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A comfy, spacious crossover with some off-roading capabilities and a supple supply of power. Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, good news! These vehicles exist. And, if you have been searching for one, we have two of them for you to compare: the 2021 Subaru Outback and the 2021 Mazda CX-5.
The 2021 Subaru Outback sees some positive changes for the model year. There are now adaptive LED headlights equipped on every single trim level. Also, you get a standard seat-belt reminder for all seating positions. A 'check the rear seat' indicator is a new safety feature that parents will certainly appreciate. The sixth generation of the Outback was only introduced last year, so for Subaru to be making such important inclusions right off the bat shows how dedicated they are to making their vehicles safe and family-friendly.
The Outback is far from boring. Its cabin is quiet and well padded for comfort, and the suspension provides a remarkably compliant ride quality. If you opt up to the turbocharged engine (referred to as the XT), you receive a lot of power. The standard engine can be kind of a drag and struggles to accelerate, so most buyers will likely look to the XT-equipped trim levels for their share of excitement. Of course, with its 8.7 inches of ground clearance and standard all-wheel drive (AWD for short), the Outback is geared for off-roading - much more so than other vehicles in this segment.
Aside from the base engine being sluggish, the Outback's only downsides are tech-related. The native voice recognition feature does not recognize natural speech patterns that well. On top of that, the large touchscreen display has clunky menus that are hard to navigate, as the buttons can take some effort to press on.
The 2021 Mazda CX-5 has some seriously sharp steering and handling capabilities that make it fun to drive. Not only that, but the interior gives you an upscale experience that does not include a luxury price tag. Like the Outback, the CX-5 has an optional turbo engine that provides much more power (and a more enthralling driving experience) than the base engine. Quiet but confident, the ride quality holds up on just about any road surface, at just about any speed.
The CX-5 now has a larger infotainment screen available with a brand-new system. A smartphone app allows you to remotely monitor and control the CX-5. The new Carbon Edition trim level adds the Preferred SV package and 19-inch black painted wheels as standard and can come with the turbo engine. Also, the line-topping Signature trim level now has more standard safety features on it.
Like the Outback, the CX-5's base engine is lackluster in its ability to accelerate. What's worse is that the ride quality might feel a bit too firm for many buyers in this class. Competitors like the Outback also offer more leg space for those in the rear and cargo volume.
So, which of these two small crossover SUVs is the best deal? Which one offers you the most value for your money? It is time to discuss the details and find out.
As we already briefly mentioned, both the 2021 Subaru Outback and 2021 Mazda CX-5 have turbocharged engine options in addition to their respective base engines. Since a powertrain can make or break your driving experience, it might be helpful to know which one is the best of them all.
The Outback has a standard 2.5-L 4-cylinder engine that is able to create 182 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque. It comes along with a continuously variable automatic transmission (better known by the acronym CVT), which is typically oriented toward increasing efficiency. The Onyx Edition, Limited, and Touring trims can all be equipped with the 'XT' turbo engine - a 2.4-L 4-cylinder that creates 260 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque. These vehicles also come with an upgraded AWD system with more drive modes and hill descent control. Of course, AWD is standard across the line-up.
The CX-5 offers a base 2.5-L 4-cylinder engine that puts up 187 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque. A 6-speed automatic transmission comes with it and supplies power to the front wheels. You can, however, opt for AWD if you want it. The 2.5-L turbo engine upgrades the power output to 227 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque (or, if you use 93 octane gas, 250 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque).
What makes a vehicle pleasant or horrific to drive? Drivability is an umbrella term that we use to discuss how well a vehicle can accelerate, brake, steer, handle, provide a smooth ride quality, and even how well its tech features work. Since you are about to invest your hard-earned money in a new vehicle, you need to know how drivable it really is.
So, let us start things off with the 2021 Subaru Outback. The Outback's base engine is its only genuine pitfall. It takes this engine about 8.8 seconds to get from 0 to 60 miles per hour. Upgrading to the turbo XT engine will put the Outback more on par with competitors like the Ford Edge and Honda Passport. The CVT is a smooth shifter and is able to deliver power to all the wheels in a timely manner. And it does help with maintaining a solid fuel economy. The base engine gets about 29 mpg combined, according to the EPA estimates.
You will feel a little bit of body roll while rounding through turns, but this is nothing new for the Outback - or for this segment. The Outback is otherwise well-mannered, with its tires firmly gripping the ground as you corner. The steering system gives you plenty of feedback from the road, and there is a good on-center feel to the system. Since it has those 8.7 inches of ground clearance, you can easily take the Outback off the beaten path for an off-roading adventure.
Comfort is where the Outback truly shines. The front seats are soft but incredibly supportive with plenty of lateral and lumbar support for their occupants. These inviting seats have enough bolstering to keep you comfortably locked in place as you round through tight turns. The ride quality is well above average too since the suspension is so finely tuned. It will smooth out just about any road imperfection, and no one in the cabin will notice.
The seats are not as upright as a typical SUV, which reflects back to the Outback's origins as a station wagon. However, the cabin is so spacious that this is not a problem. The seats are highly adjustable, and there is plenty of space for heads and legs in all seating positions. And, with the windows being so large, you get excellent outward visibility.
The touchscreen controls are the only minor downside to the cabin design. The screen seems slow to respond to inputs, and trying to conduct simple tasks can become a distraction while driving. The 11.6-inch vertical screen seems like a good idea on the surface but is just a flop. You will see that smartphone app integration is relegated to the top half of the screen for some reason, and this renders the bottom half pretty much pointless. You will also have to learn specific commands for the voice controls.
How does the CX-5 stack up? It actually holds its own quite well against the Outback but has its own set of issues. The CX-5's base engine takes about 8.7 seconds to get from 0 to 60 mph, so you will want to upgrade to the turbo engine for an acceleration time of about 6.6 seconds. The CX-5 handles with ease, maintaining a strong sense of control as you round through turns.
Its comfort levels rival those of the Outback too. Unfortunately, rear seat occupants will have to deal with a flat-bottomed bench seat that can become uncomfortable on longer trips. The ride quality might also feel too firm for some drivers. It does handle road imperfections well, but some noise seeps in at highway speeds.
The cabin's controls are all logically laid out, making them easy to reach when you need to change something. Rear seat passengers will wish they had a bit more space, but the front seats' elevated position gives the driver a clear view around the vehicle. The rear windows are somewhat smaller than those on the Outback, so there are a few more obvious blind spots. At least the rear-view camera provides a clear view for backing up.
The 10.25-inch infotainment display is downright attractive, definitely besting the weird vertical screen in the Outback. If you opt for the built-in navigation system, you will likely make quick work of sussing it out. The driver aids are the only mixed bag when it comes to the CX-5's technology, as some of them do not work as they should. Read on for an explanation of why that is the case.
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Safety is a key component of all new vehicles. Subaru and Mazda clearly take safety very seriously. You and your passengers deserve to know just what kind of safety features your new vehicle offers, so here's the run-down on the Outback and CX-5's respective driver aids and other safety features.
The 2021 Subaru Outback comes with the standard EyeSight bundle of driver aids. Adaptive cruise control helps to keep a safe following distance from the vehicle in front of the Outback. Forward collision mitigation will detect an impending crash, issue a warning, and apply the brakes in a timely fashion. Lane keep assist will make minor steering corrections in order to keep the Outback centered in its lane. You also get standard automatic high beams. Upgrading to the Premium trim level adds a blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert. A driver attention monitor comes with the Limited, and the line-topping Touring has a front-view camera. Overall, this system is regarded as one of the most capable, user-friendly driver aid suites on the market.
Mazda offers similar safety features on the CX-5. You get forward collision mitigation, a blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, and adaptive cruise control. Unfortunately, blind-spot monitoring is excessively sensitive, and the lane departure warning's buzzing sound can be somewhat irritating. Adaptive headlights and an upgraded driver information display come on the Grand Touring. Going all the way up to the line-topping Signature trim nabs you front and rear parking sensors, a 360-degree surround-view camera system, and rear automatic braking.
Which Has the Best Value?
When it comes to value, both vehicles pack a punch with the number of standard features. But, pound for pound, the 2021 Subaru Outback has the more value. The EyeSight bundle is superb. Even when fully equipped, the Outback is less expensive than most of its competitors. The XT engine will give you a pretty big price bump, but drivers can easily justify it when they feel how powerful it is.
Which is Better?
The 2021 Subaru Outback and 2021 Mazda CX-5 are mostly on par with one another. The CX-5 does slightly better with infotainment, but the Outback truly excels with its line of driver aids. It also has the better turbo engine option, which will make a huge difference when it comes to actually driving. If you want an enjoyable driving experience and ample off-roading capabilities, the Outback is your best bet.