, I’m convinced that they still have some pride in workmanship over there, unlike Americans. Why a turbo? I don’t particularly want a turbo, but that is the only way to get the engine WITHOUT CYLINDER DEACTIVATION! I only hesitate in buying one over how much of the safety crap that I can’t turn off permanently. I do not want or need lane departure warning/lane keep assist/automatic braking/radar cruise control/auto engine start-stop.

    • Don’t even notice the cylinder deactivation in my wife’s ’23 CX-5 PP. Feed that baby Lucas and it purrs like a tiger.

  8. I used to have a 2010 CX-9. Loved everything about it except the road noise. It went 380,000 miles before I gave it to a young guy who was a shade tree mechanic.

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