Exclusive! Mazda CX-50 to spearhead brand's upmarket future

Rear-drive, inline-6, PHEVs and premium packaging… CX-50 goes for BMW’s jugular with breathtaking ambition

2022 Mazda CX-50
Gallery5

Snapshot

  • CX-50 will be a more coupe-style sibling to CX-5
  • Mazda is chasing the Mercedes C-Class with what could be called the ‘60’
  • Next-gen Mazda 6 will share FR Large Architecture with the CX-50

It’s no secret Mazda is moving upmarket, kicking off with the all-new CX-5 replacement, featuring a newly developed rear-drive platform dubbed FR Large Architecture, increased electrification and a level of sophisticated engineering excellence to match or exceed BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

But what might surprise you is how soon all this is happening.

To be unveiled late this year – probably to have been simultaneously at the now-cancelled Tokyo Motor Show and the Los Angeles Auto Show in November – the hugely anticipated CX-50 will be released globally during the first half of 2022.

It showcases what we’ve all been expecting – and hoping for – including an in-line six-cylinder engine in 3.0-litre petrol (possibly in turbo and eventually twin-turbo guises, we hear) and 3.3L turbo-diesel sizes, with 48-volt battery and mild-hybrid technology. All are slated to drive the rear or all four wheels via a new eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission.

2020 Mazda 3 Skyactiv X
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Skyactiv-X is already present in some current Mazda models

An existing 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine will also serve as the basis for a plug-in EV hybrid (PHEV) version of the CX-50, to give the ultra-successful RAV4 hybrid and prime PHEV models offered elsewhere some very hot competition.

Along with being significantly more expensive, the new CX-50 will be marginally larger than today’s front-drive/AWD-based KF series, but with comparable space and packaging, despite a desirable long-bonnet/cab-backward shape afforded by the switch from a transverse to longitudinal powertrain layout. It will also be sleeker in overall silhouette.

As one Mazda insider put it: “Rear-drive, from a styling point of view, lends itself to enhancing the Kodo design language of traditional long- bonnet/cab-rearward design.”

Seven years in development, and with a high degree of scalability to take in larger and (slightly) smaller SUVs as well as passenger cars, the FR Large Architecture will also usher in new suspension systems, including an advanced multi-link independent rear-end with potentially a degree of four-wheel steering on some grades.

Archive Whichcar 2020 03 31 2426 CX 5 05
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2020 Mazda CX-5 Akera

Think about that for a moment. This new strategy is no hasty or foolhardy exercise. It has been part of the plan since Mazda’s independence from Ford in the late 2000s, putting into place a component set that will see the brand’s transition into electrification moving towards the 2030s.

Mazda may be gambling its entire future with such a radical departure from what has clearly worked for the brand since the SkyActiv era of post-Ford models surfaced almost 10 years ago in late 2011, but the fact remains that these new-generation, upscale models break away from the mass-market white noise that is the Toyota RAV4/Honda CR-V/Hyundai Tucson/Kia Sportage segment.

The Hiroshima brand wants to make more money by breaking into the massive premium segment with world-beating, design-focused, engineering-led, highly connected alternatives to the BMW X3, Audi Q5 and Mercedes-Benz GLC.

And why not?

Breaking the mainstream glass sealing with the CX-50 and its offshoots can reap profits beyond anything the CX-5 has managed – especially in the lucrative premium SUV-hungry American and Chinese markets. The time is now.

2020 Mazda CX-8 Touring Badge
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Offshoots? Oh yes. In quick succession from 2022 we will see the three-row version to replace the CX-8, possibly badged CX-70, and it will be joined by the CX-90 as Mazda’s flagship seven-seater SUV, usurping the award-winning CX-9.

Overseas reports also suggest a BMW X6-style coupe-SUV offshoot, with either the CX-40 or CX-60 nomenclature to denote a more rakish silhouette. This and others may come in time, but we understand Mazda is keen to replace the core models first before it moves into the niche products. They simply are not the priority right now.

“It will be about replacing the existing line-up, making sure they are working, making sure there is a viable return on investment, and also making sure that the new models are firing in the US,” said a Mazda insider.

“Once we do that, we can then look at the niche models.”

2017 Mazda Concept Vision
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The 2017 Mazda Concept Vision provides some insight into Mazda's future design language

Also imminent is the long-awaited replacement for the Mazda 6, which will follow the CX-50 in migrating to the FR Large Architecture. Will it wear the Mazda 60 name? The achingly beautiful Concept Vision from late 2017 is more than just a strong pointer to what’s coming, highlighting how serious Mazda is at finally taking on the Mercedes-Benz C-Class at its own game.

So, what does all this mean for the 2, 3, CX-3 and CX-30?

Mazda will continue to evolve the transverse-engine SkyActiv architecture models, but with substantial improvements that should include eight-speed auto, hybrid, PHEV and a broader rollout of its SkyActiv-X supercharged compression-ignition tech.

It is also likely that the CX-3 will be replaced by a light SUV wearing the CX-10 badge.

And don’t forget that the company has an agreement with Toyota to co-develop an all-new electrification skateboard architecture from 2025 onwards, to ensure both brands’ future moving into the 2030s.

With the new FR Large Architecture era dawning, Mazda is certainly on the march upwards.

What about CX-5?

Does the arrival of a larger, swoopier and newer CX-50 mean a fundamental change is also in store for the venerable CX-5? No, is the simple answer.

Just as Mazda continues to sell the CX-3 alongside the newer CX-30, the CX-5’s positioning will remain unchanged, with the CX-50 sold as a complementary offering. That means CX-5 will retain its current dimensions and platform, so it will miss out on the CX-50’s new engines and tech.

Nevertheless, while CX-5 will be half a step behind in development terms, a heavily updated version of the current car is expected to arrive sometime next year.

Mazda and Lexus sedans related?

Will the next Mazda 6 and Lexus IS replacement become closely related under the skin?

With Toyota and Mazda transitioning to a shared electrification skateboard architecture starting from 2025, one scenario doing the rounds is that the next-generation rear-drive Mazda 6’s FR Large Architecture might be adopted by Lexus for its medium-sized sports sedan series.

Sounds far-fetched? With Mazda’s move upmarket, all-new inline-six mild-hybrid engines, rumoured plug-in compatible 2.5-litre four-cylinder SkyActiv-X powertrain and cutting-edge engineering tech, the 2023 6’s component set is shaping up to be blue-ribbon material.

Lexus might struggle to make it look as good, though, if the 2017 Mazda Vision Coupe concept is anything to go by.

 

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Byron Mathioudakis
Journalist

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