Your Experience, Accentuated

The CX-50 Turbo, the rugged kin of Mazda’s CX-5, is more capable with the same refined interior.
Mar 1, 2024
Barry Spyker

The CX-5 may lead all Mazda crossovers in sales, but its stablemate, the CX-50, has bragging rights when the asphalt turns to dirt, gravel or sand. 

That’s because the more rugged 2024 CX-50 is armed with standard all-wheel-drive, 8.6 inches of ground clearance, and an off-road drive mode which shifts torque to the rear wheels for better traction. Mazda also retuned the dampers and steering this year for stronger off-road performance.

So hoist the kayak onto the roof rack, load the camping gear and hit that favorite riverside put-in. Just leave the rough stuff for Jeep, Ford Bronco and others. While the CX-50 is trail-ready, it’s not built for hardcore off-roading and doesn’t pretend to be.

But it looks menacing enough. Longer (by nearly six inches) and wider (by four) than the CX-5, it has a broad blackened grille, thin LED lights, and angular black trim with bulging fenders. It’s beefy in the rear, too, with squared protruding lights, flared fenders and large twin-exhaust tips. Vents at front and rear may be fake, but they still look good.

Why does Mazda have two compact crossovers? Well, the CX-50 likely is the eventual replacement for the CX-5 but, for now, Mazda seems to be having trouble letting go of its sales leader.

When it comes to power, go turbo. The optional twin-scroll turbocharged 2.5-liter engine kicks up 227 hp and a strong 310 pound-feet of torque, and the inline four can reach 256 hp and 320 pound-feet if you pony up for premium fuel (93 octane). 

A quick-shifting six-speed automatic transmission regulates the power delivery. The result is a dash to 60 mph in just 6.8 seconds — one of the fastest in the compact segment — and 80 mph in 12 seconds. 

It’s one of the best handlers in a segment that includes Toyota RAV4, Kia Sportage and Subaru Forester. Its firmer suspension keeps it well poised on corners with minimal body roll, but bumps and dips are well muted.

Keeping it planted is Mazda’s latest version of the much-lauded i-ACTIV all-wheel-drive system, which employs multiple sensors to figure out how much torque to send to rear wheels for optimum grip and efficiency. All this makes it fun to drive, something we’ve grown accustomed to with Mazda. 

It is the first Mazda to offer drive modes as standard. Normal mode handles the everyday stuff, Sport enhances accelerator response, and Off-Road shifts torque and retunes steering for better performance in mud, sand and snow. A Tow mode focuses on stability while the CX pulls as much as 3,500 pounds, also near tops in the class. 

The turbo brings down fuel economy to 25 mpg combined — 23 city, 29 highway — but that’s the price for brisker performance. No turbo hybrid is available yet.

The cabin has quality materials and a refined, even upscale look. Stitching, fit and finish are impeccable. And every CX-50 this year gets a 10.25-inch touchscreen.

Leather-trimmed seats are nicely padded and bolstered, heated and ventilated, and come in black or terracotta with accent stitching. On the doors and dash is simulated leather with matching colors and cross-stitch pattern. Both front seats are power adjustable.

There’s ample head- and leg-room front and rear, but three adults across the rear could get too cozy. 

Rear seats have optional heating, though, and have their own AC vents.

Giving the cabin an airy feel is a panoramic moonroof, a first for any Mazda. The Premium Plus trim includes an outstanding 12-speaker Bose audio system, despite a puzzling radio tuning system.

The infotainment touchscreen, oddly, only works by touch with the wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Audio. Otherwise, functions are controlled by a console-mounted dial and adjacent menu buttons. That’s actually ok since it’s a stretch to the screen atop the dashboard anyway.

Navigation has crisp graphics, and voice commands can be used to input addresses. Climate can be controlled with buttons and knobs.

Three gauges provide vehicle data: A pair of analog gauges flank a reconfigurable data screen. There are multiple USB-A ports and a wireless phone pad, and plenty of spots to store stuff, including large door pockets.

As for rear cargo space, it’s about the same as last year. Behind the second row is 31.4 cubic feet of space, and folding the 60/40-split rear seats opens 56.3 cubes. Those numbers rank behind most in the class.

But the CX-50 has elevated its suite of safety features with standard adaptive cruise control, blind spot and lane departure warnings, forward collision warning and emergency braking with pedestrian detection. The Premium Plus package adds 360-degree camera, traffic jam assist, front and rear parking sensors, and rear brake assist.

Built at a joint Mazda-Toyota plant in Huntsville, Alabama, the CX-50 offers a chance to get dirty and dabble in off-road territory. But it’s the sporty ride and upscale cabin that will likely win the most grins. 

Barry Spyker was the automotive editor and columnist for the Miami Herald


2024 Mazda CX-50 Turbo Premium Plus

MSRP: $43,300 (Includes traffic-jam assist, 360-degree monitor, heated rear seats, smart-brake and blind-spot assist, navigation and wireless phone charger)

What’s all the excitement about? Drive modes standard (a first from Mazda) including Off-Road, and first optional panoramic moonroof

Powertrain: Turbocharged 2.5-liter inline four capable of 256 hp and 320 pound-feet of torque; Mated to a six-speed transmission

How’s the performance? Quick for the segment with a dash to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds, well composed and grippy on corners; Ready for dirt and sand trails with all-wheel-drive and 8.6 inches of ground clearance 

Fuel economy: EPA-estimated 29 mpg highway, 23 city, for combined average of 25 mpg


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