Subaru Forester VS Mazda CX-8
- Interesting looks
- Excellent safety
- Good space and practicality
- Not interesting to drive
- Doesn't live up to 'Sport' name
- Bit pricey to own
- Good value for money
- Practical space
- Smooth diesel engine
- Higher grades get very expensive
- Six-seat option only available on one variant
- Petrol engine needs more pep
This is not the Subaru Forester Sport model they get in Japan, and it's therefore not the one most Aussies have been desperate to see launched here.
Nope, the giveaway is the 2.5i part of the name for this 2021 Subaru Forester 2.5i Sport model, which has just been added to the brand's range to add a bit more of an eye-catching variant to the line-up.
In Japan, the Sport gets a new turbocharged petrol engine, but this one instead soldiers on with the same powerplant as the rest of the Forester range, but there have been plenty of changes and additions besides.
|Engine Type||2.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Everybody wants an SUV these days, so to cater to a quickly growing and diverse audience, car brands need to offer more than just the usual small, medium and large varieties.
It’s a neat trick that Mazda pulls off, but are there any compromises to packaging, quality, value or comfort as a result? We spent some time in the new 2021 CX-8 Touring SP to find out.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
The Subaru Forester Sport is an interesting new addition to the range, despite not really moving it forward in any other way apart from its eye-catching looks. It is a competitive counterpoint to the likes of the CX-5 and CR-V, but still doesn't quite reach the same levels of refinement and driving enjoyment of the RAV4.
There is no doubt the Forester Sport will add a level of appeal that Subaru has been needing in its family SUV range since launch, but we really think the thing that would get more customers excited would be a new turbocharged top-spec model, which would certainly be more deserving of the Sport name.
Mazda’s updated CX-8 doesn’t really change much from the previous model, but it didn’t really need to fix what wasn’t broken.
The added Touring SP grade offers another choice for buyers who might be after some more upmarket features without the usual associated costs, while the Asaki LE’s captain’s chairs are genuinely a great feature.
The practical space and handsome looks are also big points in its favour, and even if the petrol engine can run out of huff towards the top end, the CX-8 remains a solid choice for those after a family hauler.
If you've ever trawled the Subaru Japan website like me (high five, car nerds!), you might be thinking: "This Subaru Forester Sport model looks a lot like that Forester X-Break in Japan!". And you'd be right.
It is, essentially, the same car. Just with a considerably nicer looking set of wheels than the Japanese model. They aren't my favourite rims, but then again, I think the Forester's rims on the whole are pretty yuck.
Wheels aside, the flashes of orange around the car will no doubt catch your eye. There are plenty of them: the lower body protection has orange trim from the front bumper to the side skirts/sills and the rear bumper, too; plus there are orange bits as part of the roof rails, too.
The exterior also cops a bit of a blackout treatment, with new dark graphics front and rear, including a black garnish between the tail-lights. And of course, the rims are black, too.
Inside the style a bit more adventurous, with a smattering of orange trim highlights on the vent surrounds, the transmission tunnel, the stitching that runs on the dashboard, doors and seats, and even the eye-catching and intriguing mesh-look water-repellent trim on the seats that goes up to the doors, too. I guess Subaru assumes Forester Sport buyers will be spending a lot of time in the rain?
I really love the orange trim finishes - they really lift the ambience of the cabin and make it feel a bit more exciting than a regular Forester. In fact, it's like the Forester looked a bit further down the Subaru line-up to the XV and said, "Hey, how come you're getting all the attention?".
There are some inherently awesome SUV features that the Forester's interior design brings to the fore - we'll get to that in the next section.
The CX-8 clearly belongs in the Mazda SUV family, wearing the same understated yet elegant design language found on the smaller CX-5 and larger CX-9.
In fact, the CX-8 can be a little hard to differentiate from either of its siblings from a distance, so if you like what Mazda has done with its crossovers, you’ll like the look of the CX-8.
Personally, I like the styling of the CX-8, with its sleek headlights and taillights adding a bit of aggression to the aesthetic, while the chrome-trim found on the grille and window surrounds adds a touch of class.
The 19-inch wheels found in the more expensive grades do look much better than the 17-inch units on the Sport and Touring, however, and fill the wheel arches much better.
Our Touring SP also sports a number of blacked-out elements on the exterior to set it apart, including around the grille, the windows and the wheels.
We think it looks great, especially when contrasting against our test car’s Polymetal Grey colour, but we will point out that higher grades like the GT and Asaki nab a new grille that looks much more upmarket than the one fitted here.
It’s not just the outside that will be familiar to Mazda customers, as the interior mirrors much of the CX-5 and CX-8 as well.
Everything is laid out in a clear and easy to use fashion, and controls and ergonomics are spot on for the driver.
The Touring SP scores a number of nice touches on the inside, too, including suede accents and red-stitched highlights that do a lot to elevate the standard black-cloth interior.
Out test car is also fitted with an 8.0-inch multimedia system, but having experienced the larger 10.25-inch unit of higher grades recently, the bigger version is a vast improvement in terms of looks.
Overall, the CX-8 plays it a little safe with design, but it still looks distinct and upmarket, like all Mazda SUVs.
The Forester could be the most practical vehicle in its class. Against the likes of the Toyota RAV4, Mitsubishi Outlander, Mazda CX-5 and VW Tiguan, it stacks up pretty well for cabin practicality, space utilisation and accommodation.
It's a nice, bright and airy place to be, with a big glasshouse that makes it feel a bit more outdoorsy than its rivals. The benefits of that are two-fold - it's easy to see out of, whether you're the driver or if you're a kid in the back.
Looking up front first, the Forester's cabin presentation is much more eye-catching in this grade. The other models in the range are, well, a bit bland. The Sport, though, is a bit more - dare I say it - sporty. And I personally hate models called Sport, but that's a story for another day.
The orange stitching everywhere and the orange metallic look finishes on the dash and the centre console - it combines for a more special feeling cabin than any of the other Foresters available.
I really appreciate the media screen Subaru offers - it's easy to use and is bright and colourful, and also the flush finish design - not a floating tablet style screen - does make it just a little easier to use. However there is a secondary screen above it, which shows you a bunch of information about the car that you theoretically will never actually need to know.
That top pod also has a driver monitoring camera system which is looking at you all the time and will warn you if you take your eyes off the road for too long. Intriguingly, it flashes a warning onto another screen - the one on the instruments, which also makes you look away from the road...
It really is a button and screen overload. If you like minimalism, you're not going to like the number of things in front of you as the driver of a Forester. But they all have a purpose (sort of), and for me, it's better than everything being run through touch screens!
The front seats are quite comfortable, with electric adjustment for the driver and passenger. Both are electric adjusted and heated as well, which is nice, and the material used is genuinely really comfortable - it's like a good quality couch.
Even though those are nice elements, I couldn't find myself a perfect driving position – I feel like I sat just a little too high and I couldn't get the steering wheel in quite the right position for my preferences.
Storage is mostly okay up front: the cupholders between the seats are a little bit deep so small takeaway coffees might be hard to get out, and there are bottle holders in the doors, a small cubby in front of the gear selector for a wallet and/or phone, and that's also where you'll find 2USB ports. No wireless phone charging, though.
The overall space for a family of four is perfectly usable. There is no seven seater version of the Forester, nor any seven-set SUV in the brand's range at all in Australia, so it's strictly a smaller family affair, or a good option for grandparents on duty.
There's very good second row seat space, with a high seating position and hip point allowing for adults to easily slot in there (I'm 182cm/6'0" and I can fit behind my driving position with heaps of leg, toe and headroom to spare), but it's also a handy height for child loading, with dual ISOFIX and three top-tether points. Weirdly, though, Subaru has kept with the ceiling-mounted centre seatbelt, and the seat is flat and a bit uncomfortable for adults in terms of cushioning and support. Great for child seats, though.
There are plenty of smart features in the second row, including twin map pockets on the seat backs, one of which is sectioned and divided for smaller items. Plus there are those two USB ports for charging devices (again, perfect for a family of four), and there are rear directional air vents. There is a fold-down armrest with cupholders, plus bottle holders in the doors.
Weirdly there are LED lighting pods for the boot and the tailgate, and up in the front of the cabin there is LED lighting, too - but in the centre, the middle lighting pod is halogen. Weird.
The boot area offers 498 litres of cargo capacity (VDA) with the seats up, but hit the electric release levers (handy!) at the sides of the boot and you liberate a total 1740L of space - enough for a pair of mountain bikes or a few weeks' worth of camping gear for a couple.
Plus there are shopping bag hooks on the outer sides of the boot area and one on the tailgate,, plus four tie down points if you need to attach things and stop it from rolling around. There's a cargo blind, and a 12 V outlet in the boot, too.
Measuring 4900mm long, 1840mm wide, 1725mm tall and with a 2930mm wheelbase, the CX-8 is classified as a large SUV, but its width is actually the same as a one-size-smaller CX-5.
The length is closer to a CX-9, while the wheelbase is identical to its larger sibling, which means the CX-8 offers the practicality and space of a seven seater, but is easier to manoeuvre around town.
From the front seats, the cabin feels light and airy, thanks to a large glasshouse, while storage options extend to large door bins, a deep centre-storage cubby, two cupholders and a small tray for your phone/wallet.
The second-row seats also offer plenty of room for adults and will even slide forward and recline to get into the perfect position.
There is plenty of head and legroom, even for those sitting in the middle seat, but shoulder room can be a little compromised.
For those that seldom use the second-row middle seat, the Asaki LE features two captains’ chairs that are much more comfortable for adults, and even features ISOFIX and top-tether points for child seats.
In the second row, there are small door bins, a fold-down armrest with cupholders and air vents with climate controls, while the Asaki LE scores its own unique centre console with functions for seat heating.
The second-row doors are also a bit bigger than a CX-5, making ingress/egress to the third row a little easier, but it also means it can be trickier to get in and out of tighter parking spaces.
But if you are considering a CX-8, it’s probably because there is a third row of seats, and they are just what you’d expect.
It’s a little cramped in seats six and seven for my six-foot-tall frame, but there is decent legroom if the second-road seats scooch up a little.
Children shouldn’t have a problem being comfortable back there though, but charging points are only available on higher grades.
The boot of the CX-8 can swallow a decent amount of volume with all seats in place (290L), enough for a medium-sized suitcase and more than enough for some groceries or school bags.
Fold the third-row flat and that expands to 775L, making it easier to haul a whole family's luggage for a holiday.
Tucked underneath the boot is also a space-saver spare wheel for a little peace of mind on long road trips.
Price and features
The new Subaru Forester 2.5i Sport model is a $41,990 proposition - that's the MSRP/RRP, or the price before on-road costs (you might find driveaway deals if you search Autotrader, though).
It slots in between the 2.5i Premium ($39,490) and the 2.5i-S ($42,990), but it stands out compared to both of those versions with a revamped design and a number of inclusions over the models below it, but most of them are visual differentiators which we'll detail in the next section.
Let's consider the standard equipment offered here: black 18-inch alloy wheels with a full size spare, an electric sunroof, water repellent cloth interior trim, electric front seat adjustment (driver's side with memory settings), heated front seats, electric tailgate, electric folding rear seats, smart key hands-free entry and push button start, auto headlights and auto wipers.
There's also a 8.0-inch touchscreen media system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring tech, DAB+ digital radio, CD player, six speakers, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, 4xUSB ports (2x front, 2x rear), a 4.2-inch digital driver info display with digital speedo, and a leather-lined steering wheel and shifter.
The safety story is a very strong one - see the section below for all the details.
Things missing from the 2.5i Sport that you might want for include an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, a proper surround-view camera, and leather seat trim.
Colours available for this spec comprise: Crystal Black silica, Crystal White pearl (as seen here), Dark Blue pearl (exclusive to Sport), Ice Silver metallic, Magnetite Grey metallic and Sepia Bronze metallic. The green and red options are not available on Sport, but no matter the colour you opt for, it won't cost you any extra.
Obviously though, you might want to choose carefully, as there are some orange highlights inside and out that might not match up with your preferred colour choice. Let's get to that next.
Mazda’s CX-8 has changed a lot since it was first introduced to local showrooms in mid-2018.
Back then, it was a diesel-only range, available in two grades, but now Mazda Australia offers the CX-8 across five trim levels, two engine choices and front- or all-wheel drive, for a total of 11 variants.
Opening the range is the Sport grade, available in petrol front-drive and diesel all-wheel-drive forms for $39,990 before on-road costs for the petrol and $46,990 for the diesel AWD.
The Touring is also available in petrol FWD and diesel AWD versions, priced at $46,790 and $53,790, while new for 2021 is the Touring SP, which builds on the second-to-bottom grade for an extra $1000.
Meanwhile, the GT trim is a diesel-only affair, in front ($59,290) and all-wheel-drive ($64,290) flavours.
The diesel-only Asaki tops the CX-8 line-up, in FWD ($62,790) and AWD ($66,790), but Mazda has also introduced the new Asaki LE range-topper that bumps up pricing to $69,920.
We’ll dig into the engine specs a bit further down, but standard equipment is impressive, thanks to the likes of tri-zone climate control, a head-up display, and an 8.0-inch multimedia system with satellite navigation, digital radio and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto support.
Less impressive on the base Sport grade are the 17-inch wheels and black-cloth interior, but a sub-$40,000 seven-seat SUV needs to make compromises somewhere.
Stepping up to the Touring adds more upmarket features such as keyless entry, push-button start, power-adjustable front seats, heated front seats and leather interior.
Our test car, the Touring SP, differs thanks to red-contrast stitching for the interior, suede accents for the seats and dashboard, and heated rear seats, as well as blacked-out exterior elements (more on that below).
The GT grade scores a larger 10.25-inch multimedia system, wireless smartphone charger, powered tailgate, wood interior trim, sunroof, 10-speaker Bose sound system and steering wheel paddle shifters.
Finally, the Asaki nabs a 7.0-inch driver display, Nappa leather interior, cooled front seats and a heated steering wheel, while the Asaki LE swaps out the second-row bench seat for two heated captain’s chairs and a bespoke centre console with cupholders and USB ports.
No matter how you slice it, this is an impressive equipment list, on any grade you go for, but we will point out that prices are up this year (from $80-$1350) across the line-up.
Engine & trans
Instead, the 2.5i part of the name indicated a carryover 2.5-litre four-cylinder horizontally-opposed 'boxer' engine producing 136kW of power (at 5800rpm) and 239Nm of torque (at 4400rpm). No turbo here.
The Forester is available solely with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) Lineartronic automatic gearbox, and as it's a Subie, of course it has the brand's "Symmetrical" all-wheel drive (AWD) system standard, too.
The Sport grade isn't available with the brand's hybrid powertrain, though that's no great loss. Read our review where we compared that version against the excellent RAV4 hybrid to see how it fared
The 2.5i models have seen a towing upgrade for 2021, with the unbraked rating set at 750 kilograms, while the braked towing capacity is now 1800kg (up from a meagre 1500kg in earlier models).
Our Touring SP petrol is powered by a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, which drives the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission.
The petrol engine outputs 140kW at 6000rpm and 252Nm at 4000rpm for a zero-to-100km/h run in a lethargic 10.9 seconds.
And depending on configuration, FWD or AWD, the oil-burning CX-8 can reach triple-digit speeds in as little as 9.6s.
A third-row of seats is not light, of course, with our Touring SP grade tipping the scales at just under 1800kg, while the Asaki LE weighs in at a positively porky 1977kg.
The official combined cycle fuel consumption figure for the Forester 2.5i Sport is identical to the rest of the range: 7.4 litres per 100 kilometres, with emissions claimed at 168g/km CO2.
On test, we saw an at the pump fuel economy of 9.5L/100km across a mix of urban, highway, country and open road driving (plus a very short unsealed off-highway stint).
Fuel tank capacity is 63 litres. It can run on the more affordable 91RON regular unleaded.
The CX-8 in front-drive petrol form will return an official fuel-consumption figure of 8.1 litres per 100km, while opting for a diesel will lower that to 5.9L and 6.0L/100km for front and all-wheel-drive versions.
In my brief time with the Touring SP petrol, I averaged 9.4L/100km, mostly due to remaining in the inner-city and lugging around baby paraphernalia like a pram and car seat. Oh, and a baby.
The start-stop engine technology does help keep consumption down, but the near two-tonne kerb weight (1799-1978kg) doesn’t help fuel economy.
The Subaru Forester is a smooth and decent family SUV, one that doesn't necessarily do anything exceptionally well, but nor is it terrible at anything when it comes to on-road driving.
In fact, my biggest complaint is the noise intrusion - there's quite a bit of tyre roar through even normal road surfaces, and coarse chip roads are louder again. There's also wind noise up around the windscreen and mirrors, and the engine is noisy under acceleration because of the CVT automatic transmission, and it doesn't sound overly delightful, either.
That said, the 2.5-litre engine's response is pretty good, offering decent and linear power delivery. It's not fast, not overly fun, and the CVT auto does rob it some of the excitement you might want. However, it jumps away from a standstill pretty nicely, and if you can hit the sweet spot when you're accelerating you might be surprised by its brisk response.
There are paddle shifters to take matters into your own hands - though even if you use the SI drive mode selector (Sport or Intelligent drive modes), it's less thrusty than turbocharged competitors (Ford Escape) or even hybrid-powered rivals (Toyota RAV4).
The ride comfort is quite good, there's a nice supple attitude to the suspension and the way it controls itself over bumps, but it is quite soft and that means that there is some noticeable body roll in corners.
Thankfully the seats are really quite nice and offer good support, and while the steering is decently weighted and accurate enough it's hardly the last word in excitement for thrills. I'm also not much of a fan of the lane keeping system and how it affects the steering, as it interrupts the smoothness of your steering a little too much. There's a button you can hit to turn it off, but you have to do it every time.
And that driver-monitoring camera system really does make you realise how much you're not looking at the road ahead. I'm a constant glancer, looking at whatever is driving past or whatever I see parked in people's driveways, and the system really made me realise that.
Because it's a Forester with all-wheel drive, I took it for a brief light off road review expedition, where it lived up to the brand's adventure-focused persona.
The most impressive element was a combination of nice high ground clearance (220mm), plus the way that soft suspension rolled over rocks and bumps allows decent travel to the suspension, and good control to the driver's hands, too.
The drive mode selection system allows you to choose "snow/dirt" or "deep snow/mud", meaning soggy camping trips or drives to the snow should be pretty well catered for. Like most soft-roading vehicles and crossovers, though, the tyres will be your biggest letdown but also your easiest upgrade.
The hill descent control system worked really well, and while I wasn't pushing any boundaries of what to expect a SUV like this to do, it was pretty well sorted of the whole.
From the outside, you’d be forgiven for thinking the CX-8 is a CX-9, but behind the wheel there is no doubting its smaller dimensions and unique selling point.
With the CX-8 being as wide as a CX-5, it makes manoeuvring through the tight inner-city streets of Melbourne a breeze.
In our time with the car, we never turned down a tight laneway with cars parked on both sides and panicked about squeezing through with our mirrors intact.
This also helps with navigating streets shared with cyclists , with the CX-8 remaining comfortably in its lane at all times.
Our Touring SP grade was fitted with the 140kW/252Nm 2.5-litre petrol engine, which does an admirable job at moving the near-two-tonne car to city speeds, but struggled a little as the speedo climbed towards 100km/h.
This is especially evident in some freeway on-ramp situations that require you to get up to speed to merge, with the engine feeling out of breath – and even a bit coarse – towards the top-end of the rev range.
Luckily, peak torque is on tap from fairly low down, so when navigating the CX-8 to the supermarket or shopping centre, it is a delight to cruise from traffic light to traffic light.
We also sampled the diesel-powered Asaki LE recently, which offers up noticeably more pep thanks to its turbo-diesel engine's 140kW/450Nm – which matches the BT-50 workhorse’s 3.0-litre unit.
The diesel engine is no doubt a better option for those that take long road trips or frequent the freeway, and also stands the CX-8 even further apart from the turbo-petrol-only CX-9.
As with other models in its stable, Mazda has nailed the driving position and feel with the CX-8, with the driver’s seat offering heaps of all-round visibility, enough adjustability to get comfortable, and a steering wheel that serves up subtle cues as to what is happening on the road.
Don’t get us wrong, the CX-8 isn’t as engaging or sharp as an AMG SUV, but it’s certainly one of the better mainstream SUVs for fun and feel behind the wheel.
That said, the Forester has an extensive safety technology specification list, starting with auto emergency braking (AEB) that works both in city and inter-urban settings up to 80km/h, and it features pedestrian and cyclist detection, too.
There's also lane departure warning with an active lane keeping assistance system that works from 60km/h to 145km/h, and there's adaptive cruise control that works through the brand's stereo camera EyeSight system. Blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are standard, as is a rear AEB system to stop you bumping into cars or walls at low speeds, rear parking sensors, a reversing camera that is complemented by a front and front kerbside camera (not quite surround view, but close).
The Forester has seven airbags (driver's knee, dual front, front side, full-length curtain), and there are dual ISOFIX outboard child-seat anchors and three top-tether points.
The Mazda CX-8 was awarded a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating from its test in mid-2018, with notably high scores for adult and child occupant protection.
As standard, the CX-8 is fitted with crucial safety systems that you would want in a family car, such as autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert with automatic braking, a reversing camera, traffic-sign recognition and rear parking sensors.
Stepping up to the Touring grade adds front parking sensors, while the Asaki nabs a surround-view monitor – both features that are nice to have, but not essential.
According to ANCAP, the CX-8’s AEB system is operational from 4-160km/h and is deemed ‘good’ for overall performance, while its lane-keep and lane-departure tech works from 60-180km/h and was given a ‘marginal’ grade.
Subaru Australia backs its cars with a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is on par with its main rivals but behind the likes of Mitsubishi (10 years if you service with them) and Kia (seven years).
The brand offers just 12 months of roadside assistance when you buy a new car, where some others offer seven years or more.
The company also has unusual service intervals of 12 months/12,500km, with a capped price servicing plan that spans five years/62,500km. The average cost per service over that period is high, at $476.50 per annum - and it'll be even higher if you do a lot of kilometres.
There are also three-year and five-year service plans available. If you sign up for those, you get three years roadside assist plus a loan car when you get your car serviced. The costs for those are $1281.81 (three years/37,500km), or $2382.52 (five years/62,500km).
Scheduled service intervals for the CX-8, regardless of petrol or diesel, are every 12 months or 10,000km, whichever occurs first.
Some rivals like the Hyundai Santa Fe need servicing every 12 months/15,000km, so those who like to rack up the mileage in a year need to take note.
The cost of servicing over five years works out to be $2057 for the petrol engine and $2237 for the diesel, which averages out to about $411 and $447 per annum respectively.
Maintenance costs are a little on the expensive side for the CX-8 when compared to something like the Toyota Kluger, which asks $200 for every 12 month/10,000km service in the first five years.