What’s the difference between Mazda’s CX-5 and the new CX-50?
One is a little bit more than the other. A little larger, longer and wider — plus a bit more capable.
And only slightly more expensive.
Mazda has done this before with the CX-3 and then the CX-30, the latter being a little more than the former. But the difference wasn’t enough to keep the CX-3 going. Mazda stopped selling the CX-3 not long after it began selling the CX-30.
So, the question seems to be: Is the CX-50 different enough to justify keeping the CX-5 around? Or will it prove to be the replacement for the CX-5?
What It Is
The CX-50 is Mazda’s newest small crossover. It’s a little larger than the compact-size CX-5 but smaller than the CX-9.
It is also available with additional capability, in the form of a Meridian package that is similar to the TRD package Toyota offers with the RAV4, and the Wilderness package Subaru offers with the Crosstrek.
All three offer more ground clearance and come with all-terrain tires. While not really off-roaders, they are set up to go better on-road, when there is unplowed snow on the road and on wet (and muddy) grass.
The base 2.5 S trim stickers for $27,550 — just slightly more than the base 2.5 S trim of the CX-5, which stickers for $26,700.
A top-of-the-line 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus, which comes with a stronger (turbocharged) version of the 2.5-liter engine plus a 12-speaker Bose audio system, a head-up display, adaptive headlights, heated steering wheel and various other upgrades, stickers for $42,300. A similarly kitted-out CX-5 Turbo signature stickers for $39,650.
What’s New For 2023
The CX-50 is an all-new model.
A little more — for not much more.
More than just one engine.
More available towing capability (3,500 pounds vs. just 2,000 pounds for the CX-5).
What’s Not So Good
A bit less total cargo space inside than in the CX-5.
Just one transmission (but it’s not a CVT).
Higher tow rating only comes standard with the optional engine.
Under The Hood
Like the CX-5, the CX-50 comes standard with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that isn’t turbocharged. This is because it’s not so small that it needs to be turbocharged to make enough power to adequately propel a 3,700-pound (empty) vehicle.
It makes 187 horsepower, which is enough to get the CX-50 (and CX-5) to 60 in about nine seconds.
Not speedy, but sufficient.
More than sufficient is available, too. It isn’t in several other crossovers in this class, including both the Toyota RAV4 (2.5 liters, 203 horsepower and no more) and the Honda CR-V (1.5 liters, which also needs to be turbocharged to make its 190 horsepower.
The CX-50’s optional engine is the same 2.5-liter engine, turbocharged this time to make 256 horsepower. So equipped, the CX-50 (and CX-5) becomes one of the quickest in the class, getting to 60 in just over six seconds.
All-wheel drive is standard with either engine, as is a six-speed automatic transmission.
On The Road
Driving the CX-50 is like driving the CX-5, only better.
The longer wheelbase and width give it the ride and feel of a bigger vehicle, even though it’s about the same size as its CX-5 sibling. As is true of all Mazda vehicles, there’s verve here.
While not a Miata (what is?), the CX-50 (and the CX-5) do an admirable job of conveying some of the intangibles that have caused the Miata to be so beloved by those who regard driving as something to be enjoyed while doing it.
You’ll also see something else if you look down at the center console and check out the drive modes. There are two additional ones — turbo and Meridian version. One for towing and one for off-roading. You can pull a 3,500-pound trailer with the CX-50 if you buy one with the turbo’d engine.
At The Curb
The CX-50 looks like it’s much larger than the CX-5, but it isn’t really. The latter is 180.1 inches long, the former 185.8 inches long. But the eye sees more than that because of the longer wheelbase — 4.6 inches longer than the CX-5’s. In addition to that, it is 3 inches wider and 1.4 inches lower. That plus some hunky-looking body cladding does the trick.
The standard equipment roster is also very similar, with some interesting exceptions. While both Mazdas come standard with remote keyless entry and 17-inch wheels, the slightly less expensive CX-5 comes standard with a larger (10.25-inch) LCD touch screen (versus an 8.8-inch unit in the base CX-50) and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. On the other hand, the CX-50 comes standard with an eight (vs. four) speaker audio system and standard roof racks.
The biggest difference is the availability of the Meridian equipment in the CX-50. In addition to the lifted suspension (8.6 inches of clearance) and knobby tires, this one is also set apart via special decals and the availability of options such as brush bars and splash guards.
The only thing that detracts from the experience is the interface for the audio system, which involves an awkward two-step process and remembering how it all works. There’s a big wheel and a small wheel on the center console. You use these to first select the function you want — e.g., change the channel you’re listening to — and then use the wheel to change it. You must remember which way to turn the wheel, as it is not intuitive and must be memorized to use it fluidly.
The Bottom Line
A little more CX might be just enough to make room for two CXs.
Eric’s latest book, “Doomed: Good Cars Gone Wrong!” will be available soon. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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