Review: 2023 Mazda CX-50 Turbo Premium Plus AWD

Credit: Original article published by Classic Cars Journal.

Being a middle-aged parent with a family, pets and too many bills takes the fun away from car shopping. Responsible purchases for the greater good of the family exceed any desire for a cool car that’s fun to drive. I’ll have to keep those dreams of having a Corvette as a daily driver on the back burner until my son is out of high school and heads to college. Yes, being a responsible adult can be a drag sometimes, but all is not lost because there are vehicle options out there for those of us that have families, need some space for our stuff and want something fun to drive.

Good fortune shined on The ClassicCars.com Journal in the form of a 2023 Mazda CX-50 Turbo AWD with the Premium Plus Package that I could use in the name of automotive journalism. I had zero expectations when I received the Mazda, as I have never driven one before.

2023 Mazda CX-50 Turbo Premium Plus AWD (Photo by Dustin W. Johnson)

I found the overall styling of our Machine Gray Metallic CX-50 to be nondescript and fairly drab. A neutral gray tone didn’t help this initial impression, and it could be an adventure to find this mid-size SUV in a crowded Costco parking lot. It looks like most competing SUVs and crossovers, yet I like its overall aesthetic despite its dull nature. You certainly won’t stick out from the crowd in a CX-50.

2023 Mazda CX-50 Turbo Premium Plus AWD
2023 Mazda CX-50 Turbo Premium Plus AWD (Photo by Dustin W. Johnson)

The CX-50’s interior is simple and tidy, with seating for five. The ventilated seats are leather-trimmed and comfortable, with good lumbar support — something I tend to focus on as I have a history of back spasms. As I live in Phoenix, I have decided my next car must have ventilated seats, especially if the seats are leather. In the CX-50, I had no problem finding a comfortable position, plus I found the amenities easy to use. Mazda took the bold step of keeping the controls for the radio, temperature settings, etc. simple, minimal and easy to use. There is no touch screen on the dashboard-mounted 10.25-inch center display — actually, quite the opposite as most amenities are controlled by a dial on the center console. No reaching out to use a touch screen to find Leonard Cohen’s “Death of a Ladies’ Man” on Spotify, just a simple twist of a dial and I don’t have to take my eyes off the road. A heads-up display also helped keep my eyes on the road.

Switching driving modes is simple, as a flick of a console-mounted button can change your preference from Normal to Sport, Off-Road or Towing. There is a discernible difference between Normal and Sport modes with stiffer shifting and stronger throttle response egging you on to drive a little bit faster. Driving in Sport mode while using the paddle shifters was surprisingly fun, as my previous SUV driving experience was a boring exercise in the name of having more space to haul stuff. The CX-50 is no sports car with a 0-60 mph jaunt in 6.25-seconds but is fun to drive.

2023 Mazda CX-50 Turbo Premium Plus AWD
2023 Mazda CX-50 Turbo Premium Plus AWD (Photo by Dustin W. Johnson)

The zippy nature of our CX-50 comes from its intercooled and turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-four engine that churns out 227 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 310 lb-ft of torque at 2,000 rpm on 87 octane. Switching to premium 93 octane gives you 256 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque. Despite the turbocharged engine, maximum torque is generated on the lower rpm spectrum to offset the higher range of peak horsepower. The CX-50 is not quick off the line, but merging on the highway is fairly easy, with Sport mode making passing other cars pretty easy.

Mazda gave our CX-50 all the safety bells and whistles one could want with blind spot prevention, lane departure warning system and traffic jam assistant. These safety systems are simple, effective and not overly intrusive. Make an error and you are warned in a polite manner. The rear backup camera and 360-degree view system make reversing the CX-50 a lot easier. I enjoy the 360-degree perspective due to my lack of spatial awareness and inability to park a car larger than a Mini Cooper with any precision.

Turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-four engine
Turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-four engine

Would I buy one?

Indeed, but not at that price point. My wife and I recently purchased a 2022 Subaru Outback for approximately $4,000 more than this CX-50 and, in the months we have owned it, I’ve fallen in love. The Subaru has better build quality, style, off-road capability, interior amenities and resale value, but the Mazda is more fun to drive. Enjoyable driving options for a middle-aged dad with a family certainly is not common. Having a car that’s fun to drive gives me a form of escapism during the daily commute or running errands, and those sentiments are why I hold my Mini Cooper in such high regards.

Just because you’re a boring, middle-aged dude that spends plenty of time in a cubicle doesn’t mean you have to keep that mindset with your ride. The Mazda CX-50 is a fun-to-drive and practical SUV. Fun and practical should be a factor in car purchases to offset some of the daily drudgery of being an adult. However, the CX-50 gives you a comfortable ride, simple-to-use amenities and solid styling in a sporty SUV that’s fun to drive. That is a good option to have when car shopping.

2023 Mazda CX-50 Turbo Premium Plus AWD

Vehicle type: front-engine, all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door wagon

Base price: $27,550

Price as tested: $44,170

Engine: Turbocharged 2.5-liter 16-valve four-cylinder engine, 227 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque with 87 octane gasoline, 256 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque with 93 octane gasoline

Transmission: six-speed automatic

Wheelbase: 110.8 inches, Overall length/width: 185.8 inches / 75.6 inches

Curb weight: 3,907 pounds

EPA mileage estimates: 23 city / 29 highway / 25 combined

Assembled in: Madison, Alabama

Warranty: 60mo/60k powertrain, 36K mile bumper-to-bumper