It’s the rookie against the mainstay in a head-to-head battle of 2023 SUVs. Find out which one wins in this Mazda CX-50 vs Subaru Outback review!
The Subaru Outback is a familiar name on the crossover SUV front. Along with the Crosstrek and the Forester, the Outback is one of Subaru’s best-selling vehicles. Well, watch out! There’s a new kid on the block: the Mazda CX-50. This is the first model year for CX-50, and the Japanese automaker is hoping it’ll be a hit.
The crossover SUV market is crowded, though, with the Honda CR-V, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson, and Toyota RAV4 providing quite a bit of competition. All you have to do is take a look at some of our lists to see that: the Top 10 Compact Crossovers Under $20,000, the Best Three-Row Mid-Size SUVs of 2022, and the Best SUVs for Families. How will the 2023 Mazda CX-50 fare against all those rivals? We’ll have to wait for the answer to that question. How does the 2023 Subaru Outback compare to this rookie crossover? That is something we can answer and something you’re about to find out!
The 2023 Mazda CX-50 kicks off the first CX-50 generation with standard all-wheel drive (AWD), a six-speed automatic transmission, and two engine choices. A naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder version makes 187 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque. The turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder makes 227 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. Those numbers can go even higher though. Running on premium 93 octane gas, the turbo increases to put out 256 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque. With the turbo engine, the CX-50 can tow up to 3,500 pounds. The base engine can handle 2,000 pounds.
The base engine in the 2023 CX-50 has an estimated 24 miles per gallon (MPG) in the city and 30 MPG on the highway. In a model with the turbo engine, those numbers drop to 23 MPG in the city and 29 MPG on the highway. Neither of these figures is impressive in terms of fuel efficiency when compared to other vehicles in the segment. There are 8.3 inches or 8.6 inches of ground clearance on the 2023 CX-50, depending on which trim you choose.
The 2023 Subaru Outback didn’t include any major changes from previous models, so it still offers a 182-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with 176 lb-ft of torque or a 260-horsepower turbocharged 2.4-liter with 277 lb-ft of torque. Both mate to a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Subaru has a reputation of offering standard AWD vehicles and the 2023 Outback is no exception. The base Subaru engine can handle 2,700 pounds of towing, which is more than the 2023 CX-50. The turbocharged Outback pulls 3,500 pounds, equal to the turbo CX-50.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates put the standard Outback at 26 MPG in the city and 33 MPG on the highway, a bit better than the base CX-50 engine. Turbocharged numbers on the 2023 Outback dip to 23 MPG in the city and 30 MPG on the highway. That’s pretty much equal to the CX-50. The ground clearance on the 2023 Outback ranges from 8.7 inches to 9.5 inches, depending on tires and trim specifics.
The 2023 Mazda CX-50 has a firm ride, but it’s also comfortable. It’s got a good suspension, making it easy to take out on various paved or unpaved roadways. Power isn’t an issue. The CX-50 is quick. There is a moment of delay when stepping on the gas pedal, but once it’s going, it’s a great little cruiser! The handling and steering is where the CX-50 really excels. It can take curves without much body roll. The responsive steering obviously can’t compete with a sports car, but it’s impressive nonetheless.
Power isn’t an issue, but the 2023 Subaru Outback runs into the same issue as the 2023 Mazda CX-50: a delay in acceleration. While the CVT simulates an eight-speed automatic, it’s still reluctant at times. The suspension does its job well, limiting turbulence along the road. Ride quality scores well in the 2023 Outback. So does the ability of the Outback to handle off-road adventures. Certainly, in the Outback’s Wilderness trim, the 9.5 inches of ground clearance lends itself to some off-the-beaten path road trips. It’s easy enough to navigate the Outback on gravel roads, smooth blacktops, or pothole-dominated city streets. Curvy roads aren’t an issue either. There is limited body lean in those driving environments.
Mazda offers a fairly premium interior on the 2023 CX-50. The higher trims are more leather-appointed than the lower trims, but the rest of the features give off a modern, stylish feel, too. The touch function on the touchscreen only works when Apple CarPlay or Android Auto are in use, however. You’ll need to use the console-mounted dial to operate the infotainment system at other times. This cabin is quiet, not letting much road noise sneak its way into the vehicle. Up to 31.4 cu-ft of cargo can fit in the back of the 2023 CX-50. The maximum cargo space, with all seats down, measures 56.3 cu-ft.
Technically, the 2023 CX-50 seats five people, but the second row could get a little tight with three full-grown adults back there. Although it’s not a large vehicle, the 2023 Mazda CX-50 offers good space for the driver and passengers to stretch their legs. There are 41.7 inches of legroom in the front and 39.8 inches of leg room for rear passengers. The seats themselves are cushioned well enough to absorb most bumps you’d encounter in normal driving conditions. Heated and ventilated front seats are available in certain trims.
Quality cabin materials help make the 2023 Subaru Outback comfortable. The design is fine. It’s not outstanding, but it is modern and functional. More premium trims have features to enhance the experience, like dual-zone automatic climate control, heated seats, and technology like USB ports. The seats are pleasant to sit on for short trips or longer ones. This crossover SUV will fit up to five people. Three adults can fit in the back, but it can get crowded on anything more than a quick errand or drive across town.
Legroom for front-seat passengers measures 42.8 inches. The 2023 Outback adds an extra 1.4 inches of extra legroom in the rear seat than previous models, bringing the total to 39.5 inches. When it comes to suitcases and other cargo, there is 32.6 cu-ft of space to work with. The cargo hold maxes out at 75.6 cu-ft with the seats folded.
If you want options, then Mazda delivers with the 2023 CX-50! There are 10 trim levels: the S, Select, Preferred, Preferred Plus, Premium, Premium Plus, Turbo, Turbo Meridian, Turbo Premium, and Turbo Plus. Some, as you can probably tell by the names, come with the turbocharged engine. Let’s look at some of the other features though. The 2023 CX-50 S has 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic high-beam LED headlights, wireless Apple CarPlay, an eight-speaker stereo system, and an 8.8-inch touchscreen. It also comes with remote keyless entry and keyless start. Driver assists on the base trim include blind-spot monitoring, lane keep assist, forward collision warning, and adaptive cruise control.
The CX-50 Select adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, 60/40-split folding rear seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, rear USB ports, and tinted rear passenger windows. The Preferred trim has great cold climate features like a power liftgate, heated mirrors, heated front seats, and windshield wiper deicer. The Preferred Plus adds a panoramic sunroof. The 2023 Mazda CX-50 Premium includes driver’s seat memory functions, leather upholstery, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and a 12-speaker Bose premium audio system.
Moving up to the Turbo trim features self-leveling adaptive headlights and paddle shifters. One step up is the Turbo Meridian Edition, the trim you want for outdoor adventures. It’s got 18-inch alloy wheels and all-terrain tires. There are some extra styling elements, like special decals, added for flare. Getting closer to the top of the line is the Turbo Premium with power-folding mirrors, a head-up display, ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, and a Bose audio system with 12 speakers.
Finally, the Turbo Premium Plus adds heated rear seats, a navigation system, a wireless charging pad, and a 360-degree surround-view monitor. Premium safety features include a traffic sign reader, blind-spot monitoring, front and rear parking sensors, and reverse automatic braking. The 2023 Turbo Premium Plus has a manufacturer suggested retail price (MSRP) of $42,300. The base model has a MSRP of $27,550. All trims in between have about a $2,500 increase as you go higher up the ladder.
The 2023 Subaru Outback doesn’t have as many trim levels as the CX-50 does, but there are still eight different trims to choose from with an Outback. Plenty of options for everyone. The entry-level 2023 Subaru Outback has 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic high-beam LED headlights, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, just like the CX-50. Automatic climate control, hill descent control, and two seven-inch center touchscreens also come with the base trim. Adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, and lane keep assist are standard safety features. The MSRP at this point is $28,395.
The Premium trim adds quite a bit, including: LED fog lights, tinted rear windows, dual-zone automatic climate control, wireless connectivity for Apple and Android, and one large 11.6-inch touchscreen display. Not only does comfort increase in the Premium trim, but comfort does as well. There’s a power-adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Outside the vehicle are heated and power-folding exterior mirrors along with a windshield wiper deicer.
Leather upholstery, driver’s seat memory settings, and a power-adjustable front passenger seat come with the Subaru Outback Limited. This trim adds 18-inch wheels, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, rear-seat air vents, and heated rear outboard seats. A Harman Kardon audio system is also included. The 2023 Subaru Outback Touring has ventilated front seats, leather with contrasting stitching, and detection for cross-traffic and pedestrians.
The only difference with the Onyx Edition is an upgraded AWD system that includes additional drive modes. For outdoors enthusiasts, there’s the Wilderness trim. It has 17-inch wheels and all-terrain tires, a lifted suspension, a front skid plate, and a roof rack with a 700-pound weight limit. Stylistically, there’s black exterior badging, a revamped bumper, and copper trim accents. The simulated leather upholstery is water-repellent as well. At the top are the Limited XT and Touring XT. The only difference between these two trims and the Limited and Touring trims are the turbocharged engines that come with the Limited XT and the Touring XT. The Touring XT tops off at a MSRP of $42,295.
This is kind of a tough decision. These are two evenly-matched vehicles. They’re even equal in the same three-year or 36,000 miles basic warranty. Maybe it’s just the idea of trying something new, but I’d go with the Mazda CX-50 in this case. You do have to get pretty close to those premium trims on the 2023 CX-50 in order to get some of the more desired features. The Subaru Outback adds parking sensors sooner in the trim lineup than the CX-50 does, but the Outback also doesn’t offer a 360-degree view, traffic sign recognition, or reverse automatic braking. There is higher ground clearance on certain Outback trim levels than on CX-50 trims, but not much.
You know what you’re getting with the Subaru Outback if you’ve driven one before. Our Subaru Outback Through The Years overview takes a look at how the crossover built up a following over the past more than 25 years. The Outback is a reliable choice. The CX-50 offers a chance for something new though. It has a bit more personality in terms of outside appearance and in terms of driving dynamics. I don’t know that any Subaru loyalists will switch brands, but if you’re looking to see if the grass is greener with another automaker, the CX-50 isn’t a bad place to start.