Over the past few years, there has been a sudden surge in rugged crossovers like the Subaru Outback Wilderness, the Honda Pilot TrailSport, and the Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road to name a few. Consumers are loving this new concept of, shall we say, crossover versions of crossovers, and Mazda decided they also want a piece of this pie with the 2023 Mazda CX-50 Meridian Edition designed for consumers looking to venture outside of the urban jungle.
The Meridian Edition takes the regular CX-50 – an already handsome looking crossover – and further dresses it up to make it look adventure ready. There is additional garnish around the headlamp, decals on the hood, blackened lug nuts and side rocker panels to toughen up its appearance A set of dedicated 18-inch wheels wrapped with all-terrain tires help set the tone that this is more than just an appearance package but rather with enhanced capabilities to handle some off-road duties.
Powered by Mazda’s 2.5-litre turbocharged SKYACTIV-G engine, the CX-50 produces 256 horsepower and 320 lb-ft. of torque – figures that easily dominate its segment. As expected, the CX-50 accelerates effortlessly off the line and it has no problem keeping up with most crossovers in the market today. Our only complaint is the tall gear ratios from the standard six-speed transmission made the powertrain response feel a bit lethargic when you are not on the throttle, but fortunately the turbocharger comes on quickly to pick up the pace when needed.
As with any current Mazda products, handling and steering are its strong suits, even with those beefy all-terrain rubber boots on. Steering is sharp and direct, and its reflexes are closer to the CX-5 than the big CX-9. The rugged tires do take a bit of enjoyment out of the CX-50 on paved roads but the added capabilities especially when you factor in the help of the Off-Road driving mode can make it worth it for the adventurous bunch. It can also tow up to 3,500 pounds to allow for trailers or toys to be brought along for the journey.
Fuel consumption is rated at 10.4L/100km for the city and 8.1L/100km on the highway for a combined 9.4L/100km. Our road test result yielded a slightly higher 10.5L/100km for our week of mixed driving and we believe the figure will normalize over time as the tester we had was only 300 kilometres new. The interesting tidbit about its fuel usage is that Mazda’s 2.5-liter turbo engine can accept anywhere from 87 to 93-octane gasoline into its 60-litre tank, with the caveat being that the regular grade fuel will decrease the engine output to 227-horsepower and 310 lb-ft.
The interior is unchanged from the standard CX-50 model – meaning the same top-notch fit and finish and simple yet elegant layout. Most plastic surfaces are wrapped with soft touch materials to disguise its mainstream roots, except for the inside door grab handle which is made of hard plastic – presumably for durability but we felt that it was not in keeping with the rest of the sophisticated interior design.
One of the biggest complaints whenever we talk about the CX-5 is the tight interior especially for family users, and the CX-50 has all but solved that for most. Though headroom is still rather tight, it feels significantly roomier thanks to the increased legroom especially for rear passengers and while the 889-litres of cargo capacity is not much larger than the CX-5’s 875-litre box, the opening is wider and more accommodating for larger items.
Infotainment is controlled using the 10.25-inch touchscreen that also accepts commands through the rotary dial on the centre console. Curiously enough, touchscreen function is only accepted in Apple CarPlay and Android Auto applications, and users are asked to rotate the knob to navigate through its clunky native operating system. Fortunately, the experience does get better once you have your favourite radio channels in the preset, and the twelve-speaker Bose system is excellent to make the learning curve worthwhile.
When it comes to drivers assistance and safety features, Mazda has made its full i-Activsense safety features available for the CX-50, including Advanced Blind Spot Monitoring, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Radar Cruise Control with Stop & Go function, Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Warning, Lane-keep Assist, automatic high-beam, Traffic Sign Recognition, and Smart City Brake Support systems.
The base Mazda CX-50 starts at a relatively affordable $37,900 and jumps to $45,350 if you want the turbocharger under the hood. The CX-50 Meridian Edition starts at $48,200 on paper, but is really asking for $48,450 as the only two colours available – Polymetal Grey Metallic and Zircon Sand Metallic – are $250 “options” that cannot be unchecked.
The 2023 Mazda CX-50 Meridian Edition is a solid first attempt to fill a niche created by marketing geniuses and taken up by the masses. It is an appealing option for buyers who wish to have a slightly more rugged appearance in their vehicles, as well as casual users who want their daily commuter to be able to handle some light off-roading without sacrificing city driving comfort.