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As more people flock to visit national parks, hit the highway on road trips, and explore the great outdoors, consumers have looked to satisfy their active lifestyle with vehicles that are capable, comfortable, and exciting. Mazda has entered the conversation with the CX-50, an all-wheel-drive compact crossover that has definitely exceeded expectations.

The CX-50 may be similar to the extremely popular CX-5 sharing a powertrain and an analogous stature, but that’s where the similarities end and the adventure begins. The CX-50 is slightly longer in length and wheelbase with a wider width. It has wagon-esque proportions similar to the Subaru Outback, which can be considered a close competitor. The overall exterior is sleek and modern with robust fenders. The blacked-out grille, trim, and black plastic fender arches provide a mean demeanor over its sibling.

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Mazda has managed to find a balance between comfort and capability with the CX-50. On the pavement, the CX-50 handles with precision while being quick and nimble. We drove the fully loaded 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus model that is equipped with a turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-four engine capable of 256 horsepower. The six-speed automatic transmission shifted smoothly as we accelerated through the windy wine country backroads of Central California. With Sport mode engaged, turning in the corners felt crisp with responsive handling.

Now where the CX-50 really separates itself from the field is with its off-road performance. It offers 8.6-inches of ground clearance combined with an all-wheel-drive system. Mazda has simplified the options with a single, dedicated Off-Road mode, which optimizes shifting for low-speed control, dials in the all-wheel-drive system to keep the wheels at the same speed for traction, and engages the ABS system to hold the brakes on uphill ascents and through other obstacles. 

We found the CX-50 to be plenty capable to handle most scenarios that drivers looking to explore further would face such as gravel terrain/fire road, steep dirt hills, and enough clearance for small obstacles. Like a majority of vehicles on the road, the CX-50 isn’t meant to tackle the most extreme conditions such as rock crawling, water crossings, or driving through sand, but what it can do is get you from the highway to most campsites, trailheads, and some secret spots without any issues.

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A dedicated tow mode provides the option for those looking to haul a small trailer, dirt bikes, or even a small boat with up to 3,500 pounds of towing capability. We tested the tow mode on flat and smooth paved roads with a trailer that was loaded precisely with 3,500 pounds of concrete. The CX-50 pulled the trailer without any issues and even without much towing experience, the feature felt straightforward and comfortable to use. 

The interior was comfortable and for the most part quiet. The higher trim packages have either black or brown leather which is soft and looks quite nice with the contrast stitching that can also be found on the dash. The rear seats had plenty of leg and headroom, while the cargo area had ample enough storage space for a couple pieces of check-in sized luggage.

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While we didn’t have a chance to drive the Meridian edition, which is an even more focused off-road variant of the Mazda CX-50, we did have a chance to take a look at one. Slated to arrive later this year as a 2023 model year, this is the version we would line up for. Outfitted with black 18-inch wheels wrapped in all-terrain tires, front and rear splash guards, and a roof platform that sits on crossbars.

Overall, the Mazda CX-50 has impressed us by finding the right balance of comfort, reliability, and style for everyday driving, but with enough capability for more rugged adventures. The CX-50 starts at around $26,000 and when you put that number up against the competition, the CX-50 certainly holds its own not just with the other cars in its segment but with many other models that are significantly more expensive. 


From $26,800, mazdausa.com

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