AESTHETICS FOR THE DISCERNING MANY: Few in the volume automotive segment do intricate patterns, the gentler shapes, the earth tones, the subdued sounds, the crisp action, or something as subtle as a monogram quite the way as Mazda does. In the evolution towards near prestige status the Zoom Zoom carmaker has already mastered a blend of aesthetic concepts of WABI-SABI as Japanese culture aesthetics constituting a way of life, SHIZEN (natural without pretense) and SHIBUI (simple unobtrusive beauty) with an overarching design KODO (upwards towards sky) design language.
AT THE CROSSROADS OF VOLUME BESPOKE AND ACTIVE ADVENTURE: What has evaded a model line brimming with simple beauty and Jinba Ittai “driver with steed” dynamics is an appeal to the ever growing active outdoor lifestyle. The 2023 Mazda CX-50 is the first from this aspiring prestige brand to fill that void.
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WHAT: 2023 Mazda CX-50 Turbo AWD 2- Row compact crossover sports activity vehicle. Currently exclusive to the North American market it is a 6.4″ inch stretch of the compact BP front transverse drivetrain layout platform serving the Mazda CX-30 CUV, offered exclusively with i-Active all-wheel drive in the U.S..
Power: transverse variable nozzle turbocharged 2.5L DOHC 16V DI gas I-4 = 256 hp/ 320 lb-ft @ 2000 rpm.*
Base (non-turbo): transverse 2.5L DOHC 16V DI gas I-4 = 186 hp/ 186 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm, w/ 2-cylinder deactivation
Drivetrain: 6-spd. torque converter planetary automatic transaxle + PTU to multi-plate wet clutch differential torque vectoring variable all-wheel drive.
• Mi-Drive drive modes: Normal, Sport, Towing, Off-Road
*(NOTE: results with 93 AKI unleaded gasoline. 227 hp / 310 lb-ft @ 2000 r.p.m. using 87 AKI fuel.)
WHAT (A) STYLING DIFFERENCE: the all new Mazda CX-50 slots above the large compact KF series CX-5 crossover utility vehicle in dimension and price.
Longer dashboard to front axle distance and oversized wheel arches filled with wider tires on mega-sized wheels + layered dual crease on either side sloping hood, wider, more pronounced fenders & rear quarter panels + the addition of a D-pillar, with sail window between it and the C-pillar + more pronounced Kammback liftgate + 0.8″ inches extra ground clearance + taller beltline = a conspicuously more substantial footprint vs. KF Mk. 2 Mazda CX-5 .
Layered dual creases curving on either side of the hood soften it. The wide shark nose bears a wider inverted pentagon grille, now filled with gloss black chain links. The darkened lower grille border opens arms extended to cradle the swept back headlamps. A split lower valance conceals airflow shutters. The body is slightly curved coke bottle from the beltline subtly scooped near the door bottoms. Two-tone roof spoiler buttresses run up to liftgate side channels. A gently curved rear liftgate terminates into a wide inverted “U” license plate bowl.
On the Prestigious Side: √ Wrap around front & rear seqmented array lighting, w/ front angel eye DRLs; √ Dark door mount wing mirrors, with chrome lateral band and directionals; √ Satin metallic trimmed roof rails and D-pillar Hofmeister kink aft border.
On the Rugged Side: √ Trim and frame darkening, in addition to full lower body cladding; √ Folded fangs with lattice inserts at each corner double as functional brake coolers in the front; √ Satin silver front and rear lower simulated skid plates.
WHY: Legitimately mid size new Mazda crossover SAV legitimizes active outdoor lifestyle drives.
WHEN: On-Sale (in the U.S.) Spring 2022
WHERE: Mazda new vehicle dealers
WHERE MADE: Huntsville, Alabama, U.S.A.
WHERE TO: Standard transaxle to PTU to rear viscous multi-clutch differential all-wheel drive, e-varies front/ rear traction from 100/ 10% to 50/50%
- Mi-Drive Off-Road mode can automatically disengage traction control, lock all-wheel drive torque split at 50/50%, employ ABS braking hill descent contol and slip transaxle torque converter lock making easy work of muddy washes.
- 8.6″-inches ground clearance, but no bash plates
HOW ROADWORTHY: Indeed, the turbo gas DOHC I-4 powerplant is tuned for a more usable breadth of the ample 320 lb-ft of spin at relatively low engine speed, which combined with up to 50/50% all-wheel drive torque split, more than offsets nearly two tons of mass to be moved. Owing to a very alert 6-speed automatic transaxle, nearly 260 horsepower is more than up to the task of quickly miniaturizing Sunday interstate dawdlers in the rear view mirror. Toggling sport mode not only delivers energetic throttle blips but also displays a red theme in the gauge cluster.
HOW LIMBER: The 2023 Mazda CX-50‘s twist beam rear wheel linkage on this long-for-segment wheelbase does a solid job at dampening side to side wheel hop harshness imparted over acute frost heaves. Wider track is up to the task of masking the setup’s limitations at optimal wheel placement in abrupt transitions in hard transitions. Softer damping and to go with stiffer springs brought with greater wheel size and travel concedes some body roll and greater understeer in favor of well judged compliance. The electric steering rack maintains a communicative linearity, though feeling somewhat under-assisted. Approaching tight corners, G-vectoring power manipulation roll and dive reduction is more noticeable here than in the tidier Mazda CX-30.
• After initial softness, standing on the brake pedal, governing nearly an inch larger disc rotors at all corners, shrugs off speed with bite is quite linear for this segment, partly enhanced by the Goodyear Eagle Touring tires.
• Cross-winds pitch is negligible. Keeping up with the premium factor the Mazda CX-50 goes to great lengths to deliver a cabin entombed away from road, drivetrain or exterior noise.
HOW FAR: 24 combined miles per gallon. 458 miles highway range using 91 RON unleaded gasoline.
HOW BIG/ LITTLE: √ Genuine true to mid-size family capacity in muscularized sleek Mazda packaging.
– For Comparison’s Sake 2023 Mazda CX-50:
- 110.8″ wheelbase = 4.4″ > Mazda CX-5; 1.4″ > Buick Envision, 1.9″ > Hyundai Santa Fe
- +1: 39.6″-inches Row 2 legroom = Mazda CX-5; 0.3″ > Buick Envision , 2.1″ < Hyundai Santa Fe
- +1: 71 lbs. > Mazda CX-5 2.5 Turbo AWD
HOW USEFUL: √ Near flat folding 60/40% split 2nd Row tilting seatbacks w/ twin cargo bay release handles; √ Mini-spare load floor cover hooked tether
Not So Useful: -1 No approach liftgate release; Loses CX-5’s 40/20/40% split 2nd Row pass through folding seat back; Blind spots resulting from shorter backlight + tall beltline; -1 No concealed lower center stack wireless device space
– For Comparison’s Sake 2023 Mazda CX-50 2.5 Turbo
vs. Mazda CX-5 2.5 Turbo AWD: + 2.3 cubic feet nominal cargo volume, + 1500 lbs. towing capacity
- cargo space, nominal: 31.4 cubic feet = 25% > Buick Envision, 13% < Hyundai Santa Fe
- cargo space, maximum: 56.3 cubic feet = 7% > Buick Envision, 21% < Hyundai Santa Fe
- Tow rating: 3500 pounds = Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy
HOW SAFE: IIHS: 2023 Top Safety Pick Plus trophy; √ 8 airbags, √ Rear camera w/ fixed gridlines, √ Sonar audible park assist;
Driver assist technology: i-Activesense Level 1.5 autonomy: √ Smart City collision avoidance braking w/ pedestrian detection; √ Blind spot, rear cross traffic warning; √ Rear side traffic braking, √ Lane departure warning with selectable vibration/ chime; √ Lane keep assist; √ Adaptive cruise control – full; √ e-parking brake auto hold; √ Auto high beam headlamps; √ Rain sensing, windshield wipers
Available (included on Premium Plus): Traffic Jam Assist autonomous assist w/ lane tracing and blind spot lane change braking; 360° Surround camera, Road sign recognition; Heads Up Display; De-icing windshield wipers
-1 LDW over-sensitive & Lane departure intervention = merely nudges
HOW PEOPLE FRIENDLY: The Premium Plus treatment for the 2023 Mazda CX-50 purposely musters an outdoor gear deviation from the luxuries previously debuted on CX-5 and CX-9 Signature models. Two-tone leather contrast debuts here with swaths of tucked seam simulated hides on door panels and dash top & front. Controls are the same minimal count and reach, precision action bejeweled finished pieces from the CX-30 cute ute. But the CX-50 capitalizes on its spaciousness to emphasize the dash with vertical fang climate vents and tucked seam dash panel simulated hides with emphatic contrast double cross stitching. Displays follow intact from Mazda establishment translating as easy to read, sunwash resistant graphics, neither very customizable or operation detail informative.
√ Leather seats, heated front & rear, cooled front; √ 8-way driver / 6-way power seats w/ 2 driver memory settings; √ Heated leather steering wheel with spoke integrated tactile redundant controls; √ 7.1″ inch TFT virtual gauge cluster (and finally a genuine coolant temperature display!) √ 1″-inch reduced clearance = Lower step in; √ Clamshell center console storage bin; ♦ Panorama power moonroof, (1st Mazda model so equipped).
+1 Dual hydraulic lifts for bonnet (other Mazda’s stick with money saving solid prop rods); Hard dead pedal cover; Gauge cluster adopts latest M-Drive mode colorization.
-1 Fixed front center armrest + limited telescoping helm; Narrow & shallow seat cushions; 2nd Row outboard seat heat switches buried inside center armrest; Gauge cluster lacks off-road power distribution graphics. Only traffic sign detected is Stop Sign
Cool Gizmo(s): √ Color Heads-Up Display includes lane array, traffic signage; √ Precision-machined center console Command infotaiment dial-joystick w/ dedicated function switches; √ Mesh cargo shade attached to liftgate, with tonneau to 2nd Row seat backs.
Details Done Right: √ Terracotta saddle two tone leather and simulated hides; √ Authentic tannery scent; √ Tucked seam boot-lace stitched leather & simulated leather surfaces; √ Center console tunnel padded in seat color matching synthetic hides; √ Machined aluminum climate control dials; √ Precision cut, tactile intuitive switchgear.
Nearly Non-Descript: -1 Lacks other premium Mazda’s padded center console walls; -1 Coarse weave carpeting; -1 Horizontal steering wheel spoke switches have low contrast script, lacking tactile distinction; -1 Remote key fob undistinctive buttons.
HOW “APP” -LICABLE: Partially embedding the wider-screen dashtop MazdaConnect display, now with media split screen capablity = a less pod-like appearance. A revised center console Commander dial, with improved action, is as classy as in any luxury marque.
– Re-categorized MazdaConnect home sub-menus should in theory be more intuitive but there is still a learning curve. Higher resolution shows with cleaner graphics. Stand alone mobile device apps such as Pandora, Aha & Stitcher have been rendered redundant by the inclusion of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay projection. The Bose Centerpoint has made the jump to audiophile sound with a “Linear” sound mode for improved spatiality.
√ Dash top 10.25″ inch flat-panel LCD 80/20% split infotainment screen with Commander toggle dial control; √ Native HDD GPS voice command / guidance Navigation; √ Voice command hands-free communications; √ SMS with stored contacts photos; √ 425 W, 12-speaker Bose Centerpoint 2.0 audio; √ USB-A x 2, 12V x 1; √ Qi wireless charging pad just forwards of front center armrest bin.
+1 More versatile and comprehensible voice commanded navigation and media.
+/- Mazda implementation of Sirius Travellink supplants typical Movies application with Parking app filled with incomplete listings.
-1 2nd Row USB ports inside center armrest (inaccessible when middle position occupied); -1 Non-zooming real time traffic app = non-usable; -1 Several obsolete native navigation POI listings are obsolete; Convoluted spin, depress or toggle center process for console rotary command controller when using mobile phone projection systems.
HOW MUCH: $43,170 = 2023 Mazda CX-50 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus AWD price as tested
WHAT’S MISSING: USB-C ports supplementing USB-A; 115V AC outlet; Active parking assist, 2nd Row seat heating & climate control
ANY COMPETITION: Buick Envision: +1 Intuitive, touch display infotainment, active parking assist & convenience amenities; Honda Passport: V-6, variable digital instrument cluster, passenger space & amenities; Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy: +1 Quilted leather, more variable gauge cluster, touch media display, signal side camera display, creature comforts, available gas electric hybrid powertrain
BOTTOM LINE: Natural number of Five followed by a whole number of Zero becomes truer to midsize in Zoom Zoom CUV speak.
Contributing Editor: T. Paluch