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Mazda has spent decades cultivating a reputation for creating cars and SUVs with the souls of sports cars. But now that the off-road craze has fully taken hold, Mazda is looking to take its talents from the pavement to the dirt with the new 2023 CX-50 Meridian Edition. Real-world testing shows that the CX-50 is more than just a glitzed-up crossover – it’s a legitimately capable off-road SUV.

What is the Mazda CX-50 2.5 Turbo Meridian Edition?

The 2023 Mazda CX-50 Meridian SUV drives on an off-road trail.
2023 Mazda CX-50 Meridian Edition | Mazda

The CX-50 Meridian Edition is a version of Mazda’s compact crossover with extra off-road upgrades and a more rugged appearance package. Mazda says the Meridian Edition offers Falken all-terrain tires, rocker panels, and the model’s standard all-wheel drive system.

It also gets a slew of visual upgrades over other CX-50 trims, from a matte black hood decal to black wheels.

Mazda certainly gave the CX-50 Meridian Edition the visual appeal to attract adventure-oriented drivers. But a pretty face can only get you so far – there needs to be substance to back it up.

This Mazda SUV is an off-roader in more than just name

Head-on view of the 2023 Mazda CX-50 Meridian Edition.
2023 Mazda CX-50 Meridian Edition | Mazda

Climbing into the CX-50 Meridian Edition’s cabin, I didn’t have high expectations for its off-road performance. Sure, its Mazda DNA bodes well for street use – but I figured it would struggle to take on legitimate off-road challenges.

Friends, I was wrong.

We trundled onto the 2023 MAMA Spring Rally off-road course near Road America, and the CX-50 took it all in stride.

We zig-zagged through some tight corners and rocky wooded sections in the first section. It was a walk in the park for the Mazda. Then, we came upon a clearing with a steep hill featuring a sharp break-over that led down into a muddy water fording section.

Surely, we thought to ourselves, the event organizers didn’t expect a humble crossover to traverse the obstacle. But sure enough, they waved us on, and I started easing the CX-50 up the incline.

The all–wheel drive system and all-terrain tires shined, delivering excellent traction up the steep dirt grade. We laughed as the Mazda scampered up the hill without so much as a hint of a struggle.

Perhaps even more impressively, the CX-50 Meridian easily cleared the quick break over at the top. As soon as we reached the top, we tipped down and plunged into the trough of muddy water. The crossover was in and out without a hint of drama.

We encountered some decently technical rocky areas at a later section in the woods. The Mazda SUV ferried us across without complaint or protest.

The CX-50 Meridian Edition was impressive off-road, to say the least. Naturally, it wasn’t suited for the hardcore trail that models like the Ford Bronco Raptor and Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 were tackling. But the Mazda made the regular trail a cakewalk, easily keeping pace with the likes of the Nissan Frontier Pro-4X.

Is the Mazda CX-50 Meridian Edition worth it?

The 2023 Mazda CX-50 Meridian Edition tows a small camper trailer.
2023 Mazda CX-50 Meridian Edition | Mazda

The Mazda CX-50 is an excellent candidate for the one-car solution question. It’s capable enough to take on more intense off-road features than 99 percent of us are likely to attempt. At the same time, its cabin quality, on-road dynamics, and utility make it an excellent daily driver. Subaru should be wary – the Mazda CX-50 Meridian Edition is coming for the Outback’s crown.


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