Subaru has its Wilderness line, Toyota has a RAV4 TRD Off-Road, Ford has a Bronco Sport built on its Escape platform — it’s clear that small, off-road-ish SUVs are hot right now, and Mazda wants in on the fun with the 2023 Mazda CX-50. Here’s what we know so far about this badass-looking crossover.
I realize that calling a crossover with mild off-road capabilities “badass” may seem a bit odd, especially from a diehard off-roader like me. But I’m talking about looks here, because let’s be honest, that’s why people buy these vehicles anyway — it’s all about image. And this Mazda CX-50 looks incredible.
The fact is, Mazda’s styling is already on-point. The CX-5, which, as far as I can tell, is the vehicle closest in size to this upcoming CX-50, is a beauty. So it should be no surprise that taking that styling as a basis and off-road-ifying it yields a thing of beauty.
Mazda has followed the same formula that everyone else is using: throw some black plastic cladding on the bottoms of the doors and on the wheel arches, jack up the ground clearance a bit, throw some chunky tires on some aggressive looking black wheels, trim the front and rear facias a bit (and add either a silver skid plate or silver trim that looks like a skid plate), and install some matte black graphics on the hood.
Mazda’s president and CEO describes the new crossover using the most predictable terms possible: “This new Mazda vehicle has been developed for North America, particularly to support the active and outdoor lifestyles of customers in this region.” Classic.
The vehicle will come standard with all-wheel drive and some new drive modes (Sport, Normal, and Off-Road, per Mazda’s dash photo). CNET’s Roadshow spoke with verifiable badass and engineer Dave Coleman from Mazda, who broke the drive modes down a bit, saying:
“If you’re off the pavement, off-road mode is the one you want,” says Dave Coleman, vehicle development engineer at Mazda R&D. “It’s as simple as that.”
“While [multiple off-road modes] seems exciting in the showroom, we found it confusing off-road,” Coleman continues. “The real-world conditions are always some ambiguous combination of surfaces landing somewhere between the settings you’re choosing from. We firmly believe the most intelligent system in the vehicle is the driver.”
I agree with Dave. For a vehicle as limited as the CX-50 will be off-road (and you can just tell by looking at it — geometry is key, remember), do you really need a bunch of off-road modes? I’d say probably not.
Engine options will include a 2.5-liter naturally aspirated inline-four and a turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-four. These are the same engines that make 187 horsepower and 250 horsepower, respectively, in the CX-5. Both motors will come bolted to six-speed automatics — a bit old-school for 2022, but decent transmissions nonetheless. Mazda also says a hybrid CX-50 will join the fun later.
Despite sharing the CX-5's powertrains, the CX-50 isn’t likely to be built on the compact Mazda SUV’s old bones. Car and Driver reports that the platform under the CX-50's “rugged” cladding will be the same one found under the Mazda3 and Mazda CX-30. The company says production of the new off-road crossover will begin this upcoming January. Per Automotive News, Mazda is predicting the CX-50 will crank up the company’s sales volumes by 150,000 vehicles. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were right; this seems to be exactly what the U.S. is thirsting for right now.