This is the Mazda CX-50, a new addition to the Japanese brand’s range of SUVs, though obviously they’re keen to prove that, despite sharing spots with the CX-5, that additional zero translates to extra toughness and rugged off-road ability.
But don’t get too excited about that prospect just yet, as while it does come standard with all-wheel drive, this ‘prototype’ shown here is a mere showpiece that’s more about exploring how cool it would look if it tackled the wild landscape, rather than actually exploring it.
The stubby tyres, matte bonnet decals, beefy skid plate and oversized roof rack are probably not going to be selectable inventory from your neighbourhood dealership. It’s Mazda’s answer to a certain facet of the SUV market that wasn’t being served by the comparably sized CX-5, but it isn’t a replacement model either.
It’s a similar arrangement to how the CX-3 has been forced, reluctantly, to share a play space with the newer, prettier, but only slightly bigger CX-30.
In the ‘mid-size’ SUV segment, entrants like the Jeep Cherokee, Subaru Outback, Honda Pilot, and Toyota RAV4 occupy a slightly higher sub-tier - an area that Mazda had nothing to sell to.
Speaking of that last contender, this Mazda CX-50 does look a helluva lot like the RAV4. From its proportions to that somewhat excessive amount of wheel arch cladding, the squared shape of the wheel arches themselves, to that very flat long bonnet. It all points to this being a Toyota.
That was the immediate impression I had at seeing the same picture at the very top of this article, prior to even knowing what I was looking at. It was later when I dug through the officially released information from Mazda that I learned that the CX-50 will be built in a new factory jointly operated with Toyota in Huntsville, Alabama.
Not only that but it’s also confirmed that its future PHEV powertrain options will be sourced directly from Toyota - most likely very similar to the RAV4 PHEV (RAV4 Prime in the USA) unit that produces 306hp and boasts an electric-only range of 75km (WLTP).
However, in the face of this mounting evidence and too-convenient links to Toyota and its RAV4, there’s no mention of the CX-50 being based in any way upon the RAV4 or the TNGA platform. Suspicious much?
As far as the non-hybrid engines go, the CX-50 will feature staples of the SkyActiv-G range of four-cylinder mills, starting with a naturally aspirated or turbocharged 2.5-litre petrol paired to a six-speed automatic transmission.
Production is slated to begin from January 2022 with the CX-50 being the first new model in a larger SUV offensive from Mazda. In the coming years, the automaker plans to roll out the CX-60 and CX-70, CX-80, and CX-90, which will be among the first to utilise Mazda’s rear-drive platform and their longitudinally-mounted inline-6 engines.
Unfortunately, the Hiroshima-based automaker has made it clear that the CX-50 was developed and intended for sale in North American markets only (i.e USA and Canada), leaving the rest of the world in the lurch until they eventually backtrack on this.
The CX-60 and CX-80, for example, are two models confirmed to be developed and designed specifically to cater to European buyers. In the next decade, Mazda will essentially be doubling their count of overall SUVs and plans to manufacture these incoming cars alongside their existing line-up, seemingly with each having a region-specific role, be it in North America or Europe or.....elsewhere.
It seems like an awfully expensive and potentially confusing strategy to capitalise on the popularity of SUVs and crossovers, with nearly every tier of vehicle having a non-identical twin.
Still, at least with the CX-50, Mazda is already getting a win just by allying themselves with Toyota on both its manufacture and shared hybrid powertrain. And if it turns out this CX-50 really is just a RAV4 dressed in some fancy KODO design clothes, that’s another boon for ‘streamlining’.
There's just something about cars. It's a conveyance, it's a liability, it's a tool; but it can also be a source of joy, pride, inspiration and passion. It's much like clothes versus fashion. And like the latter, the pursuit of perfection never ends.