2018 Mazda CX-5 vs. Subaru Forester: Which Is the Better Buy?

If you’re looking for a lightly used compact SUV, you’ll probably want to shop 2018 models. Two of the highest-rated small SUVs of 2018 are the Subaru Forester and the Mazda CX-5. Both models have charisma, but is the Forester or the CX-5 better for you?

Driving the 2018 Mazda CX-5

A gray 2017 Mazda CX-5 out on a sunny day
The Mazda CX-5 | Photo by National Motor Museum/Heritage Images via Getty Images

The 2018 CX-5 has made a lot of people happy. What owners have enjoyed most about their SUV is the sporty performance that it provides. With the CX-5, you get a practical and efficient ride that’s also remarkably entertaining. 

For 2018, the CX-5 features a 187-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder that’s linked to a six-speed automatic. This four-cylinder makes for a smooth and quick driving experience. Fuel economy is also a highlight of this engine, which has an EPA rating of 29 mpg. Some models will have front-wheel drive, and others will have all-wheel drive. 

The CX-5’s luxury-like driving dynamics and agile handling makes it a standout in its class. Many critics, including Car and Driver, have raved about the 2018 CX-5 because of its sharp looks and engaging handling. This Mazda has earned top safety scores too. 

Driving the 2018 Subaru Forester 

A Subaru Forester e-Boxer is seen during the Vienna Car Show press preview
The Subaru Forester | Manfred Schmid/Getty Images

RELATED: Can the Subaru Forester Replace Your SUV?

As Consumer Reports put it, the CX-5 offers more “joy” and agility than rivals like Subaru’s Forester. But even so, the Forester has charms of its own. With the 2018 Forester, you have two engine options to choose from.

Most 2018 Foresters will have the standard with the 170-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder paired with a continuously variable transmission. If it’s more power that you crave, you’ll want to shop for models with the available turbo-four that makes 250-hp. This Forester impressed reviewers like Consumer Reports because of its secure handling and fuel efficiency. The 2018 model has an EPA rating of 28 mpg. 

You’ll appreciate the Forster for its smoothness on-road as well as its abilities off-road. All Foresters are standard with all-wheel-drive and have 8.7 inches of ground clearance. For a more enhanced off-roading experience, look for variants with the X-mode traction-assist system, as CR recommends. The X-mode system includes a hill-descent control feature, which helps you down hilly inclines. 

Comparing interior elements 

CX-5 Sport interior | Matthew Skwarczek

RELATED: The 2020 Mazda CX-5 Signature Deserves Your Attention

Both the CX-5 and Forester will provide you with plenty of interior space. These two SUVs can seat up to five people and offer generous legroom. However, the two are pretty different when it comes to interior design.

You’ll gravitate more toward the CX-5 if you want a luxurious cabin feel. Many reviewers consider the CX-5 to have the nicest car cabin in its class. Standard CX-5 models will have cloth; others will have faux leather and suede or genuine leather upholstery. The Forester is also available with cloth upholstery or leather, but this cabin is geared toward minimalists.

Subaru Forester touchscreen display | Subaru

Regarding in-car tech, the CX-5 the Forester also offers plenty of connectivity feathers. Both models come with touchscreen displays, Bluetooth connectivity, and four-speaker stereos. Upgraded CX-5 and Forester models will have more safety functionality, including forward-forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking.

Deciding between the 2018 CX-5 and Forester

Depending on mileage, the average price for a used 2018 CX-5 or Forester falls between $18K and $25K. Both offer comfort and plenty of modern features. However, deciding between the two comes down to what kind of driving experience you want. If you want an SUV that’s reminiscent of a sports car, go with the CX-5. If you value performance on and off-road, the Forester is for you.