One benefit of being a car writer is that I get to spend lots more time behind the wheel of various vehicles than a regular Joe. When I decided to trade in my Toyota Highlander a few years ago, I leveraged that experience to choose what has proven a really great compact SUV for my needs: A 2017 Mazda CX-5 Limited. While it’s become a bit small as my kids have grown up to be rather tall adults, it’s still a reliable and trustworthy car that has proven its worth over many road trips. It’s also no surprise that I keep close track of Mazda and its new vehicles, particularly as it begins to roll out its hybrid, PHEV, and EV vehicles around the world. One of the biggest new additions is the CX-50, the tougher and slightly bigger brother of the CX-5.
When Mazda offered me the chance to drive a 2023 Mazda CX-50 2.5 Turbo in Wind Chill Pearl (aka “white”), I was most enthused; what had Mazda improved in the six years since my CX-5 was built? Turns out that there are a lot of nice refinements, notably a dramatically improved infotainment system, a really nifty new speedometer feature, and a couple of things that I found I didn’t like quite so much. Size-wise, they felt identical, though the specs indicate that the CX-50 is 5.8″ longer, 2.6″ shorter, and has a slightly longer wheelbase and almost an inch of additional ground clearance. They look almost identical, however, even if the CX-50 is known as a “Crossover”. In fact, if you swapped the CX-50 badge for a CX-5 medallion, I’m not sure anyone would realize:
Since Mazda is very tech-forward, many of the safety features haven’t changed in the last few years, though I did notice that the automatic brights feature defaulted to being enabled; drive in a dark area and the brights automatically turn on even if you haven’t turned them on. In my CX-5, it’s a dimming feature, so if I manually turn on the brights it’ll dim them when oncoming headlights are detected, but in the CX-50 it’s both a dimming feature and a brightening feature that turns ON the brights if the road ahead is sufficiently dark. This can be disabled, but it was surprising on my first drive.
Lots of the dashboard has changed and the entertainment center has become more streamlined:
It’s interesting that there’s even more complexity pushed to the center armrest controls, but the traditional gear shift with the leather shift knob is definitely appreciated. Very 60’s Chevy Mustang! The one thing I didn’t much like is that the steering wheel crossbar has slimmed up quite a bit from my CX-5, giving it a bit less of a solid appearance (though the controls are basically the same, and this edition of the CX-50 adds paddle shifters too).
Those paddle shifters suggest that it’s a performance edition and the drive experience was definitely good, showing off the additional boost of the turbo. The main gauge system includes a big tachometer, but at least you might want to pay attention to it if you are manually shifting between the 6-speed gearshift:
For the dramatic changes in the infotainment display, it’s surprising that the main gauge display hasn’t changed much at all from my earlier model, however. This also brings up the fuel efficiency, or, more accurately, the lack of fuel efficiency of this CUV. The EPG rating is 23/29, but as you can see, I saw an average of 22.5mpg. Was it due to the cold? By this point I expect smaller SUVs to be averaging around 30mpg, not 22.5. Heck, my CX-5 averages 27.5mpg in this same weather.
One small addition that I found incredibly helpful, however, was the over-speed-limit display on the speedometer. You can barely see it in the above photo, so here’s a closeup:
The left red tick is the speed limit (also shown on the left: 55mph), then the red bar stretches across the speed display to show how far over the speed limit you’re currently driving. Yes, I was going about 68 mph in a 55 mph zone. Different manufacturers display the speed limit and your speed relative to it with a variety of notations, but this simple solution from Mazda is my favorite. Simple, easy to read and understand. Well done, Mazda UI engineers!
While we’re looking at the infotainment system, it’s become very modern, very much like what I see on luxury Mercedes and Lexus vehicles:
The 2023 Mazda CX-50 also features both wireless Apple CarPlay and wireless Android Auto (and, of course, wired versions of each if you plug in a cable), a terrific upgrade that completely changes how you interact with your phone while in the vehicle. Anything that minimizes drivers staring at their phones while driving is good, and it’s astonishing how frequently I see people looking down, not at the road, even at high speed, or in a busy parking lot.
One more controls photo: the rows of buttons to the left of the steering wheel on the dashboard:
If you can decipher all of them without pulling out the user guide, congratulations to you. Even as a Mazda owner, I couldn’t figure out TCS or i-stop without additional research. TCS = Traction Control System and i-stop = idle stop, the car’s ability to stop the engine at a red light.
Stepping outside of the vehicle, there’s lots of cargo space, a smidge more than the CX-5:
It’s interesting how Mazda made the CX-50 cargo space larger too. With the back row seats up, as shown, the CX-50 has 31.4 cubic feet of storage, while the CX-5 has 29.1 cubic feet. Fold down those seats, however, and they have exactly the same maximum capacity, 59.3 cubic feet. This means that the back seats are slightly closer to the front of the vehicle (particularly when keeping in mind that the CX-50 is a few inches shorter.
No surprise, there’s not a lot of legroom for rear passengers when the driver pushes the seat back, as I do as a 6’2″ driver:
For a smaller family, this will work fine, but if you’ve got a tall crew, you already know that you need a bigger SUV, like a Mazda CX-9, or, eventually, a CX-90, when the latter is introduced to the USA market. The CX-90 will feature a third row of seats and should be available as a full EV for North America too. 2024? Hopefully.
And, finally, here’s another exterior photo of this sleek and rugged improvement over the popular CX-5:
Mazda refers to its design language as “Kodo” and while it’s not quite as sleek as some of the amazing Kodo prototype sedans, there’s a definite aesthetic appeal to the exterior design, as demonstrated above. I’m biased, but still, for a CUV, it’s very attractive. Overall, the 2023 Mazda CX-50 Turbo is a great drive, comfortable, quiet, and a leading option in its model class, with lots of smart refinements and improvements. If you’re looking at vehicles in this class, the CX-50 is one to add to your list.
2023 Mazda CX-50 2.5 Turbo with Premium Plus Package, powered by a 2.5L SkyActiv engine featuring 6-speed automatic transmission in Wind Chill Pearl with Black & Brown interior. AS DRIVEN: $43,970.00
Disclosure: Mazda loaned me this CX-50 in return for a candid writeup and review. Thanks, Mazda!
[ This article was originally published on PlanetDave.com as “2023 Mazda CX-50 2.5 Turbo: Variation on the Theme” ]