The Mazda CX-5 makes fast friends wherever it goes since it went on sale nearly a decade ago. A few of us have liked it so much that we bought a few examples over the years that served as transportation for families, but with an ulterior motive lurking beneath the surface- we chose it because it is by far the most engaging, fun-to-drive crossover you can get. It would seem a legion of buyers out there agree, because a huge community of moms and dads have stepped up to put one in their own driveways, refusing to keep driving fun and family schlepping two mutually exclusive concepts. This trend has persisted to the point where the CX-5 finds itself as the best selling car in the Mazda lineup by a healthy margin , and so when we learned that Mazda was going release a similar yet different version of the perennial favourite, we were intrigued.
If you fancy yourself a CX-5 enthusiast, the 50 is going to feel very familiar. Mazda did not stray far at all from the recipe that has made the CX-5 so popular- didn’t need to, really. Engines, drivetrains, even much of the kit you find in the interior have carried over. We’re thankful they went that route and resisted the temptation to do something different for differing’s sake because it would have spoiled the overall experience of driving the thing, and for many, that’s exactly why they ponied up their hard earned dough for one. The biggest departure between these two corporate cousins can be found in the styling. We like the shape of the CX-5, but the CX-50 is much squatter and more athletic looking. Its proportions look quite fetching when rendered in Mazda’s design language, and our favourite bit is those oh-so-swollen rear haunches whose perfection is only the slightest bit marred by an ill-advised fake vent. They remind us of the sultry hips that make cars like the Porsche 911 and BMW M3 so pleasing to look at.
There are a few noteworthy features that struck a chord with us during our time spent in the CX-50, and we’ll begin with the minutiae, which we so love to do. We found unexpected joy in the lighting elements fore and aft and allow us to explain why. First, the LED headlights up front pierce the dark of night very effectively and have a very clearly defined cut-off of where the light reaches. We actually went out of our way to some poorly lit rural roads to soak up their goodness (yes, we are aware of how nerdy that is, but we digress.) There’s nice LED lighting at the stern too, but a very cool bit of engineering that will likely go unnoticed by many is the way the LED turn signals ‘warm up’ when you activate them. Most LED turn signals have a very sharp and succinct on/off behaviours, but the engineers at Mazda have found a way to time their activation so it looks more organic and more humanized as they illumine when you signal a lane change. If you couldn’t already tell, we find details like this quite enrapturing.
Count us as fans of the 2.5 litre turbo engine, which makes varying degrees of power depending on the octane richness of the diet you feed it. A revver this is not, with the engine almost taking on a diesel-like feeling as it makes most of its meaningful thrust way down low in the rev range. The rich vein of torque it affords at lower engine speeds allows a feeling of waftability that you typically find in small cars with oversized engines. Keep the turbo boost to a minimum and it’ll return good efficiency. Helping to contribute to that stinginess Is Mazda’s famous ‘gram’ strategy, where even the smallest fasteners, nuts and bolts and other associated componentry are scrutinized and then chosen for their strength while remaining as light as possible. It may seem funny to stress over individual wiring harness clamps, but there is a positive net result overall that helps make the CX-50 feel so nimble and light on its feet.
We don’t normally gush over paint jobs, but isn’t our tester’s Soul Red livery just divine? It almost seems iridescent in the sun, taking on a pleasing glow. There are many reds across a sea of pantone colours, but we think this might be amongst the best of them.
And yet as strong as the CX-50’s game is, we did notice some flies in the ointment. The first gets levied towards the infotainment system, and this gripe left us feeling conflicted. On one hand, the infotainment is sophisticated in its design and it responds reasonably astutely to commands. On the other, it can take more than a few layers to get to the point where you simply want to tune a radio station, or add said radio station to your favourites list. Perhaps the menu structures could use a rethink to make them more intuitive and easier to navigate. Our only other complaint that registered more than a forgettable grumble was the Heads-Up Display. We admit to not being fans of the technology- we find it somewhat distracting- so you can imagine the gritted teeth that ensued every time we set off and had to turn it off through the aforementioned multilayered menu system. It’s not that Mazda’s HUD technology is lacking, it’s just that we prefer an unencumbered view out the windscreen. Why it can’t simply be tuned off for good until otherwise summoned is a mystery to us.
But don’t let these minor niggles fool you into thinking the CX-50 isn’t worthy of your consideration. Its strengths far outweigh any weaknesses, and then of course you have its extremely polished driving experience as an integral part of the package. In a segment filled with dull, boring, appliance-like choices, Mazda’s midsize offerings represent a bright spot that makes them a very compelling choice in our estimation. A few years ago, we drove one of the CX-50’s competitors in the Chevrolet Blazer. We came away from the experience feeling underwhelmed. It’s not that it’s a terrible car, its just that its so dull. We suggested that if GM could add a drop of the elixir that makes the Corvette such a special car and spread it across the lineup, it would make for a very different look of all its products to the better. We see Mazda employing a similar strategy with its portfolio; while you’d never confuse an MX-5 with a CX-50, you can sense the sports cars mojo at work simply by navigating a highway onramp. It matters not weather you go with the tried-and-true CX-5 or the flashier dressed CX-50 if it is a sprightly driving crossover you seek- but for us, the CX-50 had our vote at the first sight of those lovely fenders.
2023 Mazda CX-50 GT Turbo - Specifications
- Price as tested: $47,950
- Body Type: 4-door, 5 passenger SUV
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive
- Engine: 2.5-litre turbocharged inline 4, DOHC, 16 valves
- Horsepower: 256 @ 5,000 rpm
- Torque (lb-ft.): 320 @ 2,500 rpm
- Transmission: 6-speed automatic
- Curb weight: 1,777 kg (3,917 lbs)
- Observed Fuel consumption: 11.8/100km (20 mpg)