2023 Mazda CX-50 Review

Christian Wardlaw, Independent Expert | Mar 28, 2022

Introduction

Like all automakers, Mazda is in the midst of a transformation. Not only is the company planning to roll out electrified powertrains and a new rear-drive vehicle architecture, Mazda is also reconfiguring its lineup with new naming conventions and trying to move its brand into premium territory. The new 2023 Mazda CX-50 is a part of this ambitious, far-reaching mission.

A compact crossover SUV built in a new factory in Huntsville, Alabama, the new Mazda CX-50 will sell alongside the existing Mazda CX-5, which is currently the automaker's best-selling model. The CX-50 is longer, wider, and lower than the CX-5 and offers more rear-seat and trunk room. Mazda also designed and engineered the CX-50 to support outdoor adventure, moving away from the urbane character of the refined CX-5 and toward a more rugged personality.

The 2023 Mazda CX-50 model lineup includes the 2.5 S and the 2.5 Turbo. Both use a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, but only one gets a turbocharger. All-wheel drive (AWD) is standard equipment, and there are 10 trim packages, including a new 2.5 Turbo Meridian Edition that will arrive later in the model year. The Mazda CX-50's release date is at the end of March 2022.

What Owners Say About Compact SUVs

2023 Mazda CX-50 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus Zircon Sand Front Quarter View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

The Mazda CX-50 competes in the Compact SUV market segment. According to data collected from verified new-vehicle buyers for the J.D. Power 2021 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, 50 percent of new Compact SUV buyers are female (vs. 39 percent across all automotive segments), and the median age of a new Compact SUV buyer is 60 years (vs. 57).

As part of the APEAL Study, owners rated Compact SUVs in 10 primary categories. Listed below in descending order, you'll find their preferences from their most favorite thing about the vehicle to their least favorite:

  • Exterior styling
  • Driving feel
  • Feeling of safety
  • Getting in and out
  • Setting up and starting
  • Interior design
  • Powertrain
  • Driving comfort
  • Infotainment system
  • Fuel economy

In the 2021 APEAL Study, the Ford Mustang Mach-E ranks highest out of 14 Compact SUV models, followed by the Nissan Rogue and Mazda CX-5.

What Our Independent Expert Says About the Mazda CX-50

In the sections that follow, our independent expert analyzes a CX-50 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus equipped with extra-cost Zircon Sand Metallic paint. The price of the test vehicle came to $43,175, including the $1,225 destination charge. The evaluation took place in Santa Barbara, California, and the surrounding region.

Getting In and Getting Comfortable

2023 Mazda CX-50 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus Front Seat

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Getting into and out of a Mazda CX-50 is easy. Like other compact crossovers, it sits higher off the ground than a car, so you simply slide in and out. The rear doors open to nearly a 90-degree angle, and the rear wheel wells don't intrude much, so accessing the back seat is easier than in the Mazda CX-5.

The test vehicle had all the bells and whistles, including leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, and a heated steering wheel. The testing day was warm and sunny, and the three-stage ventilated seats effectively cool you down when you're sweaty.

Both of the test vehicle's front seats offered power adjustment, including for height. Additionally, the driver's seat had a lumbar adjustment. The places where your legs might rest on the door panels and center console are not padded, but they're shaped for comfort. The steering wheel has a sharply radiused leading edge that can cause some discomfort during long drives.

Rear-seat comfort is good, and the CX-50 is roomy enough for four tall adults. Most versions of the SUV include rear air conditioning vents and USB charging ports, and many have a center armrest with embedded cupholders.

Interior design is contemporary, with soft-touch surfaces, gloss black trim, and polished metallic accents giving the CX-50 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus a convincingly upscale appearance. The leather used in the more expensive versions of the CX-50 looks and feels like quality material and features caramel contrast stitching that extends to the dashboard and door panels.

Mazda lays out the controls with a focus on the driver. The automaker presents the mix of analog and digital instrumentation in familiar, easily referenced round gauges with white markings on a black background. An available Active Driving Display, or head-up display, delivers a copious amount of data.

Mimicking German luxury cars of a decade ago, Mazda places its infotainment controls on the center console. This approach, combined with a static infotainment screen that is not touch-sensitive (except in certain situations) and a frequently ineffective voice-recognition system, causes both distraction and frustration when executing simple tasks.

Practical storage space could be better. For example, the wide panel between the vertical air vents could be a shelf instead of a home for a single horizontal air vent that looks like an afterthought. The door panel armrests often serve as a place for small-item storage in the CX-50's rivals, but this new SUV lacks them.

Mazda Connect Infotainment System Review

2023 Mazda CX-50 Interior Dashboard

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

The Mazda Connect infotainment system is standard in all CX-50 SUVs. In the base 2.5 S trim, it comes with an 8.8-inch display. Every other version of the CX-50 features a wider 10.25-inch display.

Highlights of the standard system include:

  • Bluetooth connectivity
  • Wireless Apple CarPlay
  • Wireless Android Auto
  • Mazda Connected Services with access to:
  • HD Radio (10.25-inch display only)
  • Eight stereo speakers

Mazda Connect adds a 12-speaker Bose Centerpoint surround-sound system, satellite radio, and a navigation system as you move up the trim package ladder.

Mazda Connect has a steep learning curve because it does not offer natural, conversational voice-recognition technology or touchscreen operation (except for when using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto). The touchscreen option is a new development, and the CX-50 is the first Mazda to offer this for these popular smartphone integration platforms.

Why don't Mazdas have touchscreens? The automaker's position is that touchscreens are distracting to drivers. However, you'll find yourself looking down to choose the correct one unless you memorize the button positions for the main system functions that surround the center console control knob. Unless you remember the suggested voice commands shown on the screen, you'll spend time looking away from the road and at the display. Also, the amount of twisting, pushing, and toggling you'll do with the center console knob while simultaneously looking at the screen also distracts a driver.

Since the climate controls are completely divorced from Mazda Connect, the bulk of my frustration using the system pertains to stereo and navigation functions.

For example, while setting the CX-50's technology up before driving the SUV, I could not figure out how to choose and save radio station favorites. This should be a simple thing to do. In a CX-50, it is not.

Also, while running through the list of sample voice commands that I use in every test vehicle, Mazda Connect's voice-recognition technology achieved a 50-percent success rate. That's generous because most of that success was due to following specific recommendations shown on the screen rather than speaking conversationally as you might to your smartphone or digital home assistant. As you might surmise, by forcing the driver to look at the screen and review suggested voice commands, Mazda is causing distraction.

"Hey Mazda," other automakers have found a way to operate the infotainment system, climate system, and other vehicle functions using natural voice commands without looking away from the road. Even Acura, the only other automaker resistant to installing touchscreens in its vehicles, offers Amazon Alexa Built-in to alleviate these problems.

The frustrations with Mazda Connect should be easy to solve. In my opinion, the technology needs:

  • A more intuitive way to choose and save favorite radio stations
  • A way to easily tune the radio and cycle through station favorites without looking down at the center console or the display screen
  • A natural, conversational voice-recognition system

But don't just take my word for Mazda Connect's shortcomings. Data from the 2021 APEAL Study verifies that new Mazda owners consistently rate their infotainment systems as one of their least favorite things about their vehicles. In the CX-5 and Mazda6 sedan, only fuel economy ranks lower. In the CX-30CX-9, and Mazda3, both fuel economy and owner dissatisfaction with comfort-related factors rank lower than the infotainment system.

What It's Like to Drive the 2023 Mazda CX-50?

2023 Mazda CX-50 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus Zircon Sand Side View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Mazda goes to great lengths to make its products feel smooth, natural, and engaging to drive. The automaker's decades of dedication to creating a sensation of a horse and its rider as one, a philosophy it calls jinba ittai, is plainly evident in the new CX-50. It is a delight to drive.

The CX-50 2.5 S has a normally aspirated 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine making 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque. A 6-speed automatic transmission powers the front wheels unless the standard active AWD system determines the rear wheels are necessary. This drivetrain, which Mazda expects to return 27 mpg in combined city and highway driving, should prove adequately powerful for many people.

However, choose the CX-50 2.5 Turbo, and you're in for a treat. This version of the SUV has a turbocharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinder good for 227-256 hp and 310-320 pound-feet of torque. Power ratings vary depending on the octane level of the gas you use. Pump 87 into the tank and you'll get the lower figures. Use 93 and the engine makes maximum power. Mazda expects the 2.5 Turbo to return 25 mpg in combined driving.

The CX-50 2.5 Turbos use the same 6-speed automatic and AWD system as the 2.5 S. Towing capacity increases from 2,000 pounds to 3,500 lbs., and Mazda enhances the turbocharged engine's cooling to tackle the heavier loads. I had a chance to tow a 3,500-lb. moving trailer with the CX-50 2.5 Turbo, and it had no trouble cruising on flat highways at 65 mph.

Mazda equips its vehicles with G-Vectoring Control (GVC). This brake-based weight-transfer system helps a Mazda feel more responsive, better balanced, and more natural when braking for a curve and accelerating out of a turn. It has nothing to do with torque vectoring.

Additionally, Mazda now offers more than a Sport transmission mode on its SUVs. In the CX-50, drivers can choose from Normal, Sport, Off-Road, and, with the turbocharged engine, Towing. Unlike in other vehicles, the point of these Mazda Intelligent Drive (Mi-Drive) modes is to make the CX-50 feel the same way regardless of the driving situation and not make it feel dramatically different. At the same time, the driving mode accounts for the correlated conditions to ensure maximum performance in each situation.

The end result is that the CX-50 is a joy to drive slowly, fast, on dirt, or with a trailer attached. After traveling the long and winding Tepusquet Road east of Santa Maria, California, I'd forgotten I was driving an SUV until I went to step out of the CX-50 and realized how high off the ground the vehicle sits.

Not only is the CX-50 athletic, but it's also easy to drive smoothly and with confidence. Whether you're making time on the freeway, threading through a city, or zooming down a favorite back road, the CX-50 feels good in your hands and under the seat of your pants.

That sensation is what people have come to expect from a Mazda. Additionally, the CX-50 can travel to places a car like the Mazda3 cannot. We experienced this first-hand on the arid plains west of New Cuyama, California, where Mazda set up an off-road course to demonstrate the SUV's hill climbing, hill descent, wheel articulation, power transfer, and soft soil capabilities. Despite its 20-inch all-season tires, the 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus handled the terrain without trouble, in part thanks to its 8.6 inches of ground clearance. However, the CX-50 is missing a hill-descent control system.

During the course of a day, I spent hours in the CX-50's comfortable driver's seat, averaging 23.4 mpg over hundreds of miles of driving. That figure represents a shortfall of 1.6 mpg compared to EPA fuel-economy predictions and is a reminder that the CX-50 doesn't offer a hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or electric powertrain option. Nevertheless, the CX-50 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus was a pleasure to pilot in all situations.

i-Activesense Review

2023 Mazda CX-50 Safety System Settings

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Mazda installs a generous list of advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS) in every 2023 CX-50. The i-Activesense collection of safety features includes:

Automatic high-beam headlights are also standard on all CX-50 trims. Upgrade to the 2.5 Turbo, and the SUV features adaptive headlights that swivel in the direction you're turning to help you see around dark corners and curves.

The 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus adds a handful of exclusive safety features:

  • Front and rear parking sensors
  • Surround-view camera system
  • Automatic reverse braking
  • Blind Spot Prevention (actively discourages unsafe lane changes)
  • Traffic Jam Assist (low-speed adaptive cruise control with lane-centering assistance)

While driving on California 101 and 166, I extensively tested these i-Activesense technologies. They work well and are subtle enough that you're inclined to continue using them. Previously, I mentioned how the head-up display shows blind-spot warnings, which is excellent. I also like the low-key steering wheel vibration associated with the lane-departure warning system.

In thick traffic west of Santa Barbara, I had a chance to examine Traffic Jam Assist. It operated as advertised and didn't allow me to let go of the steering wheel for very long before issuing reminders to retake control. However, there does appear to be a bug in the system.

With the technology calibrated to the shortest following distance to traffic ahead, when another car cut into the gap between the CX-50 and the vehicles in front, Traffic Jam Assist did not recognize and react to the new situation quickly enough. On two occasions, I had to assess what the technology was doing, determine that action on my part was necessary to avoid a possible collision, and manually brake the SUV.

2023 Mazda CX-50 FAQ

2023 Mazda CX-50 Cargo Space

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

How much cargo space does the 2023 Mazda CX-50 have?

Open the CX-50's available power liftgate and you'll find 31.4 cubic feet of cargo space behind the back seat. The load floor is long, but it is also narrow between the wheels. Bins on either side of the load floor hold things in place, and plastic hooks are ready to serve as tie-down points or hangers for plastic grocery bags. Fold the 60/40 split back seats to create 56.3 cubic feet of maximum cargo space.

Compared to the Mazda CX-5, the CX-50 offers more cargo room behind the back seat but less maximum volume. This is most likely because the CX-50 has a lower roofline.

Does the 2023 Mazda CX-50 get good gas mileage?

Official EPA fuel-economy estimates were unavailable as this review was written. However, Mazda predicts the CX-50 2.5 S will get 24 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway, and 27 mpg in combined driving. Naturally, the CX-50 2.5 Turbo's fuel-economy ratings are lower, at 23 mpg city, 29 mpg highway, and 25 mpg combined. Remember: every CX-50 has standard AWD, so make sure you compare apples to apples when cross-shopping this crossover.

Is the 2023 Mazda CX-50 safe?

As I wrote this review, the CX-50 had not undergone crash testing. However, Mazda has a strong track record for earning the highest-possible scores from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). For 2022, all Mazdas except the untested MX-5 Miata and untested MX-30 EV earn a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the IIHS. That performance bodes well for the new CX-50.

How much is the 2023 Mazda CX-50?

As it goes on sale, 2023 Mazda CX-50 prices range from $26,800 to $41,550, plus a $1,225 destination charge to ship the SUV from Mazda's new Huntsville, Alabama, factory to your local dealership. This price range does not include the upcoming CX-50 2.5 Turbo Meridian Edition, which is likely to reach about $45,000 when it arrives later in the model year.

What are the 2023 Mazda CX-50 competitors?

The Kia Sportage ranks highest in the Compact SUV segment in the J.D. Power 2021 Initial Quality Study (IQS). The Hyundai Tucson and the Buick Envision are the next highest-ranked models.

In the 2021 APEAL Study, the Ford Mustang Mach-E ranks highest in the Compact SUV segment. The Nissan Rogue and the Mazda CX-5 are the next highest-ranked models.

Other competitors to the 2023 CX-50 include the Chevrolet EquinoxFord EscapeGMC TerrainHonda CR-VJeep CherokeeSubaru ForesterToyota RAV4, and Volkswagen Tiguan.

Independent Expert Opinion

2023 Mazda CX-50 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus Zircon Sand Rear Quarter View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Looking at J.D. Power data showing what people like and don't like about compact SUVs, it appears that Mazda has positioned itself for success in the segment. The four top-rated attributes relate to styling, driving dynamics, safety, and the ease of entering and exiting the vehicle. The CX-50 excels in each area.

The bottom four attributes are powertrain, driving comfort, infotainment, and fuel economy. Based on my experience, the turbocharged powertrain is satisfying but also returns lower fuel economy that does not meet expectations. Furthermore, aside from the shape of the steering wheel rim, the CX-50 is comfortable to drive for hours on end. But the Mazda Connect infotainment system is a real liability unless you run Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, activate the new touchscreen control function, and use Siri or Google Assistant instead of the native voice-control technology.

Overall, I think the Mazda CX-50 will be a hit. It will likely cannibalize sales of the automaker's most popular model, the CX-5. Still, based on Mazda's upcoming product lineup and nomenclature changes, the existing CX-5 will likely fade into the horizon at the end of its current production run. Or it will become something else entirely, like a larger Mazda CX-70.

Christian Wardlaw is a veteran digital automotive journalist with nearly 30 years of experience in test-driving vehicles. He has held editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, J.D. Power, the New York Daily News, and others. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals, including Autotrader, Capital One Auto Navigator, CarGurus, Kelley Blue Book, WardsAuto, and more.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2022 J.D. Power

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