Mazda’s larger CX-50 is just the right size

John Gilbert

When Mazda announced it planned to move its entire fleet of vehicles up a notch, adding luxury to the already-brilliant technology its engineering staff has concocted, and making a rational price increase to balance it all, I was worried.

I love driving Mazdas – all Mazdas. They live up to a code of “Zoom-zoom” for the fun quotient their sedans, sports cars and SUVs have always exhibited. But they also are surprisingly economical to drive. So if Mazda moves upscale to show off its new 2.5-liter Turbo, the fuel economy will have to take a bit of a nose-dive.

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend a week living with a 2023 Mazda CX-50, in Zircon Sand Metallic, and it came loaded with features and options that properly showed off the larger and roomier compact SUV.

While it shows a strong family resemblance to its siblings – the CX-5, CX-30, Mazda3, and virtually everything Mazda makes – with a large, aggressive grille now adding a serious overbite, which makes it more ferocious-looking.

I would say the CX-50 is nearly a perfect vehicle for a young family or an aging couple looking to make room for grandkids, but I just used that phrase while describing the new Audi A3 sedan, which got sensational fuel economy while deploying quattro all-wheel-drive to stick to the road like the proverbial rails.

I also owe readers an apology, because somehow we had a procedural foul-up, and the primary photo, showing the A3’s attractive look, never got delivered. As payback, I’ll include a version of that photo with today’s column.

So now we’re dealing with two nearly perfect vehicles in succession. The Mazda was equipped with the new 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, turning out 186 horsepower and 186 foot-pounds of torque. It’s enough to send the CX-50 right along with a zippy demeanor, but the beauty of the vehicle’s performance is the more-hidden tricks.

That includes the SkyActive engine design, plus the superb G-Vectoring trick on the front suspension.

The suspension itself is beefed up because the CX-50 is being advertised as a true off-roader, although we didn’t take it off-road more than to negotiate getting to our driveway past the gooey base layers of gravel being applied to our road in preparation for repaving.

G-Vectoring is not just a catch-phrase for computerized stiffening of the shocks to aid going around a corner; it actually decreases the stiffness of the front outside shock while the engine power is reduced to that wheel – all for just a millisecond, which convinces you that you’re turning in the perfect trajectory.

It has never gotten the credit it deserves, but every time you drive it hard around curves or corners, pay attention and you’ll realize you never have to correct the steering wheel.

Very slick leather seats and fine fit and finish on the dashboard and door panels set off the interior, which has a typically Mazda all-business instrument cluster.

The console has all sorts of controls, including for driving from normal to eco to sporty, And the audio is controlled by a large round knob with a small one next to it that controls volume.

The CX-50 meets its primary requirement, which was to expand on the CX-5 compact SUV by increasing rear head and legroom while also keeping a spacious luggage area under the rear hatch.

It’s been my finding that Mazda’s smaller engines provide much better fuel economy, and I was surprised that I got 26 mpg with the 2.5 and its 6-speed automatic. If we drove strictly in town – Duluth, with all its hills – that number dropped to about 22.

But the 2.5 shines when you want swift acceleration, and Mazda has done a great job of getting along with a 6-speed automatic when many companies are up to 8 or 9 or even 10 speeds. Mazda’s theory is that if your engine will rev, rev it, and having six wide-ratio gears is a benefit, even if it isn’t the stuff of PR releases.

The CX-50 starts at $41,550 and reaches $43,170 with a few options. Just remember, that if you don’t need the added ruggedness for off-road duty, check out the CX-5’s limited rear seat space, or even the Mazda3 hatchback, which has good room and flexibility, and you can get it with the new 2.0-liter engine with significantly better fuel economy.

Actually, the CX-50 and its smaller cousin, the CX-30, both can be selected with the 2.0 engine, which has new power in its latest high-tech advance. I can’t wait to drive the CX-50 with the smaller engine, just to see if it’s adequate.

My guess is that it will be more than  adequate, because “zoom-soon” is still standard equipment.