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2023 Mazda CX-50 Long-Term Review, Part 4

A driving experience with multiple personalities Automotive columnist: , Updated:

Auto123 is putting the 2023 Mazda CX-50 to the long-term test. Today, part 4 of 6, as we get to know the multiple personalities of this SUV.

See also: 2023 Mazda CX-50 Long-Term Review, Part 1 : The start of something new

See also: 2023 Mazda CX-50 Long-Term Review, Part 2 : Dimensions, versions and mission

See also: 2023 Mazda CX-50 Long-Term Review, Part 3 : Fuel economy versus power

Snow, blowing snow, rain (way too much rain), high winds, frost and a few things I’ve probable already forgotten (if not repressed the memory of)! The past few weeks have served up what weather folks like to a weather cocktail. Or a “weather bomb”.

I couldn't ask for a better way to really put to the test our 2023 Mazda CX-50 GT Turbo!

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2023 Mazda CX-50  - Three-quarters front
Photo: M.Crépault
2023 Mazda CX-50 - Three-quarters front

How does the CX-50 drive?
If you've at all paid attention to Mazda's positioning on the market over the decades, you know that a central pitch of theirs is a ride that flirts with sportiness on a daily basis.

Whether you choose a car or a crossover, Mazda is committed to giving you fun behind the wheel. If you’re buying an MX-5 Roadster, you might say that's the least you can expect. And you're right, because the Miata is one of the most fun-to-drive cars on the market. But Mazda's real super power, reflected in its Zoom-Zoom ad tag, is to offer a stimulating drive in ALL of its models.

The all-new CX-50 is no exception.

2023 Mazda CX-50 - Profile
Photo: M.Crépault
2023 Mazda CX-50 - Profile

Thanks to a secret engineering recipe, the CX-50's ride is energizing. The steering is precise even if its a bit heavy. What our eyes and hands want to accomplish together, the machine delivers on a silver platter. As long as you keep your eyes on the road...

Which is obvious and easy, you might think. But since the infotainment system suffers from a couple of shortcomings (we'll come back to that in the next chapter), you find yourself consulting the central screen a lot, and in the process taking your eyes off the road. And since the CX-50 is content to deliver a swerving alert and a sharp correction toward the centre, instead of keeping you between the white lines semi-autonomous-style, you’re often making micro-adjustments to the steering wheel. Because at least it obeys.

There are a number of carmakers that manage to instill the driver with a feeling that can’t be found in any other brand. A BMW driving experience is different than a Mercedes-Benz one, which is different than a Lexus one. But those are generally luxury brands. Mazda offers uniqueness but without charging exorbitant prices.

2023 Mazda CX-50  - Rear
Photo: M.Crépault
2023 Mazda CX-50 - Rear

How does the CX-50 accelerate?
We saw in a previous chapter that a turbocharged CX-50 is about two seconds faster from 0 to 100 km/h than a naturally aspirated CX-50. But beyond the time trick, when pushing the gas pedal to get into heavy traffic, for example, is this is a reassuring vehicle. Yep. At least with the turbo.

On the other hand, we can't say it’s accompanied by a beautiful symphonic melody. The 4-cylinder engine screeches and spits. Hitting the gas pedal on a real sports car, you can hear the engine thanking you for taking it off the leash. The CX-50? Its engine turns around and slaps you in the face with a reminder it doesn’t exist to win street races.

How is the CX-50's suspension?
With ups and downs, as it should be. On smooth pavement, the suspension favors a soft shuffle. The car is in control and the comfort is of a high level. On smooth asphalt, this crossover glides along without a care in the world. The only disturbing noise is the wind that blows back through the windshield. But the rougher the pavement, the shakier the cabin. You can't expect miracles from a rear suspension based on a torsion beam. In the face of these jerks, you can play with the steering wheel. 

Off-road, the CX-50's intrinsic firmness is appropriate depending on the obstacles encountered on your way. If they’re small and not too rough of feature, the vehicle swallows them up. But on a very rough trail, you'd better take it easier or you'll lose your teeth. On the other hand, that's when the CX-50's AWD comes into its own.

2023 Mazda CX-50  - Playing in the dirt
Photo: M.Crépault
2023 Mazda CX-50 - Playing in the dirt

How does the CX-50's AWD work?
Since this vehicle is supposed to make you want to play outside, its main argument to convince you is the i-Activ AWD common to all four versions of the compact crossover.

The i-Activ belongs to the category of AWD systems known as reactive, as opposed to so-called permanent all-wheel drive (like in Subarus). Proponents of the reactive system point to reduced fuel consumption when switched to two-wheel mode. The rest of the time, the software that manages the i-Activ system can transfer up to 50 percent of torque from the front wheels to the rear if it feels that's the right thing to do given the road conditions.

The secret is the system's ability to predict what will happen under the tires. This system came into the world in 2013 (on the CX-5) equipped with 27 sensors that analyze road conditions 200 times per second to establish the ideal grip.

When the second generation of the i-Activ AWD system launched (with the new Mazda3), engineers simplified all that. “Now the system calculates the load on each tire to determine its traction in real time. The ones that perform best, regardless of the type of ground, receive even more torque, increasing the vehicle's chances of keeping going,” explains Chuck Reimer, Mazda product specialist.

2023  Mazda CX-50 - Headlights
Photo: M.Crépault
2023 Mazda CX-50 - Headlights

I did feel the torque split effect when I intentionally swerved into a left lane covered in less snow than the right. It wasn't a storm yet, but it was close. The all-wheel drive clearly set to work to stabilize the vehicle. To do that, I could feel it was shearing the snow instead of letting itself be dominated by it.

As an added bonus, yet another system called G-Vectoring Plus uses two differentials (centre and rear) to refine weight and muscle transfers to maximize grip in a corner or to further boost a wheel that's showing the best traction while its siblings are spinning.

And that's not all: the driver has a Mi-Drive mode selector. The switch embedded in the floor console allows you to choose between Normal, Sport, Off-Road and Towing (turbo only) modes.

Is the difference between Normal and Sport obvious? More or less. However, in Off-Road, you can feel the mechanical elements of the CX-50 working together to support traction. When you equip your vehicle with a hitch to tow, the Towing mode helps control the trailer's sway. The price to pay, however, is the disappearance of the Sport mode, although that’s not a big loss when you're pulling something anyway.

I'll end with a word about ground clearance. Since the CX-50 is intended for trips into the woods, its ground clearance is higher than the CX-5's (201 mm) by about an inch. More precisely, it fluctuates between 210 and 219 mm depending on the size of the wheels (17, 18 and 20 inches).

For the next chapter, we'll see you inside the CX-50.

2023 Mazda CX-50 - Frozen logo
Photo: M.Crépault
2023 Mazda CX-50 - Frozen logo