Car Comparisons

2023 Mazda CX-50 vs Subaru Outback Comparison Test

Comparison Data

2023 Mazda CX-50 Meridian
2023 Subaru Outback Premier XT
Engine Displacement
Engine Cylinders
Turbo I4
Turbo H4
Peak Horsepower
227 hp @ 5,000 rpm (256 hp with premium fuel)
260 hp @ 5,600 rpm
Peak Torque
310 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm (320 lb-ft with premium fuel)
277 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm
Fuel Economy
10.4 / 8.1 / 9.4 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
10.6 / 8.1 / 9.5 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space
889 / 1,595 L seats up/down
920 / 2,144 L seats up/down
Base Price
A/C Tax
Destination Fee
Price as Tested
Optional Equipment
$250 – Polymetal Grey Metallic paint, $250

Once upon a time, it was decreed by a great and powerful force (the car-buying public) that sedans, coupes, wagons, and minivans were out of fashion.

Instead, SUVs – not to mention pickup trucks – were what all the cool parents were buying. They rushed out and embraced the rugged good looks and (alleged) all-conquering capability.

Then SUVs became increasingly refined and almost indistinguishable from one another, not to mention the wagons and minivans people strived to avoid. They also became too popular to be cool anymore.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rules, and that goes doubly for mainstream automakers that march to the beats of their own drums. Take Mazda, which has been creating beautifully-styled crossovers that offer genuine driving pleasure and increasingly opulent cabins. Over at Subaru, the quest has been to captivate granola-crunching adventure-seekers – and it’s done just that with considerable success.

Today, two of the best and most interesting offerings in the midsize SUV segment have strangely converged, with the sporty and stylish 2023 Mazda CX-50 gaining a rugged Meridian package, while the 2023 Subaru Outback has returned from the wilderness with more refinement than ever before. In terms of price, performance, size, and capability, these two could not be more closely matched.


Mazda’s turbocharged 2.5L four-cylinder started out in the three-row CX-9 several years ago and has permeated throughout the lineup, making quasi-hotrods of smaller offerings like the compact Mazda3. The engine is well-suited to the CX-50, offering 227 hp – that figure jumps to 256 hp if 93-octane fuel is used, but let’s get real: nobody’s going to do that with fuel prices as they are. More importantly, there’s a juicy helping of 310 lb-ft of torque on offer (320 lb-ft on the pricey stuff).

Subaru also offers a turbocharged four-cylinder under the Outback’s hood, although in a horizontally opposed configuration that has the cylinders laid flat instead of pounding up and down. There’s more power here (260, to be precise), but less torque (277 lb-ft).

Under most circumstances, these two offer comparable performance, with generous mid-range thrust making passing manoeuvres and highway merging effortless. Around town, the CX-50 leaps away from a standstill with greater gusto, a product of its throttle calibration and traditional six-speed automatic transmission. The Outback has a fleeting moment of hesitation giving it a slight rubber band sensation before finding its stride. In the past, vehicles equipped with an automatic continuously-variable transmission (CVT) like the Outback would’ve been panned for its moaning and sluggishness, but Subaru’s refined its units to offer eight steps that simulate gear changes.

Mazda CX-50: 7.5/10; Subaru Outback: 7/10

Driving Feel

The CX-50 embodies a notably sportier personality than the Outback, with steering that’s quicker and more responsive, and flatter handling when driven swiftly around curves. What makes that fact more impressive is that the Mazda manages its sporty feel despite the rather gnarly all-terrain Falken Wildpeak tires worn by this tester.

Although the Outback Wilderness comes fitted with its own all-terrain tires, our Outback tester in XT Premier trim typically wears a less aggressive touring tire – although a set of Bridgestone Blizzak winters was fitted here, which surely numbed steering feel somewhat. Nevertheless, while the Subaru tends to roll around more on its taller suspension, it still maintains impressive grip and handles well if you trust it to do its thing. Meanwhile, both machines offer solid braking performance with good stopping power and pedal feel.

Mazda CX-50: 7.5/10; Subaru Outback: 7/10

Fuel Economy

On paper, these two are rated almost identically for efficiency, with the same 8.1 L/100 km for highway driving, but a slightly thirstier city consumption for the Subaru. During our test loop, we recorded an indicated 11.7 L/100 km overall for the Subaru, which was a full litre more than the Mazda that could, in part, be explained by the Outback’s less efficient winter tires.

Mazda CX-50: 7/10; Subaru Outback: 6.5/10


The CX-50’s sportier suspension setup compromises its ride quality, and while it’s certainly not harsh, it does make the Mazda’s drive experience more frenetic than the Subaru’s. The relatively soft long-travel suspension makes its supple ride one of the Outback’s best qualities. Nasty potholes and railway crossings are simply swallowed whole, and lesser pavement imperfections don’t even register in the Outback’s cabin, making it an outstanding highway cruiser.

The CX-50 and Outback both do decent jobs of keeping wind noise out of their cabins, and engine noise is only noticed in either when the revs are up under heavy throttle. The Mazda’s all-terrain tires generated far more noise than expected, making it notably louder than the Subaru in spite of its winter rubber.

Front seat space is similar in both, but the Outback offers considerably more rear-seat shoulder- and headroom. Interestingly, the Mazda has more legroom in the back.

Mazda CX-50: 7/10; Subaru Outback: 8/10

User Friendliness

Besides the compliant suspension, Subaru has also earned favour from owners for the commanding driving position that’s not only comfortable but provides exceptional sightlines all around. Details like side mirror placement lower on the doors frees up space for side quarter windows that improve visibility markedly. The CX-50’s visibility is decent, but the truncated side glass height means it doesn’t feel anywhere near as airy as the Subaru.

The driver interaction with the controls is a similar story. Subaru gives a host of steering wheel buttons that are easy to work without looking at them, and the vertical orientation of the large infotainment touch screen integrates smartphone functionality well. While we don’t love having to operate climate controls via the touchscreen, Subaru has at least improved the setup this year with a permanent location for these at the bottom of the screen, so there’s no need to have to hunt through multiple menu layers. Plus, temperature control is still affected by physical buttons flanking the screen. Likewise, both volume and tuning are affected by knobs for simple use.

The CX-50’s screen is smaller, mounted horizontally, and is also further away from the driver atop the dash. The upside to this is that it presents the information closer to the driver’s sightline; the downside is that it’s a fair reach to use the touchscreen functions – when they can be used that way. Mazda still utilizes its rotary controller for infotainment operation, which works well enough with the native menu and navigation system, but becomes tedious with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Those features, meanwhile, can only be manipulated via touch when the vehicle is stopped

Mazda CX-50: 7/10; Subaru Outback: 8/10


Representing the top-tier trim for each model, the CX-50 Meridian and Outback Premier XT are both very well equipped. The turbocharged engines are standard for both models, as are upgraded sound systems, onboard navigation, power leather seating with both heating and cooling functions, and multi-zone climate controls.

Mazda CX-50: 8/10; Subaru Outback: 8/10


The comprehensive equipment lists carry on into the safety features, with a suite of active driver aids found in both the Subaru and Mazda. Front and rear automated emergency braking, automatic high-beam control, adaptive cruise control, and lane centring assist are standard. The Outback uses both stereoscopic and wide-angle mono-lenses to increase the camera-based system’s coverage and effectiveness, monitoring for lateral collision threats as well as forward ones. The Outback also provides both front and rear cameras, but not a surround-view system like the Mazda’s.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has given each of these models the highest Top Safety Pick+ rating.

Mazda CX-50: 9.5/10; Subaru Outback: 9.5/10


The CX-50 and Outback both represent excellent choices as practical everyday family haulers, adventure getaway machines, and suitable pack mules to haul decent piles of cargo. The Outback offers significantly more cargo capacity whether its rear seats are up or folded, plus a more spacious rear seat for passengers.

Subaru includes clever crossbars that nest in the roof rails but swing into place when needed, whereas Mazda requires an additional $1,400 Apex package to get the roof-top tray. Both machines are rated to tow up to 1,588 kg (3,500 lb).

Both machines have very effective all-wheel drive systems that do a remarkable job of helping the CX-50 and Outback through some sticky situations; and while the Outback Premier XT has a whisker more ground clearance than the CX-50 Meridian, there’s also an even taller Outback Wilderness for those looking to go even further off the beaten path. The Subaru’s longer travel suspension not only soaks up undulating terrain better, but it helps keep the cabin level while maintaining tire contact with terra firma.

Mazda CX-50: 7.5/10; Subaru Outback: 8.5/10


Fans of Subaru’s Outback will appreciate that the mild updates for 2023 don[t mess with the formula that’s worked for the company for a few decades now. It’s a tall, rugged wagon that’s proudly un-SUV in its appearance. This latest version is arguably the best-looking one yet, and the new mahogany-hued paint of our tester looks especially good.

But there’s not a single machine in Mazda’s line-up that isn’t vying for a most-stylish award in its segment. The design language is aging exceptionally well, helping define all Mazdas with a similar family look, yet making the CX-50 the most-successful application of the theme yet. Amazingly, the CX-50 Meridian blends the elegance of the CX-50 lineup with the ruggedness of a more off-road-ready machine.

Inside, the Outback is handsome and functional, its dashboard dominated by the large, vertical screen. But the Mazda’s feels more upscale thanks to the culmination of several small details, like the X-pattern contrast stitching on the dash and seats.

Mazda CX-50: 8.5/10; Subaru Outback: 7/10


Mazda and Subaru have loaded these machines up with all the bells and whistles as standard equipment, and in these respective trims, they’re very closely priced, with the top-spec Outback showing a $1,500 advantage over the Mazda, and nearly $3,000 if the Apex package is specified for the Meridian.

Mazda CX-50: 7.5/10; Subaru Outback: 8/10

The Verdict

Buyers who favour a bit more flash and style, plus handling performance, will want to swing a deal on the 2023 Mazda CX-50 Meridian. It’s a very satisfying crossover that leans more to the sport than the utility side of things and is sure to catch a lot of admiring glances. However, its more spacious interior, better usability, and notably better ride and comfort make the 2023 Subaru Outback Premier XT our preferred SUV to tackle family chores and adventures that can take its owner surprisingly far off the beaten path.