Mazda’s made a mess of itself and seems to be floundering.
It’s completely fair to be befuddled by the lack of focus from what was once the “zoom-zoom” brand. The latest crossover SUV addition does little to clear any confusion.
With a TCC Rating of 6.4 out of 10 the 2023 Mazda CX-50 appeals with terrific steering, a long wheelbase, and a squished wagon look, but its infotainment system is painful to use, its powertrains feel dated, and it seems overpriced compared to its CX-5 sibling in the same showroom.
After spending a week with the 2023 Mazda CX-50 not long after spending time with the CX-5, here’s where the newer model hits and misses.
Hit: That Mazda steering magic
The name might be confusing to those who find themselves in a showroom but from behind the wheel it’s clear the CX-50 has that Mazda magic. Despite being a crossover SUV it’s fun to be the driver, thanks to the CX-50’s charming steering and relatively quick ratio. There’s solid communication translated through the steering wheel as to what’s going on at the pavement. The steering’s nicely weighted and this helps the CX-50 track true and straight down a highway without wandering or needing minor corrections as in some Hyundai and Kia rivals with their overboosted steering systems.
Miss: Frustrating infotainment system
A new vehicle for Mazda showrooms, the CX-50 carries over a familiarly frustrating-to-use infotainment system. While an 8.8-inch touchscreen comes standard, my turbo model featured the upgraded 10.3-inch touchscreen display. With Apple CarPlay (and for Android Auto) the touchscreen inputs work, but using any of the CX-50’s native functionality requires using a rotary knob and hot buttons on the center console. At best it’s tedious, but most of the time it’s downright frustrating and annoying. This system is a pillar in the argument for automaker’s letting Apple CarPlay take over interfaces to those who know them best. Other automakers—almost all of them—simply do this better.
Hit: Longer and wider is better
The CX-50’s wheelbase is 4.6 inches longer and 3.0 inches wider than the CX-5’s. That extra length and width translates to the CX-50 delivering a more composed and stable ride than the already impressive CX-5. Even more impressive is how the CX-50 handles rough roads with aplomb despite my tester’s 20-inch wheels and lack of adaptive dampers or air suspension. Mazda’s once again proven that a well-tuned passive suspension system is all that’s really necessary, even on winding roads and highway clover leafs.
Miss: Tired powertrains
The CX-50 name is new but its powertrains are old. Base models have a 187-hp 2.5-liter inline-4 under their hood. My tester featured the larger 2.5-liter turbo-4 with 227 hp, which is rated at 256 hp with 93-octane fuel. Both mate to an old 6-speed automatic transmission that snaps off quick, clean shifts. If this all sounds familiar it’s because they are the same powertrains as what are found in the CX-5. There’s no electrification to be found, no 8- or 10-speed automatic transmission. Regardless of whether Sport mode is flicked, the turbo takes a beat to spool up. Once the engine hits 2,000 rpm the engine’s nearly on boil and the pace picks up. Response could be better.
Hit: Lifted wagon
Mazda can call the CX-50 a crossover SUV all it wants. The 8.6 inches of ground clearance on turbo versions (though only 8.3-inches on non-turbo versions) add credence to the claim. But from most angles the CX-50 looks like a wide, squared-off, squished wagon, among countless crossover SUV blobs. The heavy fender flair cladding adds to the beefed-up stance, while the low, horizontal LED parking lights add an extra something at dusk. I’m not a fan of fake air vents in nearly any capacity, but the two on the rear bumper do a good job adding visual width to the bottom-heavy CX-50.
Miss: Not a value
On the surface, the $28,825 (it was originally $28,205 when it launched, but received a mid-year price increase) base price seems reasonable against the base CX-5, which costs $27,125. But things quickly fall apart in the value department when options and standard equipment are factored in. My loaded $43,575 CX-50 Turbo Premium Plus tester enters luxury crossover SUV pricing territory, and made my $38,670 CX-5 Turbo tester feel like a downright value with the same features.
The 2023 Mazda CX-50 offers a more comfortable ride and more distinctive design than its showroom sibling, and many competitors, but its value proposition is questionable at best and it only clouds Mazda’s murky waters. We need some clarity, Mazda.
2023 Mazda CX-50 Turbo Premium Plus
Base price: $28,825 including $1,275 destination
Price as tested: $43,575
Powertrain: 227-hp 2.5-liter turbo-4, 6-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive
EPA fuel economy: 23/29/25 mpg
The hits: Actual steering feel, longer wheelbase and comfortable ride, squished wagon look
The misses: Frustrating infotainment system, old powertrains and no electrification, weak value argument
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