Crossover Shopping Follow Up – Toyota, Subaru, and Mazda

I’ve been meaning to write this post for almost two months now. As I sat on my couch waiting for the Bahrain Grand Prix to start this past weekend, I figured I should probably try and get it done. As mentioned in a few previous posts and videos, my wife and I bought a new vehicle fairly recently. Quick recap: We decided we needed something more practical and efficient to add to the stable. After test driving 11 vehicles, narrowing it down to a top 3, and test driving again, we purchase a 2021 Subaru Forester Touring. I made a video discussing some of that test driving process and shared some brief thoughts on the various vehicles, but I wanted to take some time to write in more detail about all of the vehicles we tested and considered during this process. r

Toyota was a natural place to start, given their global reputation for reliability. My dad has owned a few different RAV4s over the years and while he seemed pretty happy with them, I always found them to be quite bland and boring. In 2019 however, I think they made a huge step forward in styling and I started noticing them more on the road. With the addition of a hybrid and plug-in hybrid (called the Prime), having the RAV4 hybrid on the list was a no-brainer. The RAV4 Prime wasn’t readily available yet so our thinking was that we’d test the RAV4 hybrid and if it checked all the boxes, we might also look at the Prime version.

The RAV4 hybrid we tested

The RAV4 was a surprise in a lot of ways. For the most part it was comfortable, the acceleration was smooth with good power, and the interior materials were nice enough. Our only major complaint (my complaint really) was the lack of headroom. I could recline the seat back to help but it wasn’t ideal. The leg room was a little bit tight too.


Next we made our way to the Subaru dealer, and its obvious how that turned out. In addition to the Forester we ended up buying, we also test drove an Outback. The one we drove was the XT Onyx Edition, which meant it had a more powerful, turbocharged engine and some cool dark accents and trim pieces. The Outback ended up being the most powerful/quickest of the vehicles we tested but that also meant it wasn’t competitive as far as fuel economy goes. If you’re a fan of wagons and fuel economy isn’t your number one priority, the Outback XT is a great option.

I generally prefer the styling on wagons over SUVs so I expected I might like the Outback more than the Forester. While I did like a lot of things about the Outback, what ultimately made the Forester more appealing was the interior space, the incredible visibility, and the price (a similarly equipped Outback is about $2k more). Also, we didn’t love the giant infotainment screen that relied more on touch screen functions than a combination of buttons, dials, and touch screen. In our initial observations, the biggest downside to the Subaru vehicles was the lack of a hybrid drivetrain. Also, we found the Forester appearance to be a little bland at first. Obviously it kind of grew on us eventually.


Next we made our way to Mazda to check out the CX-5. I had mixed expectations – I was expecting to like the CX-5 a lot because all of the car magazines tend to love most of the vehicles Mazda makes, often talking about the driving dynamics and how they are becoming increasingly luxurious. I also knew that there wasn’t a hybrid option and that if fuel efficiency was a priority, the sportier turbocharged version wasn’t going to be the one to look at. I can’t recall the trim level at the moment but all I know is that it was a non-turbocharged CX-5. When we were in the CX-5, it felt like we were in a smaller vehicle but the head and leg space were pretty good in both the front and back seats. After driving it for a few minutes, I felt like I finally understood what car journalists meant when they said it drives “like a car”. The materials were nice to the touch and visually appealing.

The infotainment system was only controlled from a dial on the center console, without any touch screen capabilities, which made it feel pretty dated. The acceleration was unimpressive and given the middling fuel economy, made it even more disappointing. It also had a lot more road noise than we expected. Our judgement on the CX-5 was obviously based on driving only one version but the fuel economy was reason enough to rule it out fairly early. There is no hybrid option and the non-turbocharged version with 187ish horsepower only gets a combined 30 MPG. Perhaps the turbocharged version with a higher trim level is a more impressive overall vehicle but we didn’t bother to test any other Mazdas.

I was hoping to get this done in one post but it seems I’ll need to split it up into one or two more. Keep an eye out for the next sets of vehicles from Honda, Kia, Volkswagen, Hyundai, and Nissan. Thanks for reading.

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