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2019 Mazda CX-5 vs. 2019 Subaru Forester

John Coyle | May 15, 2019

In this corner, we have the 2019 Mazda CX-5. It's a sleek compact crossover from the company best known for its beloved MX-5 sports car, and now has available turbo power. 

Next, we have the 2019 Subaru Forester. A longtime favorite of the outdoorsey set, it's been fully redesigned for 2019, and features Subaru's famous all-wheel drive system.  


Powertrain

First, let’s look at the powertrains. Base CX-5s get Mazda’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder, which is good for 187 horsepower. But starting this year, buyers have the option of upgrading to a turbocharged version. While it doesn’t require premium fuel, drivers who spring for it will have 250 horsepower on tap, as opposed to the 227 it makes on regular-grade gas. The best fuel economy is found in the base engine and front-wheel drive, which scores 25 city and 31 highway. Upgrading the turbo engine and all-wheel drive will drop that to 22 city, 27 highway, and all CX-5s get a six-speed automatic transmission.

Coincidently, Subaru no longer offers a turbocharged engine for the Forester, and the manual transmission is also off the menu. For 2019, the only option is a 2.5-liter four cylinder which makes 182 horsepower. Power is sent to all four wheels via a CVT transmission, which helps deliver an impressive fuel economy rating of 26 city, 33 highway.

That said, we think the more Mazda’s more powerful engine and traditional automatic will make for more inspired performance, so the CX-5 takes the win here.

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Cabin Interior

Now, let’s look inside the cabin. In recent years, Mazda has focused on giving its cabins a premium feel, and the results are evident when exploring the interior of the CX-5. A leather-wrapped steering wheel is standard, and the sleek lines of the exterior are reflected inside. We particularly like the look of the angled dash vents, and all the materials, even on base models, feels high. The design is clean and driver focused, and contributes to a driver-focused environment that complements the chassis agility. Behind the rear seats, you’ll find 30 cubic-feet of cargo space, and with them folded, the CX-5 will handle 59 cubic-feet of cargo.

The interior of the Forester is also a nice place to be, and the redesign has made it even roomier than previous models. As with the Mazda, material quality is high across the model range, though we do think the center stack has a busier feel than the Mazda’s. But one area where the Subaru definitely beats the Subaru is cargo space. With the seats up, drivers get 35 cubic-feet of storage, which climbs to a whopping 76 cubic-feet when they’re folded.

While it isn’t quite as spacious as the Subrau, we found the cabin of the Mazda to be superior in design and placement of controls, so we’re going to give the win to the CX-5 here.

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Infotainment Systems

In the minds of buyers, infotainment tech is more important than ever, and both the Mazda and Subaru are competitive in their class. While it’s not standard equipment, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are now available for the CX-5, which comes with a seven-inch touch screen, HD Radio, Bluetooth compatibility, two USB ports, and a four-speaker stereo system. One thing buyers should note is that the touchscreen won’t function while the vehicle is in motion, so you’ll have to use the rotary dial between the seats while driving.

At 6.5 inches, the base Forester’s touchscreen is slightly smaller than the one you’ll find in the Mazda, but Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard. Other standard features are comparable with the Mazda, and we think technology-focused buyers will find lots to love about the available eight-inch touchscreen, which is both attractive and noticeably quick to respond to inputs.

Apple Android and Android Auto is a big plus for the Subaru’s infotainment options. And since we found its generally more intuitive, the Forester takes the win here.

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Safety

From a safety standpoint, both the Mazda and Subaru are excellent choices. Each was named a Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and both earned a five-star overall crash rating.

That said, the Subaru comes standard with a longer list of safety features, including a pre-collision braking system, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, and adaptive cruise control. So while it’s very close in this category, we’re going to give the edge to Subaru.

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Value and Price

Now, it’s time to talk price. In the base sport trim, the CX-5 starts at $24,350, but if you’re looking for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, you’ll want to jump up to the Touring trim. At $26,615, it also includes creature comforts like leatherette upholstery, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, and additional safety tech like lane departure warning, lane keep assist, and adaptive cruise control. While buyers can opt for features like a premium sound system or moonroof on lower trims, to get the new turbo engine, you’ll need to step up to Grand Touring Reserve trim, which includes all-wheel drive, and starts at $34,870.

In comparison, the base Forester comes in slightly cheaper, at $24,295, and it includes all-wheel drive, which is an $1400 option on the Mazda. Taking into account that price bump, at $26,695, the Subaru’s Premium trim is a great deal, as it includes alloy wheels and a panoramic moonroof, along with goodies like a WiFi hotspot and reclining rear seats. Even the top-spec Touring trim comes in a reasonable $34,295, and it’s so loaded with features and creature comforts, there aren’t any option packages available for it.

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Verdict

If you're looking for all-wheel drive and loads of creature comforts, the Subaru is a great deal, and the well-structured option packages make it a clear winner on price.     

That said, in this matchup, we're going to give the win to Mazda. The exterior design of the CX-5 is arguably the best in class, and it backs up its good looks with a powerful engine, sharp handling, and a great interior, making it a great choice overall.   

The power of a test drive

Of course, you shouldn't buy a car without a thorough test drive. So if you're looking to check out one of more of these all-wheel drive corner carvers, find an AutoNation dealership near you!

Image commposite of Mazda CX-5 and Subaru Forester vehicles
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