MAZDA’S CX-50 PREMIUM PLUS AWD
Santa Clarita, CA – If shopping for a compact or midsize crossover, I have just three words: Good frickin’ luck. The U.S. marketplace is overrun with choices in the car-based utility realm. And while choice is good, confusion is typically not, and for even those of us paying close attention the number of choices in the crossover category can be utterly baffling. With all of that, an outlier in this space is eye-opening, and Mazda’s product team has come up with one. Calling it CX-50, it is as much tall wagon (think Audi’s A4-based allroad) as it is conventional crossover. And unlike most crossovers, the driver is given as much consideration as that driver’s stuff.
At its launch (in the 2023 model year) there was a lot of speculation regarding its place – and its space – on a Mazda showroom. With Mazda’s CX-30 and CX-5 in the lineup, and a CX-90 about to be introduced, there were the doubters, wondering if a CX-5 – Mazda’s most popular model – could co-exist with the CX-50, given their almost identical price points and target audiences. I’m here to tell you they can, and while the CX-5 has never (and probably will never) set my heart on fire, it has its fans; the new CX-50 builds on another form of fandom.
I’d liken Mazda’s take on this duality to the bicycle industry. For seemingly ever the road bike was the staple among serious cyclists, until – of course – the advent of the mountain bike, which carved out its own legion of fans. Much later, a few roadies wanted to continue road riding when the pavement ends, while mountain bikers hoped to connect their off-roading with a favorite coffee shop or bar. To those mutually beneficial ends we have the gravel bike, combining a road-like frame with offroad-compatible rubber. And when the pavement ends you just keep on pedaling.
Mazda’s CX-50 is spec’d with a similar frame of reference. It has a tad more ground clearance than the CX-5, but the CX-50 isn’t for boulder hopping. And with a 5-inch stretch of its wheelbase (111 vs. 106 in the CX-5) it would do less well on technical trails than its numerically smaller sibling. But when the pavement ends and gravel begins, I’d be more comfortable nailing the throttle in the CX-50, especially if spec’d with Mazda’s Meridian trim, given its 18-inch wheels and more aggressive, dual-purpose rubber.
Speaking of rubber: Our test vehicle, a Premium Plus, sitting at almost $45K with destination, had 20-inch all-season rubber in a 245/45 size, which produced a heckuva lot of racket on LA’s 495 beltway as we left LAX and headed to I-5. I’m not sure the 18-inchers on the Meridian would have been more quiet, but they could not have been noisier – and would prove more resistant to potholes than the 45-series on the Premium Plus. For the Premium Plus tire/wheel combo I’d recommend wheel insurance, and your friendly F&I guy would be happy to provide it.
Behind the wheel, the CX-50 is everything you’d hope Mazda’s Zoom-Zoom formula would provide. The turbocharged 2.5 liter four, with 256 horsepower when burning premium (and 227 hp on regular) drives all wheels via a 6-speed automatic. Car and Driver magazine went from 0-60 in 6.6 seconds, and while that’s a fraction of a second slower than the slightly lighter CX-5, you can still get home before the ice cream melts. And the way the CX-50 goes about its business is exactly as you’d want: Steering is direct, braking is reassuring, cornering relatively flat. And since you’re sitting lower, you feel closer to the CX-50’s center of gravity than you are in a more conventional crossover.
The CX-50, within the context of almost 100 cubic feet of passenger room (and 31 cubic feet of cargo volume), has adequate space for four adults, and given the slightly lower roofline when compared to the CX-5 (or other crossovers) you’ll be more inclined to use a storage box atop the roof rails, freeing the interior for disposable diapers and the inevitable juice boxes.
Despite having a ’21 Miata, I still find Mazda’s infotainment interface baffling, and would like nothing better than to delete it in favor of an all-analog presentation. But it’ll probably take Hell freezing over when/if that were to happen.
Of course, if Hell does freeze over I’ll hope to have my own CX-50. With the Meridian trim. And winter tires.