What makes the Mazda CX-50 trail worthy?

2023 Mazda CX-50
2023 Mazda CX-50Compact SUVs are among the most popular vehicles in America for good reason. They balance comfort, practical family transport options and reasonable prices. However, not all compact SUVs are created equal. Some are built with everyday commuter comfort in mind, while others are tough enough for the trail.

Mazda has long been known as the number one choice among affordable car manufacturers for those who enjoy driving on asphalt. But the company has begun unveiling more off-road-ready SUVs, such as the new CX-50.

The CX-50 does not take the place of the CX-5. The two even share some parts. But the CX-50 is a more rugged, off-road-ready alternative.

Let’s see what sets it apart from typical compact SUVs.

Standard i-ACTIV AWD

The tough looks of SUVs hint at off-road capability, but not all of them really have it. The CX-50 comes standard with Mazda’s excellent i-Activ all-wheel-drive (AWD) system. It’s a particularly sophisticated AWD system for a non-luxury car, measuring things like weather and steering angle to vary the torque delivered to the front and rear wheels, striving for maximum traction at all times. The i-Active system makes the car react faster on dry roads, helping you get out of slippery situations when driving on muddy and sandy surfaces.

Mi-Drive driving modes

Speaking of surfaces, the CX-50 is designed to handle a lot. It has a new version of the Mazda Intelligent Drive Select (Mi-Drive) system. Most Mazdas have some version of the system that allows drivers to select Normal or Sport mode. The CX-50 adds the off-road mode as standard equipment.

It increases engine idle speed for better gradeability, reprograms the automatic transmission to allow smooth, continuous torque at lower speeds, and primes the traction control and i-Activ systems for slippery surfaces.

A tow mode is also available – a first in a Mazda compact SUV. The CX-50 can tow up to 3,500 pounds.

Stronger suspension

Mazda is pretty good at engines, but great at suspensions. The secret sauce in most Mazda products is a carefully tuned suspension that makes driving at neighborhood speeds more enjoyable.

Unsurprisingly, the CX-50’s suspension is key to its off-road prowess. The CX-5 and CX-50 share a similar front suspension. But in the rear, the CX-50 loses the independent multi-link rear suspension common to other Mazdas. Instead, a harder torsion beam setup keeps the rear in check.

Designing a rugged off-road suspension to give the Mazda driving feel on the road is another level of magic. But Mazda made it happen.

Ground clearance added

Not every piece of off-road gear is a piece of high-tech engineering. The CX-50 sits 8.3 or 8.6 inches off the ground (depending on trim). That’s an inch higher than the CX-5 and more than an inch higher than the Honda CR-V. When you leave the curb, the higher position will help you clear obstacles.

Scratch-resistant, glare-free styling

Speaking of low-tech off-road gear, the CX-50 wears black plastic trim around the wheel arches, side skirts and low on both bumpers. This is common with off-road vehicles, and not just a cosmetic tweak meant to make them look like the REI parking lot at home.

It prevents scrubbing and brushes from scratching the paint, preserving the look of your investment even when you take it out on the road.

The CX-50 is available with our favorite low-tech piece of off-road gear – a large matte patch in the hood. This prevents glare in the driver’s eyes when the sun reflects off the paint at the odd angles that are normal when bouncing off a dirt road. Sometimes the least technical solutions are the best innovations.

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