~ A DriveWays Review ~
by Frank A. Aukofer

Mazda traditionally has focused on the performance side of the automotive spectrum, offering engaging and even exciting handling along with tightly wound engines and transmissions, even as it expanded its efforts to upgrade amenities to near luxury. Now it has blended both in the CX-50 Turbo Premium Plus.

It is an all new compact crossover sport utility from the Japanese manufacturer for 2023, similar to but a notch better than the existing and similar sized CX-5, which was reviewed here as a 2022 model. The conclusion then was that the CX-5 was “the sort of inviting vehicle that entices drivers who hanker to get behind the wheel to simply experience the joy of driving.”

At least for the foreseeable future, the new luxury-leaning CX-50 and the earlier CX-5 will be sold side-by-side at Mazda stores. Choosing between them likely will cause some head-scratching, to wit:

The CX-5 is less expensive and powerful, shorter front to back, a tad lighter but actually roomier inside than the new CX-50. Its Skyactiv G 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine makes 227 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of twisting force on regular gasoline. Bump up to premium and the horsepower jumps to 256 and the torque to 320.

Those are exactly the power numbers for the 2.5-liter turbo in the 2023 CX-50—also on regular gasoline. It’s an object lesson in how clever engineering can tweak engine performance.

Both vehicles come standard with all-wheel drive and six-speed automatic transmissions with manual shift modes, delivering similar performance with zero to 60 miles an hour acceleration times in the six-second range.

It should be noted that both testers were top-level models: CX-50 a Premium Plus with a base price of $43,575 and a tested price of $44,170, and the CX-5 Signature with a starting price of $39,875 and a tested price of $40,595. All prices include the destination charge, which no customer escapes.

Numbers augment the tale of how close these fraternal twins from Mazda resemble each other: The CX-5, at 15 feet long, is six inches shorter than the CX-50. But it has 134 cubic feet of space inside—104 for passengers and 30 for cargo behind the back seat. The CX-50 has 98 cubic feet for passengers and 31 for cargo, for a total of 129.

The CX-5, at 3,855 pounds, weighs just 10 pounds less than the 3,865 pounds of the CX-50. But there’s a big gap when it comes to towing capability, with the CX-50 able to haul a maximum of 3,500 pounds compared to the CX-5’s 2,000 pounds.

Fuel economy is close to even between the two: an EPA city/highway/combined rating for the CX-50 of  23/29/24 mpg with the CX-5 coming in at 22/27/24 mpg.

On the road, the 2023 Mazda CX-50 Premium Plus delivers an almost Germanic ambiance. Like cars from Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW, there’s enough engine noise making its way into the cabin to announce that you’re driving a performance machine. The CX-50, however, can get raucous under hard acceleration.

Once underway at Interstate speeds and depending on the surface surface, road and tire noise joins the engine to announce that this Mazda is neither electric nor a silent Rolls-Royce. Though noticeable, however, the sounds are not fatiguing.

The tester’s interior was a mélange of beautiful perforated brown leather seats, trimmed in black with contrasting stitching, carried over onto the dash and doors. Front and outboard back seats were supportive and comfortable, with easy access through wide doors. As usual in many vehicles, the center-rear seat disses the occupant with tight dimensions, hard cushion, high floor hump and intrusion of the front center console.

Out back, there’s a nicely carpeted cargo area with a temporary spare wheel and tire nestled under the floor. Rear seatbacks fold nearly flat to open up additional cargo space. However, the seatbacks do not recline for their passengers.

Instruments are comprehensive and easy to read, with a head up display, and the center infotainment screen is mounted at eye level. One drawback: some functions are controlled by a sometimes balky response to a rotary knob. Overhead, a panoramic sunroof is divided between fixed glass and open fresh air. There’s an an opaque sun shade with one-touch opening and closing.

The 2023 Mazda CX-50 competes handily against competitors that include the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape and Volkswagen Tiguan.

Specifications

  • Model: 2023 Mazda CX-50 Turbo Premium Plus AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 256 hp, 320 lb-torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 6 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 100/31 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,865 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 3,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/29/25 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $43,575.
  • Price as tested: $44,170.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review. Photos © Mazda