The automobile business of late has been about finding every available niche between existing vehicles---yours or the competition's---and then filling it.
Guess what fits right about in the middle?
The Mazda CX-50. I was going to try to conjure up a fictional, (hopefully) humorous account of the meeting where the marketing department realized they had the opportunity to elbow their way into Subaru's famously loyal and insular customer base, and then I found this paragraph on Mazda USA's press site, which almost certainly sprang from that meeting: Mazda believes that we are more human in nature. The Meridian Edition embodies the outdoor, adventurous nature of the CX-50 2.5 Turbo by offering exclusive 18-inch alloy wheels with all-terrain tires, side rocker garnish, distinctive hood graphics, and a host of outdoor-specific accessories to allow customers to take CX-50 confidently and conveniently where it belongs – in the wild.
Under the hood with the distinctive graphics is Mazda's 2.5-liter four with a twin-scroll turbocharger that pumps out 227 horsepower (250 on premium fuel) and 310 lb-ft of torque. Zero to 60 runs take 6.6 seconds, a solid second and a half quicker than either the Forester or the Outback.
And the EPA-estimated 25 mpg combined city/highway is right in both Subarus' fuel economy ballpark. If Mazda wants a decided advantage, all it would take is more gears---the CX-50 is still running with a six-speed automatic.
As far as working bits that contribute to the Meridian Edition's off-road aspirations, there's all-wheel drive (standard on all CX-50 2.5 Turbo models), an off-road setting for the adaptive drive modes and P225/60 R 18 all-terrain tires.
One wonders if Mazda has some in-house research indicating that there are Subaru buyers or intenders who are ready for a bit of self-indulgence, because Mazda did not use the Meridian Edition's off-road image as an excuse to install a hose-it-out interior. It's almost as though marketing has a Venn diagram where Subaru outdoorsiness and Audi-quality interiors neatly intersect.
Base price of the 2024 Mazda CX-50 Meridian Edition is $42,175, including destination---several grand more than a Subaru Forester Wilderness Edition, but is only 90 bucks more than the starting point of a Subaru Outback Wilderness Edition. That money buys you a great deal of standard equipment---18-inch alloy wheels, a rear roof spoiler, roof fails, rain-sensing wipers, a wiper de-icer, heated side mirors, dual large exhaust pipes, leather-trimmed seats, power-adjustable and heated up front with lumbar control for the driver, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, electric parking brake, pushbutton start, paddle shifters, keyless entry, a rear power liftgate, G-vectoring control pllus, hill launch assist, a power panoramic moonroof, rear privacy glass, adaptive front lighting, automatic headlamps, a 10.25-inch multimedia screen (still controlled by the knob on the console, but more precisely and with fewer glitches than before, dual-zone climate control, rear vents, an eight-speaker audio system, four USB inputs, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a comprehensive suite of active safety features.
The only extra-cost options on our test vehicle were the Polymetal Gray metallic paint ($450), premium carpeted floor mats ($150) and the APEX Package, which adds front and rear splash guards, black cross bars and a roof platform ($1,235).
About that roof platform...
My first thought when I saw the Meridian Edition was "is it just me, or is that platform really tall?" My first thought when I drove the Meridian Edition was it had been decades since I'd been in a vehicle with that much wind noise---and it's positioned right above the sunroof.
If you need that kind of external cargo capability, great---just know that at highway speeds, you'll always know it's there.
All told, the bottom line on the window sticker reads $44,010.
Has Mazda found a new niche? Does Subaru have cause for concern? Only the market will tell.