It seems like so many automakers are trying to tackle the great outdoors with special trims, additional packages, and even new models. Mazda has picked up the trail with their upcoming 2023 CX-50 SUV. 

The CX-50 is said to be purpose built for the active lifestyles of North Americans; think a week of commuting followed by a weekend in the mountains or at the beach. So Mazda brought us out to California to see this two-pronged approach for ourselves.

We were given a 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus for our jaunt through SoCal; that's the highest trim available, flexing 20-inch wheels, ventilated front seats and a full color heads-up display. For reference, our demo model will cost around $42,000. Other features include Mazda’s first panoramic moonroof, a new touchscreen display with smartphone compatibility, a wireless charger for said devices, and a Bose 12 speaker sound system. Plenty of tech for a commuter.

Further tethering it to its North American roots, the CX-50 will be built at the Mazda Toyota joint manufacturing plant in Huntsville, Alabama. That’s where the new Toyota Corolla Cross is being made; though please note that the models use bespoke parts. Nothing shared between the two aside from assembly line logistics and workflow.

At the presentation, the big question on everyone’s mind: “will the CX-50 replace the CX-5?” Well, we didn’t get a definite yea or nay, but Mazda made it clear that the CX-5 is one of their most popular models and is built to offer more for the urban lifestyle, whereas the CX-50 is meant to attract weekend explorers. So if I had to guess, the CX-5 isn’t being ousted just yet; however, the CX-50 may be more attractive to buyers of all kinds. It’s generally larger; slightly longer and with wider hips in the rear and, surprisingly, it sits a little lower than the CX-5. That extra road presence outside leads to more volume inside-- a very generous cargo space in back; very deep and certainly versatile. That being said, that wide stance doesn’t feel massive on the road, making for a pleasurable experience.

"So, here I am driving the streets around Santa Barbara and so far the CX-50 is exactly what you’d expect from a Mazda crossover. I mean, it’s quiet, it's smooth, and it’s predictable. But that’s not all the CX-50 is meant to be or, or-- well, at least according to Mazda."

That’s right, Mazda wanted to make a vehicle that could get you off the highway and into the highlands-- or at least a little bit. And that starts with the powertrain.  All CX-50’s are led by a 2.5-liter inline-four; one naturally aspirated for 187 horsepower, the other turbocharged for 227 horses on regular 87 octane and 256 horses when fueled by premium 93. Torque follows a similar trend; NA’s see 186 lb-ft and turbo models see either 310 or 320 lb-ft on regular and premium respectively. That power is transferred by a standard six-speed automatic to the also standard all-wheel drive system. On the pavement, those powertrains help the CX-50 feel sporty, like a Mazda should. We’re not talking MX-5 or RX-7 levels of sporty, but the amount of detail that went into weight transferring, throttle response and the all-wheel drive system really shows, especially when demoed out in the tight Cali mountain apexes. Selectable drive modes allow operators to tailor the driving experience to the conditions at hand. In my case, that soon involved sand, dirt, and some steep contours.

"The kind of off-roading the CX-50 is made for is really the last few miles it takes for you to get to your campsite. So, gravel roads, maybe some rocks, some standing water, stuff like that-- nothing too perilous. That being said, it handles all these conditions very well. Especially in the off-road mode, I don’t feel like it’s losing grip, I don’t feel like the tires are digging in-- um, again, relatively light conditions, but it feels fine."

Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control, or GVC, uses weight transferring logic to provide more stability on gravel roads at higher speeds and low-speed traction on steep inclines. We may have been on a curated course, but climbing hills and shuffling through sand was proof enough that Mazda’s approach to the CX-50 was more than just marketing. And a short towing demo gave credence to the turbo model’s 3,500 pound tow capacity.

Now look, I’m not going to tell you to hop in the CX-50 and try to take on the Rubicon trail; but that should be a given. The CX-50 is for the adventurous individual who needs something a little more practical on the road and a little more passionate on the trails. And with a starting price of around $27,000, we hope more people can get out and explore.

We have so much more to say about the 2023 Mazda CX-50, and it’s all coming very soon on MotorWeek!



  • Engine: 2.5L Inline-4 | 2.5L Turbo-4
  • Horsepower: 187 | 227
  • Torque: 186 lb-ft | 310 lb-ft
  • Starting Price: $42,000