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Mazda may have the best small SUV on the market. The Japanese automaker has quietly built up the CX-50 into a reliable, sleek, crossover that brings luxury-level comfort to the masses. On paper, this could be the best small SUV buy on the market.

The sales don’t reflect that at first glance, though. Smaller crossovers are an incredibly popular choice in the American auto market, yet Mazda’s gem doesn’t appear to be making the enormous splash it could. So how does it really stack up against the other compact SUVs on the market?

The Mazda CX-50 is getting high marks

The CX-50’s historically sluggish sales simply aren’t related to the quality of this fairly new small SUV. According to Edmunds, there is no better option for 2023 in their “Small SUVs” category. While they do note that it’s slightly on the expensive side, the longstanding car-reviewing publication has almost exclusively flattering things to say.

The most exciting aspect of the positive feedback on the CX-50 is how well it justifies existing next to the commuter-oriented CX-5. The CX-50 goes with a more boxy, rugged design that has positive real-world results for towing and off-roading. So many crossovers have forgotten the “sports” part of “Sports Utility Vehicle,” but the CX-50 is a pleasant throwback in that regard.

That isn’t to say that this is a spartan vehicle purely for the adventurous car buyers out there. Edmunds also notes that even the more affordable trims, starting $28,025 MSRP, have luxurious and comfortable interiors. And while the 25.7 combined MPG from their testing isn’t the best in the category, it’s decent for a vehicle capable of towing up to 3,500 pounds.

Will Mazda’s new small SUV catch on?

The CX-50 is very new, and entering a thoroughly established niche. It even has to compete against Mazda’s own CX-5. But the positive feedback on this vehicle — to the point that many call it the best small SUV available — can’t be denied. Going by the reviews, this outclasses popular small SUVs like the Toyota RAV4 or the Honda CR-V.

Even if the pricing seems a bit high, one look at the features across all 10 trims tells a different story. This is a small SUV that delivers on the promises of larger vehicles, including in driving performance. The Fast Lane Car describes the feel as “easily best-in-class,” with palpable power kicking in as it pushes past 3,000 RPM. When word-of-mouth on this experience spreads, the CX-50 could be a major contender in the small SUV niche.

The CX-50 is showing positive signs even as it sells less than the competition

There’s no denying it: CX-50 sales pale in comparison to the competition. But GoodCarBadCar reports that there are positive signs. After selling 21,000 units in 2022, this year is already at a strong 25,700 and counting. That talk about word of mouth isn’t just wishful thinking; it appears to be happening in real-time.

But how does Mazda’s small SUV marvel compare to the more established models it competes with? Frankly, it’s nowhere close. The RAV4 is a firmly established brand, with so many choices for consumers that it’s failure to compete directly with 224,838 sales is no shock.

As for the CR-V, Honda’s fuel-efficient, commuter-friendly small SUV, 196,794 sales is nearly as dominant as Toyota’s entry. Clearly Mazda needs a bit more time to catch on. But if the CX-50 continues to show out as well as the 2023 model has, its time will come soon—maybe after a few more people get to drive one for themselves.


2023 Honda CR-V vs. 2023 Mazda CX-50: Crossover SUV Competition!