Understanding that it’s best not to mess with success, the new 2023 Mazda CX-50 does not replace the popular CX-5 in the automaker’s growing utility-vehicle lineup.
Instead, the CX-50 complements the CX-5, giving the automaker a new compact CUV designed and tuned for more adventurous lifestyles.
Built in a new Mazda-Toyota joint venture assembly plant located in Huntsville, AL, the ’23 CX-50 is built on a separate assembly line from the facility’s other product, the ’22 Toyota Corolla Cross.
In fact, the two CUVs share nothing in common aside from a manufacturing location. Instead, Mazda bases the CX-50 on the same platform residing underneath the Mazda3 and CX-30, adding length and width to create a larger vehicle that is about the same size as the CX-5.
Though Mazda won’t reveal final mechanical and dimensional specifications until closer to the CUV’s on-sale date in spring 2022, the automaker confirms the ’23 CX-50 will offer both normally aspirated and turbocharged 2.5L 4-cyls., a 6-speed automatic transmission and standard i-Activ all-wheel drive. According to Dave Coleman, manager-vehicle dynamics at Mazda North American Operations, the CX-50 also retains the on-pavement driving dynamics that make the company’s products enjoyable to drive.
However, because Mazda expects the CX-50 to appeal to a more outdoors-oriented customer, increased off-roading capability is necessary to give the CUV credibility.
Coleman says the CX-50 offers more ground clearance, better angles of approach and departure, and more towing capacity than the similarly sized CX-5. Also, to better support the CUV’s mission, all-terrain tires are optional and new Off-Road and Towing driving modes debut in the CX-50 as part of what the automaker is calling Mazda Intelligent Drive (Mi-Drive) Select.
The Off-Road mode addresses traction situations on dirt and gravel roads, when climbing hills and when traveling over uneven terrain.
Still, with only slight gains in clearances compared to the CX-5, and without standard or available underbody skid plates, Mazda admits the CX-50 is best used for accessible rather than remote destinations. “You’re not going to do the Rubicon Trail,” Coleman says during the CX-50’s introduction.
Choose the Towing mode, and the CX-50’s standard G-Vectoring Control technology takes a trailer’s tongue-weight into account, ensuring natural steering feel and response despite the CUV’s unweighted front tires.
The mode also adjusts the AWD system to reduce the added motion that trailers commonly create at the back of a vehicle. Additional Mi-Drive modes include Normal and Sport, which Coleman says are the same as what you’ll find in other Mazdas.
Exterior design reflects current overlanding trends. With a long hood, low roof, wide track, lower body cladding and flared fenders, the ’23 CX-50 is boxier than other Mazda utility vehicles and looks like it’s ready for adventure.
The automaker plans to offer numerous accessories for the CX-50, including matte-black hood decals and various roof racks, to further enhance the CUV’s active lifestyle credibility.
To illustrate the CX-50’s utility, Mazda says the wide-opening rear doors and low roofline make it easier to strap bikes, surfboards and kayaks to the vehicle. The company isn’t revealing static and dynamic load ratings for the roof rails but does say they will support enough weight to support a three-person roof tent and its occupants.
Inside, the CX-50 adheres to current Mazda design tenets, combining a minimalistic control layout with quality materials for a clean, contemporary and upscale look and feel. Vertical air vents anchor both ends of the simple dashboard, and the CX-50 features the same driver-focused cockpit with traditional round gauges as other Mazda models.
A new leather color called Terracotta debuts in the CX-50, and the CUV offers more passenger room than the CX-30 does, especially in the back seat.
All-weather floor mats are available to protect carpeting, but unlike some competitors, Mazda is not planning to offer the CX-50 with weather-resistant materials. This is not a “hose-me-out” kind of vehicle, explains Coleman.
The CX-50’s Mazda Connect infotainment and i-ActiveSense driving assistance technologies will mirror those available in the smaller CX-30, Coleman says. A 10.25-in. (26-cm) display screen sits atop the CX-50’s dashboard, and it isn’t touch-sensitive.
Instead, users rely on the physical controls on the center console and steering wheel to operate the system, as well as voice commands.
Production of the ’23 Mazda CX-50 starts in January 2022, and Mazda will sell the CUV primarily in the U.S. and Canada. Prices will be available closer to its arrival in dealership showrooms in spring.