Mazda ups its SUV ante while Jeep supersizes an old friend
By Jim Bray
Whether you like your SUV and/or crossover to be big and luxurious, or small and sporty, there's an abundance of models from which to choose. And two carmakers famed for either sportiness or utility are offering brand new iterations of the old SUV/Crossover theme.
They are Mazda, with the CX-50 and Jeep, with its new Wagoneer. The first is a sporty little beauty whose existence I don't understand while the second is a huge and hedonistic land barge whose existence I don't understand, either. I'm sure profitability enters the discussion somewhere with either company, however, and that's fine.
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Let's look at the Mazda first. I'm a huge Mazda fan (though there aren't really any "huge" Mazdas – the closest you can get is with the terrific, three row CX-9) and regularly recommend them to friends and anyone else who asks because I love their combination of Japanese style and quality and – though they apparently don't use this phrase anymore – "Zoom-Zoom", which means every Mazda can really be considered as a driver's car – even if it's an SUV.
The CX-50 is no different. It's based mostly on the exquisite CX-5, but it "sports" a lower and more aggressive mien. Alas, it also "sports" ugly plastic cladding that makes it seem more utilitarian than fun, even though it isn't, really. But its lower apparent stance than the CX-5 cries out "Zoom-Zoom" more than its brother does, even though that brother is no slouch by any means.
I get the impression that Mazda envisions the CX-50 to be more "off pavement" compatible – as with vehicles from Subaru and, well, Jeep – than the CX-5 with its more "urban" bearing. Yet to drive them, they're so close to each other (being virtually identical other than styling) that the difference is pretty well moot. Heck, you can undoubtedly get the CX-5 to go anywhere the CX-50 will, though the poohbahs always say no one takes their SUV off the road anyway. Well, few…
While both Mazdas share the same underpinnings, the CX-50 is lower and wider and nearly six inches longer (thanks to a longer wheelbase), which kind of makes it almost seem more like a tall wagon (the original Toyota Venza comes to mind) than a regular SUV (the current Toyota Venza comes to mind…). It also supposedly offers more ground clearance than its sibling. It can be argued that it looks fresher and newer than the "old" CX-5 (the current version of which is probably getting close to needing a major update), though I think the CX-5 is still one of the best looking in its class.
Canadian spec CX-50's come with all-wheel drive, and two engine choices. The base engine is a 2.5 litre naturally aspirated four that puts out a competitive (in this niche) 187 horses @ 6,000 rpm, with 186 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4,000 rpm. And that's fine. If you really want to go for the gusto, however, you can opt for the turbo four – as in Mazda Canada's sample. That beauty cranks out 256 horses @ 5,000 rpm and 320 lb.-ft. @ 2,500 rpm (with 93 octane fuel), but if you stick to the much more affordable regular gas it still gives you 227 horses @ 5,000 rpm and 310 lb.-ft. @6,300 rpm. And that's plenty of fun!
Mazda makes this engine available pretty well across its line – though the magnificent Miata (er, MX-5) doesn't get to participate in the playfulness (assuming that engine would even fit into that little bundle of joy). And if I were buying a Mazda, I'd be opting for this one. It truly is a peach!
The interior is comfortable and more luxurious than you might imagine in this section of the marketplace. This is also typical Mazda. Also typically Mazda is the infotainment system, which works okay but which is getting a tad dated and, in my never humble opinion, should be replaced by a simply designed touch screen. Now, you operate it via a knob on the centre console (there's a volume knob there, too) and while you can use the screen via touch, it's too far away for my small stature.
Any complaints I have are merely quibbles, of course. I loved driving the CX-50 as much as I love driving any Mazda. If I were buying, it'd be a tough choice between the CX-50 and the CX-5. The 50 is a tad pricier than the 5 (base 50's are seven grand more expensive than base 5's according to Mazda's website, while the top line Turbo CX-50 starts at 48,200 compared to the CX-5's Signature Edition's $44,250). That's quite a bit of a price difference!
Yet I still loved it! What a surprise.
The Jeep Wagoneer, meanwhile, is a huge, V8-powered beast that's guaranteed to have the Thunberg crowd curling up in fetal position. And for that we should all be grateful!
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That's thanks to such things as:
Convenience Group I $4,695
Sure, that's a lot of stuff, but it's also pretty dear. On the other hand, you can spend as much on other brands' big SUV's as well, so affordability is in the eye of the wallet holder.
The V8 is the standard engine and, besides its lovely noise, it's a, well, substantial power plant as well. Jeep says the 5.7L V8 engine with eTorque cranks out 392 horses and a maximum of 404 lb.-ft. of torque. That's pretty potent power, but you must also remember it's propelling a vehicle that's about the size of a small school bus and can tow up to 10,000 pounds, supposedly.
Alas, I only had a quick preview of the Wagoneer before life threw me a curve and I had to leave for a couple of months, so this is a more superficial look at the Wagoneer than it deserves; hopefully, I'll get a second chance down the, er, road.
I did notice that the driver's seat caught my left cheek wrong, but this is something I find in an annoyingly increasing number of vehicles from various manufacturers, so the problem may not be seat design but the design of MY seat…
The LCD screen, as is typical of this company's products, is very busy. It works great, but there's so much stuff there and many of the virtual buttons are so small that it makes it hard to use, especially if you're wearing gloves. Ditto for the screen that makes up the instrument panel, though this depends a lot upon how you set it.
But the vehicle itself is very easy to like and, boy, do you cut a swath through traffic with it! I find the styling a bit boxy and out of date, but it isn't really any worse than some of the competition, such as the Lincoln Navigator. Besides, one person's silk purse is another one's sow's ear.
All three rows are comfortable, including the dreaded third row, and access to "steerage" is actually pretty good.
Parking such a large vehicle can be problematic for some, but Jeep has built self-parking features into the Wagoneer, so that should help get around that. I didn't get a chance to try them, however, so can only assume they work as advertised.
And while the as-tested price of just over $93,000 is a lot, you can get a lot higher than that if you want to. The top line Series III Carbide model, for example, starts at $95,290 and when you option it up the tally can reach $105,960 or more. "If you got it, flaunt it!"
I have no idea if the world needs another behemoth on the highway, but it's really no one's business other than the manufacturer and the purchaser. So, while Algore and his ilk might freak out from the comfort of their beachfront homes, I applaud a company that thinks it's found a niche that needs to be served and is willing to serve it.
Copyright 2022 Jim Bray