Among mainstream automakers, Mazda has a reputation as the driving enthusiast's choice. Its vehicles compete with Toyota or Honda and other mainstream brands in price but offer qualities associated with more expensive luxury brands like Audi or BMW, such as excellent on-road manners and high-quality interiors.
This is why this new, off-road-oriented CX-50 is a bit of a surprise from the Japanese automaker.
Like how Ford sells its conventional Escape alongside its more ruggedly-styled Bronco Sport, the CX-50 is a 5-passenger compact SUV that’s not afraid to leave the pavement, sold alongside its sleeker, road-oriented siblings.
"The world-class design and dynamic driving performance of the CX-50 on and off-road makes it unique in the compact SUV segment and within our own line-up, and will support the CX-30 and CX-5 in offering consumers even more choice for every diverse lifestyle," said David Klan, President and CEO, Mazda Canada Inc. "More than ever, our customers are looking for a vehicle that can do more and take them further, and CX-50 will answer the call."
Based on manufacturer-supplied images, you couldn’t mistake the new CX-50 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 that’s not afraid to get its hiking boots muddy. 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, and the CX-50’s wheel wells are lined in thick, black, scratch-resistant cladding.
Mazda will offer only gas-engine CX-50 power plants at first. A 2.5-litre 4-cylinder unit 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-litre turbocharged SkyActive engine. It’s a version of the engine found in the Mazda6 mid-size sedan, 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 modes. Those last two are new for Mazda and speak to the brand’s intentions to expand on its great-on-the-pavement image to buyers that may want to also go off the pavement.
Mazda is also promising electrified CX-50s for the future.
“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 automaker 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.
What’s the same?
There isn’t much to make the CX-50’s cabin look outdoorsy compared to other small Mazda SUVs. We see none of the waterproof surfaces and prominent badges of the Subaru Outback-based Wilderness rival 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.”
Instead, colour choices are earthy. A lovely linear dash features a line of contrast-colour stitching down the center. The central touchscreen sits higher than in other small Mazda SUVs.
When will it go on sale?
Mazda says to expect the new 2023 CX-50 to arrive at dealerships in spring 2022.
How much will it cost?
Mazda hasn’t released pricing details. We expect CX-50 prices to start a little north of the CX-5’s $29,650 starting price in Canadian dollars.