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Reviewers rated the 2018 Mazda CX-5 and the 2018 Subaru Forester highly upon their release. Today, they’re among the best used compact SUVs under $25,000. They share many similarities that can make choosing between the two challenging. Below, we compare the 2018 CX-5 and 2018 Forester to show how each used SUV can satisfy drivers with different needs. 

Overview of the 2018 Mazda CX-5 and 2018 Subaru Forester

The 2018 Subaru Forester is a good used compact SUV
2018 Subaru Forester | Subaru of America

Here are the specs for the 2018 CX-5 and 2018 Forester base models: the Sport and 2.5i CVT. However, the average used price ranges and safety ratings are for all trims of these used compact SUVs.

2018 Mazda CX-52018 Subaru Forester
Average Used Price$17,500–$23,200$18,400–$27,300
Engine2.5-liter inline-four2.5-liter H4
Horsepower + Torque187 hp + 186 lb-ft170 hp + 174 lb-ft
Transmission + Drivetrainsix-speed automatic + front-wheel driveCVT + all-wheel drive
Acceleration + Top Speed0–60 mph in 7.7 seconds, 130 mph0–60 mph in 7.5 seconds, 126 mph
Fuel Efficiency25/31 mpg city/highway26/32 mpg city/highway
NHTSA Safety Rating5/5 stars5/5 stars
Cargo Capacity59.6 cubic feet maximum74.7 cubic feet maximum

2018 Mazda CX-5 vs. 2018 Subaru Forester: Driving and performance

The satisfying 2018 Mazda CX-5 isn’t the most potent compact SUV, but it provides a smooth ride. The CX-5’s good fuel economy comes from the 2.5-liter engine (standard across all trims) that can shut down the two outside cylinders at cruising speed to maximize efficiency. 

Every trim also has front-wheel drive, but Mazda’s i-Aactiv AWD system is an option. Steering around corners is easier thanks to G-Vectoring Control, and the 2018 CX-5’s Sport mode helps gain a better response from the engine. 

The 2018 Subaru Forester was a rarity in its class for its on-pavement and off-road capabilities. The main reason is Subaru’s Symmetrical AWD, standard on all Forester trims. Also, the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) helps keep this SUV’s gas mileage competitive. The CVT’s response time can take some getting used to, but you can find some used models with an available six-speed manual transmission if you prefer a stick shift. 

2018 Mazda CX-5 vs. 2018 Subaru Forester: Interior and tech

The 2018 Mazda CX-5 is a used compact SUV that has stood the test of time
2018 Mazda CX-5 | Mazda North American Operations

The 2018 Mazda CX-5 seats five passengers in two rows. It provides 103.6 cubic feet of passenger space and 59.6 cubic feet of maximum cargo capacity. Lower trims have high-quality cloth upholstery, but higher trims have leather seats. Either way, the refined interior design has stood the test of time.

Tech features include a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, keyless entry, and push-button start. A 7.0-inch color infotainment screen provides access to the Mazda Connect infotainment system, which includes Pandora, Stitcher, voice controls, and other apps.

As for advanced safety systems, the 2018 CX-5 has a rearview camera, daytime running lights, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alerts.

Like the CX-5, the five-seat 2018 Subaru Forester has standard cloth upholstery but available leather trim. The spacious interior is one of this crossover SUV’s most appealing qualities. Its 74.7 cubic feet of maximum cargo volume bests the CX-5. The Subie also has more passenger space at 108.3 cubic feet.

The base model includes the Subaru Starlink infotainment system with a 6.2-inch display. Riders can listen to music or podcasts through Bluetooth streaming audio, an MP3 player, an iPod connector, or a CD player. It should be noted that if Apple CarPlay or Android Auto integration is crucial, the 2018 Forester doesn’t include either feature. Consider a 2019 model if that’s a dealbreaker.

As for safety systems, Subaru introduced high-beam assist and reverse automatic braking as standard features in EyeSight-equipped 2018 Forester models. 

2018 Mazda CX-5 vs. 2018 Subaru Forester: Trim levels and features

The 2018 Mazda CX-5 came in two additional trims: Touring and Grand Touring. 

The mid-range Touring’s exterior is distinct for its 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels (two inches more than the base-model Sport’s wheels), rear privacy glass, and rain-sensing windshield wipers. The interior adds dual-zone automatic climate control and rear air-conditioning vents. Passengers get four USB ports and can listen to their playlists on a six-speaker stereo system. Additional safety systems include Mazda radar cruise control, lane departure warning, and smart brake support. 

The CX-5 Grand Touring’s main attraction is the power-sliding moonroof with an interior sunshade. Other upgrades are LED daytime running lights, fog lights, and combination taillights. This premium trim also has a power rear liftgate with programmable height adjustment, a Bose 10-speaker sound system, and built-in navigation. 

The 2018 Forester has five other trims: 2.5i Premium, 2.5i Limited, 2.5i Touring, 2.0XT Premium, and 2.0XT Touring. The most noticeable difference between the 2.5i and 2.0XT trims is that the latter models pack a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine producing 250 hp and 258 lb-ft.

The 2.5i Premium adds a panoramic sunroof, Starlink Safety Plus capability, automatic climate control, a larger 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen, and more. 

The 2.5i Limited builds off that with a power liftgate, an improved driver information display, and blind-spot monitoring.

The 2.5i Touring earns its top-tier place thanks to 18-inch alloy wheels, upgraded side mirrors with integrated turn signals, keyless ignition and entry, a heated steering wheel, and the Subaru EyeSight safety package. 

Which used compact SUV is the right fit for you?

The 2018 Mazda CX-5 and 2018 Subaru Forester are worthy used compact SUVs for different reasons.

The Mazda SUV’s smaller size can be an asset for its easy maneuverability. Plus, the 2018 CX-5 has proven reliable and safe.

However, Subaru’s offering is roomier, more versatile, and slightly more fuel-efficient. But its transmission is less responsive, it doesn’t handle as well, and some design elements have noticeably aged

Whether the 2018 CX-5 or the 2018 Forester is right for you depends on your preferences and lifestyle. Regardless of which used car you choose, obtain a vehicle history report and have a trusted mechanic perform an inspection to uncover potential problems before purchasing. Also, prices may vary depending on trim level, mileage, overall condition, and location.