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There’s often a fine line between first and second place. However, a seemingly small difference between two vehicles can lead to an entirely different driving experience. Such is the case with the critically acclaimed 2021 Subaru Forester and 2021 Mazda CX-5.

These compact SUVs are both trendy options for different reasons. So when you see these models atop any ‘best of’ list, you’ll have to ask yourself one vital question. “What kind of driver am I?”

The Forester and CX-5 excel in different ways, and test-driving both models will aid your decision. However, the following advice can help better prepare you for what to expect from each of these excellent compact SUVs.

Why should the Forester and CX-5 be your top compact SUV choices?

Few vehicles have it all. So, looking for a model that aces the most important categories is the best way to shop. The 2021 Subaru Forester and the 2021 Mazda CX-5 set the gold standard in significant areas. That’s why it’s no surprise that Consumer Reports placed these models at the top of its compact SUV rankings.

The publication gave the 2021 Subaru Forester an 89/100 overall vehicle score. It specifically praised the Forester’s incredible visibility, fuel-sipping engine, and roomy cabin. Consumer Reports also gave it a 90/100 road test score – the best rating in its segment. However, the publication’s most significant criticism of note was the SUV’s noisy engine.

Meanwhile, Consumer Reports handed the 2021 Mazda CX-5 a commendable 83/100 overall vehicle score. The CX-5’s best-in-class predicted reliability rating (based on Consumer Reports’ research) heavily factored into this determination. So, you can plan on driving the CX-5 for many miles to come. Additionally, the publication saw the CX-5’s comfortable ride quality and quiet cabin as high points while pointing out its poor visibility and fuel economy as low points.

What we love about the 2021 Subaru Forester

A green 2020-2021 Subaru Forester on display in a parking lot with green bushes in the background
The 2020 Subaru Forester on display | Subaru

Subaru is famous for including all-wheel drive as a standard feature on the majority of its vehicles. This addition gives drivers added capability via a drivetrain that typically costs a few thousand dollars extra. But that’s not the only advantage the 2021 Subaru Forester has over its competitors.

The Forester is an adventure-ready SUV. You can make use of its rugged capability by packing up this compact SUV to the gills. The Forester has one of the most spacious cargo areas in its segment. There is 31.1 cubic feet of storage space behind the back seats, and you can lower the rear bench to get 76.1 cubic feet. Notably, these numbers only apply to the base model, as higher trim levels offer slightly less room. In comparison, the 2021 Mazda CX-5 maxes out at 60 cubic feet of storage space.

Subaru also offers a host of other options that helps you make the most of every journey. Its available panoramic sunroof gives you a better view of any destination. Meanwhile, its available navigation system will help get you there. There’s even an available Wi-Fi hotspot that allows you to stay connected, no matter how far you roam.

What we love about the 2021 Mazda CX-5

A red 2021 Mazda CX-5 driving down a city road with a building and tree in the background
The 2021 Mazda CX-5 in action | Mazda

Subaru built the 2021 Forester for the adventurer inside us all. But who should purchase the 2021 Mazda CX-5? As you might have guessed, Mazda’s compact SUV lives up to the brand’s reputation by delivering an ultra-sporty driving experience.

Shoppers can purchase the CX-5 with one of two engines – a standard 187-hp four-cylinder engine or a 250-hp turbocharged four-cylinder. Notably, you’ll have to use 93-octane fuel to obtain the turbocharged powerplant’s max output; otherwise, it only generates 227 hp. This compact SUV doesn’t solely rely on power to deliver thrills. Mazda engineered the CX-5 with athletic driving dynamics that translates to ultra nimble handling.

Rivals like the 2021 Subaru Forester simply can’t hang with the CX-5. Subaru only offers a 182-hp four-cylinder engine on the Forester. And while it’s potent enough for your daily commute, it won’t pin you to the back of your seat.

Additionally, the Mazda CX-5 is also slightly more upscale than the Forester. It has unique touches like available red leather upholstery, wood trim, and ventilated seats.

Which compact SUV is right for you?


Is It Worth It To Buy a Subaru in an Area Where It Doesn’t Snow?

Do you prefer to get lost in the wilderness? Then the 2021 Subaru Forester is the perfect choice for you. However, if you want a daily dose of excitement, the 2021 Mazda CX-5 is a better fit.

Perhaps neither of these traits applies to you. In that case, you may want to decide between practicality and luxury. The Forester’s fuel-efficient engine makes it a more sensible option for budget-conscious drivers. Alternatively, the CX-5’s premium trims will reward all your senses, making it an excellent choice for those who wish to treat themselves.