Made in America: Mazda is back with the 'Bama-produced, Yankee-inspired CX-50
Mazda is making cars in the U.S. again.
A decade after the last Mazda6 sedan rolled off the assembly line in Flat Rock — ending a four-decade marriage with Ford — the Japanese automaker announced production of the all-new CX-50 SUV. The cute ute is the product of new nuptials with Toyota in Alabama.
The new Mazda adds some off-road heft to a sleek SUV model lineup known for its on-road manners. The 2023 CX-50 will slot into the brand’s lineup next to the best-selling CX-5 and above the entry-level CX-30 SUV and will go on sale next year. The addition follows similar efforts from other automakers to quench Americans’ unquenchable thirst for adventure-seeking SUVs. Think the Ford Bronco Sport, Chevy Trailblazer, Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk and Subaru Forester Wilderness.
“This new Mazda vehicle has been developed for North America, particularly to support the active and outdoor lifestyles of customers in this region,” said Mazda North America boss Jeff Guyton.
The CX-50 is an indication of how dramatically the U.S. vehicle landscape has changed since 2012 when Mazda and Ford co-produced the Mazda6 sedan. That sedan not only exited Flat Rock — it has exited Mazda’s North American lineup, as some 70% of Americans’ light vehicle purchases are sport utilities.
The joint venture with Toyota, called Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, is also evidence of the transformation of the American South into a foreign transplant, manufacturing powerhouse. The MTM plant — with capacity to produce 300,000 vehicles a year with 4,000 employees — is on the Alabama/Tennessee border. It’s within a 200-mile radius of production facilities (and attendant suppliers) operated by Nissan (Nashville), VW (Chattanooga), Hyundai (West Point, Georgia), and Mercedes (Vance, Alabama).
Toyota makes the Corolla Cross, unveiled earlier this year, in the same Huntsville plant.
Similar in size to the CX-5 crossover, which starts at $26,545 with optional all-wheel-drive, the CX-50 will come standard with AWD befitting its all-terrain ambitions. Also standard is a more rugged exterior presence with squared-off, heavy-clad fenders in contrast to the round wheel wells of its CX-5 and CX-30 siblings. The front fascia also gets a more aggressive look to clear yetis on its forested path.
The AWD system will be married to a new Mi-Drive switch that enables suitable tow and off-road modes.
Putting the power to all four wheels will be Mazda’s familiar 4-cylinder engines: a naturally-aspirated, 2.5-liter and turbocharged 2.5-liter, paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission. The engines are already paired in the Mazda CX-5, CX-30 and Mazda 3 sedan and hatchback producing 186 and 250 horsepower, respectively.
Mazda plans electrified drivetrains for the CX-50, including hybrid model, in the future.
The driver-focused interior of the CX-50 is also familiar to owners of the CX-30 and Mazda3. A wide, horizontal screen mounted high on the dashboard (to keep eyeballs glued to the road) is operated by a remote rotary controller. The interior appears crafted with upscale materials rivaling luxury makes.
Sitting above the passenger compartment is a panoramic moonroof — a first for Mazda and in sync with the car’s outdoor ambitions. A new, Zircon Sand exterior paint continues the outdoors vibe.
“The idea for this car came from exploring two main themes: what does Mazda uniquely offer and what do we in North America uniquely value?” said Mazda Design America chief Yasutake Tsuchida. “Engaging with the outdoors and getting out of the city are cherished values that have only grown during these tough pandemic times. So we designed a new vehicle to explore new frontiers.”
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @HenryEPayne.