Mazda is not known for its off-road prowess. But the company sees room for improvement there. Meet the 2023 Mazda CX-50 – the first outdoorsy Mazda MZDAY, -1.20% we’ve seen in a long time.
Among mainstream carmakers, Mazda has a reputation as the driving enthusiast’s choice. Its vehicles compete with Toyota TM, -0.02%, Chevy, and other mainstream automakers. What they bring to the fight is excellent on-road manners, attracting buyers who want a little zoom in their commute.
Mazda didn’t offer pricing details. The CX-50 is a compact SUV that will be sold alongside the CX-5 but not replace it. We expect prices to start a little north of the CX-5’s $25,370 sticker. It will reach sales lots in the spring.
The look: Mazda goes shopping at REI
You couldn’t mistake it for anything but a Mazda. It has the same shield grille flanked by squinting headlights as the rest of the Mazda lineup. But this is a Mazda with a collection of hiking boots. That grille is blackened, and the trim around it thicker to give a burlier impression. Engineers widened the door sills to make it easier to stand on them while loading the available roof rack.
Optional matte-black hood decals reduce glare. The wheel wells are lined in thick, black, scratch-resistant cladding.
Inside, a more restrained approach
There isn’t much to make the cabin look outdoorsy. We see none of the waterproof surfaces and prominent badges of a Subaru FUJHY, +0.10% Wilderness model here. Mazda says its goal with the cabin was to “create a welcoming atmosphere fitting for both adventurists and those just starting their journey into an active lifestyle.” So perhaps they held off on the rubber floormats for now.
Instead, color choices are earthy. A lovely linear dash features a line of contrast-color stitching down the center. The central touchscreen sits higher than most.
Standard all-wheel-drive; hybrid coming later
Mazda will offer only gasoline-powered CX-50 models at first.
A 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine will power base models. Mazda didn’t give power figures, but the same mill makes 187 horsepower in the CX-5.
Buyers can step up to a 2.5-liter turbocharged SkyActive engine. It’s a version of the engine found in the Mazda6, where it makes 250 horsepower.
Both engines send power through a 6-speed automatic transmission to all four wheels. The CX-50 will have a drive mode selector with normal, sport, off-road, and towing options. Those last two are new for Mazda and speak to the brand’s intentions to expand on its great-on-the-pavement image.
The CX-50 is the first of a series of new SUVs we expect from Mazda. A larger CX-70 and three-row CX-90 will come next.
Hybrid, electric options possible
“In the coming years, the CX-50 will also be offered with electrified powertrains,” Mazda says, “including a traditional hybrid model.” “Including” suggests something beyond a simple hybrid is coming.
A plug-in hybrid seems more likely than a pure electric vehicle (EV).
Mazda recently introduced its first EV – the 2022 MX-30. With that model, Mazda took a short-range, around-town EV approach that wouldn’t lend itself naturally to a vehicle meant to get its driver out of the city and off the asphalt. So the company doesn’t have a parts bin that would let it easily build a convincing CX-50 EV. “More information about our electrified models will be shared at a later date,” Mazda says.
This story originally ran on KBB.com.