We've said it before. We love Mazdas. They build some of the most attractive, fun-to-drive, and reliable vehicles in the industry, and they're on a roll with new models. The new CX-30 compact crossover is a huge hit for them and with the exception of the rather underwhelming MX-30 EV, the rest of the Mazda lineup is phenomenal. Now, the CX-50, a more off-road leaning small crossover, is here. It's based on the CX-30 and the Mazda3, but it's larger in size, about the same as the current CX-5. It's priced a few hundred dollars more than the CX-50 ($26,800 vs. $26,250). We got to experience the CX-50 for ourselves, and we had high expectations. 

cx50 profile

  • 2023 Mazda CX-50 Turbo Premium Plus AWD (Base MSRP: $41,550); Price as tested: $
  • Polymetal Gray Paint; Terracotta Leather
  • Engine: 256-horsepower, SKYACTIV15-G 2.5 4-cylinder engine with Twin-scroll Turbo and i-Stop
  • Transmission: 6-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode and paddle shifters
  • Standard Features: All-Wheel Drive, G-Vectoring Control PlusAuto On/Off Projector Beam LED Low/High Beam Auto-Leveling Directionally Adaptive Auto High-Beam, Daytime Running Lights, Preference Setting Headlamps w/Delay-Off,20" aluminum-alloy wheels with Black Metallic and machine cut finish, Black Bodyside Insert, Black Bodyside Cladding and Black Wheel Well Trim, Black Grille, Black Power Heated Side Mirrors w/Driver Auto Dimming, Power Folding and Turn Signal Indicator, Body-Colored Door Handles, Automatic Highbeams, LED Brakelights, Lip Spoiler, Perimeter/Approach Lights, Power Liftgate, rain-sensing wipers w/ heat, 20" x 8 Aluminum Alloy and black metallic wheels, Frameless auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink, Leather-trimmed seats, 8-way power-adjustable driver's seat with power lumbar support and 2-position memory, 6-way power-adjustable front passenger's seat, Heated and Ventilated front seats (3 levels), Heated rear seats with 3-level adjustment, Mazda Navigation System, Wireless phone charger, 360º View Monitor, Front and rear parking sensors, Blind Spot Assist, Smart City Brake Support, Traffic Sign Recognition System, Traffic Jam Assist, Heated steering wheel, Bose 12-speaker surround sound system with Centerpoint 2 and AudioPilot 2, SiriusXM Satellite Radio with 3-mo. trial subscription, Windshield-projected Active Driving Display, Automatic rain-sensing variable-intermittent windshield wipers, Power sliding-glass panoramic moonroof with one-touch-open feature and interior sunshade, Rear Power Liftgate with programmable height adjustment, Dual-zone automatic climate control with pollen filter, Advanced Keyless Entry System, Push Button Start, MAZDA CONNECT Infotainment System with 10.25-inch center display, Infotainment system voice command, Multifunction Commander control, Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth, Dual front USB audio input ports and dual rear USB charging ports, Rear View Monitor, Advanced Smart City Brake Support with Pedestrian Detection, Driver Attention Alert, Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Mazda Radar Cruise Control with Stop & Go, Lane Departure Warning System with Lane-keep Assist, Smart Brake Support (forward detection), High Beam Control, Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS)
  • Options: Polymetal Gray Metallic Paint: $395

The Exterior Styling is Evolutionary

cx50 headlight

The exterior styling has gone a bit more squared off, in line with its more rugged purpose. You can tell Mazda wanted to make sure the CX-50 looked very different from the super-popular CX-5 crossover, and they sure pulled it off with a more rugged look that still retains Mazda's penchant for excellent styling inside and out. The grille is still familiar with some nice changes that include the high beams cutting into the outer edges, vertical intakes. and a slight hood bulge. 

cx50 grille

We like the deeper set high beams that actually get pushed back a few inches from the front of the grille frame. It's a nice styling cue that doesn't add complexity to the front end's styling. The grille mesh mimics that flat surface just in front of the headlight, and the dark frame trim works better for this model than straight silver chrome. As a whole, the front end is very well-executed. 

cx50 taillight

We're huge fans of the taillights because they retain some of the circular look of the current Mazda models such as the CX-5, CX-9, and the CX-30. On the CX-50, they're U-shaped and have two different sizes. The taillights also kick out from the edge of the body just a smidge, which we like They add personality to the CX-50 and don't copy taillights from any other vehicle, as far as we can tell. We just wish the CX-60, CX-70, and CX-90 held onto the circular pattern, which it appears they might not retain.

cx50 rear 34

Details like the contrasting rear valence, twin round tailpipes, and vertical faux vents and reflectors that mimic the front give the rear fascia a consistent look. The bulges over the fenderwells also give the CX-50 a nice rugged look that separate it from the rest of the Mazda crossover pack. The CX-50 is topped off by a nice roof spoiler, body-colored door handles, and double-spoke, two-tone wheels. Mazdas don't look like anything else on the road, and it's a testament to their ability to design a vehicle that's attractive but not overstyled. 

The Cabin is Superb

cx50 interior

As it stands with the current lineup of Mazdas, the interiors are head and shoulders above most other mainstream automobiles in terms of materials, styling, and user experience. Only Hyundai and Kia rank in the same echelon. The CX-50 is no exception with lush perforated leather, intricate contrast dash stitching, brushed metal finishes, and high-grade plastics throughout.

cx50 dash trim

Ergonomics are, likewise, top-notch. We find everything very easy to use thanks to the infotainment knob and buttons between the seats and great climate and steering wheel controls. While we wouldn't say that the cabin is more refined than other Mazda crossovers, it does change things up with a more rugged interior that comes in the form of vertical HVAC vents and the contrast cross-stitching on the leather panels on the dash and door. 

cx50 dash

From what we've learned about the way Mazda designs its interiors, there's an insane amount of thought that goes into it. The result is more than just high quality materials use but a clear indication that how things feel to the touch, as well as how they look, matters. You can see that in the way the steering wheel feels in the hand, the way the switches actuate, and the ergonomics of the central infotainment controls. 

cx50 infotainment

The infotainment system has evolved nicely but remains very easy to use with minimal distractions and an easy menu. It might not be as beautiful as versions from BMW, Hyundai, or Land Rover, but it does what it's supposed to do without fanfare or distraction. We found that Apple CarPlay works very well, but unlike many other frustrating interfaces, we didn't opt to use CarPlay most of the time. The wide top-trim 10.25" wide touchscreen is easily visible in bright sunlight and simple enough to read quickly. 

cx50 climate

The controls and buttons are very well done because they're all physical and easy to find and operate. The climate control knobs are large and grippy, and all the buttons are laid out in a clean linear fashion. Unlike some of its competitors, Mazda has thought very hard about how simple a center stack should be to operate, and because of the presence of mostly physical controls, the CX-50 requires very little distraction to use them. 

cx50 rear seats

The rear seats in the CX-50 have a smidge more legroom than the more urban CX-5. The 39.8 inches are ample enough for tall adults to sit comfortably behind tall adults in the front row. As with most vehicles these days, the second row center position has a flat back to accommodate the fold-down armrest and cupholders, so it's not for long distances. Rear occupants also get their own dedicated HVAC vents, USB ports, and heated seat controls (outboard positions). While it might not be cavernous back there, it's a comfortable place to sit. 

Meant for On- and Off-Road Adventures

cx50 front wheel

The CX-50 definitely drives the way we expect a Mazda to drive. Even though it's angled more for mild off-roading adventures, the CX-50 is still very engaging to drive, and it both moves and handles really well on pavement. The driving dynamics are impressive, and its chassis, suspension, and relatively low weight (a hair above 3,900 pounds) surely contribute to this. We pulled out from a local strip mall onto a 50 mph road, and the CX-50 pulled strong, and the steering was dead-on precise. Only Mazda crossovers are this fun to drive (when compared to other mainstream competitors at this price). 

cx50 tail section

One aspect to highlight is the new Mi-Drive technology that debuted on the CX-5. On the CX-50, it has Normal, Sport, Off-Road, and Towing modes.Dial it into Sport mode, and it's truly thrilling to helm. The pull of the engine is strong, and the torque curve is linear. It's also equipped with Mazda's G Vectoring Control Plus, which aids in handling. Brakes are progressive and strong, too. 

cx50 gauge

If you think the CX-50 is just a different-looking CX-5-like model, you'd be wrong. The CX-50 is longer and wider than the CX-5, and it has more ground clearance and a lower roof height. The CX-5 has 7.6 inches of ground clearance, while the CX-50 in higher trim levels has 8.6-inch of ground clearance. The lower roof height is intended to allow for roof racks for outdoor gear. 

What's important to note is that the off-road capabilities in no way hamper the CX-50's driving fun. The added utility provides peace of mind when you're camping or going off pavement (but make no mistake, this is no Jeep Wrangler Unlimited). The CX-50 is one of our favorite crossovers this year, and it shows what Mazda plans on doing in the future with its new models. It's evolutionary, but it is still very special.