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Car group tests

Subaru Forester vs Mazda CX-5

Subaru has updated its rugged Forester with a new powertrain. We hit the trails to pitch it against the Mazda CX-5

The arrival of the updated Subaru Forester has brought with it the addition of a new powertrain option for the Japanese brand’s mid-size, off-road-focused crossover. For the first time, the Forester is available with Subaru’s 2.0-litre ‘Boxer’ turbodiesel in conjunction with its Lineartronic CVT automatic gearbox.

Up until this car’s launch, if you were after rugged off-road ability with the efficiency of a diesel and the convenience of an auto, you had to look elsewhere. But by adding this new engine and gearbox mix to the line-up, along with the brand’s trademark off-road ability, Subaru has put the Forester in the firing line of some strong competition.

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Mazda’s all-wheel-drive automatic CX-5 in 2.2-litre turbodiesel Sport Nav form carries an identical price tag to the Subaru, at £30,995.

So in a head-to-head battle, which 4x4 offers the better mix of on-road manners, refinement, practicality and – for those occasions when you might need it – all-terrain ability?

We’ve put both machines through their paces on the tarmac and on the loose stuff to find out which is a more compelling all-round package. Read on for the full Auto Express verdict.


Off-road modes

The Mazda doesn’t feel as solid off-road as its rival. Lineartronic versions of the Subaru feature X-Mode hill descent control that gives the car an edge away from the tarmac, while the brand’s symmetrical all-wheel-drive system provides good grip. The plastic body cladding adds extra protection, even though it doesn’t look especially stylish.


Subaru has improved all its cars’ interiors, but while this Forester features some higher-quality materials, it’s let down elsewhere by budget plastics. The Mazda has more of an expensive feel, with knurled infotainment and ventilation system controls adding sparkle to its classy cabin. 


Crossovers like these make perfect family cars, so safety is a key factor. Mazda’s £800 optional Safety Pack adds rear cross traffic alert as well as rear Smart City Brake Support autonomous braking to go with the standard alert system.


First place: Mazda CX-5

You get more power, equipment and style for your cash with the CX-5. It’ll be cheaper to run than the Subaru, too, plus it’s better to drive on the road, where these cars will spend most of their time. The Mazda can’t quite match the Forester’s off-road ability – although it’ll go further than you’d imagine – but it’s a more refined, attractive SUV that better teams performance and comfort with usability.

Second place: Subaru Forester

If you’re after a rugged, no-nonsense SUV with above-average off-road ability, the Forester deserves a closer look. It’s also comfortable, well equipped and practical, plus it’s powered by a refined diesel engine. Yet it’s hobbled by its high CO2 emissions and awkward styling, meaning it simply can’t compete against smarter, cleaner choices.

Other options in this category...

Honda CR-V 1.6 i-DTEC SE Navi Auto

Price: £31,010Engine: 1.6-litre 4cyl, 158bhp

Honda CR-V long-termer - cornering front

A nine-speed auto makes this diesel CR-V a practical cruiser thanks to a vast 589 litres of boot space. And although it’s only a 1.6-litre, there’s still a healthy 158bhp on tap. The Honda just isn’t as dynamic to drive as our test cars. 

Ford Kuga 2.0 TDCi 180 Titanium X AWD Auto

Price: £31,230Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl, 178bhp

Ford Kuga - front cornering

If you’re after more performance and precise handling, the 178bhp Kuga with Ford’s PowerShift auto box and four-wheel drive should fit the bill. But with a 406-litre load bay, it’s not as practical as the Mazda or Subaru. 


 Mazda CX-5 Sport  Nav 2.2 SkyActiv-D 175 AWD AutoSubaru Forester  2.0D XC Premium Lineartronic
On the road price/total as tested£30,995/£31,545£30,995/£31,495
Residual value (after 3yrs/36,000)£13,824/44.6%£13,424/43.3%
Annual tax liability std/higher rate£1,725/£3,449£1,908/£3,816
Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles)£1,366/£2,277£1,743/£2,904
Ins. group/quote/road tax band/cost21/£671/F/£14525/£726/G/£180
Servicing costs£711 (3yrs)£787 (3yrs)
Engine4cyl in-line/2,191ccFlat-four/1,998cc
Peak power/revs 173/4,500 bhp/rpm145/3,600 bhp/rpm
Peak torque/revs 420/2,000 Nm/rpm350/1,600 Nm/rpm
Transmission 6-spd auto/4wdCVT auto/4wd
Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel58 litres/repair kit60 litres/full-size
Boot capacity (seats up/down)503/1,620 litres505/1,592 litres
Kerbweight/payload/towing weight1,628/497/2,000kg1,645/458/2,000kg
Turning circle/drag coefficient11.7 metres/N/A10.6 metres/N/A
Basic warranty (miles)/recovery3yrs (60,000)/3yrs5yrs (100,000)/3yrs
Service intervals/UK dealers12,500 miles (1yr)/17012,000 miles (1yr)/59
Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos.9th/15th*10th/6th*
NCAP: Adult/child/ped./assist/stars94/87/64/86/5 (2012)91/91/73/86/5 (2012)
0-60/30-70mph8.1/8.1 secs9.9/10.6 secs
30-50mph in 3rd/4th3.3/4.5 secs3.9/4.4 secs
50-70mph in 5th/6th/7th6.9/9.0 secs/N/A6.7/8.9/10.8 secs
Top speed/rpm at 70mph 127mph/2,000rpm117mph/2,000rpm
Braking 70-0/60-0/30-0mph 56.8/34.6/9.6 metres58.7/37.8/11.4 metres
Noise outside/idle/30/70mph75/52/63/69dB73/52/62/70dB
Auto Express econ (mpg/mpl)/range44.0/9.7/561 miles34.5/7.6/455 miles
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined 44.1/57.6/51.4mpg38.7/52.3/46.3mpg
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined 9.7/12.7/11.3mpl8.5/11.5/10.2mpl
Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket172/144g/km/28%219/158g/km/31%
Airbags/Isofix/park sensors/cameraSix/yes/yes/yesSeven/yes/£435/yes
Auto box/stability/cruise ctrl/AEB^Yes/yes/yes/yesYes/yes/yes/no
Climate control/leather/heated seatsYes/yes/yesYes/yes/yes
Metallic paint/xenon lights/keyless go£550/LED/yes£500/yes/yes
Sat-nav/USB/DAB radio/BluetoothYes/yes/yes/yesYes/yes/yes/yes
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