Wagon, SUV or a Little of Both? Mazda CX-50 vs Subaru Outback
The traditional station wagon, for all intents and purposes, is basically dead. But that doesn’t the mean the idea of them hasn’t lived on.
In fact, depending on your perspective, the classic station wagon may have simply morphed into the crossovers and CUVs that dominate the modern American streets and highways.
But of the current crop of CUVs, there are two in particular that have especially wagon-esque elements to them. One is the Subaru Outback which is still basically a raised and cladded Subaru Legacy Wagon—even though Subaru hasn’t sold in a “normal” Legacy wagon for many years now.
And then there’s the Mazda CX-50, a recent addition to the CUV wars that debuted for the '22 model year. Although not as "wagon-esque" as the Outback, it does have a lower, wider profile and has been positioned to compete directly against the Subaru.
So what do they each offer and is there an ideal choice between the two? Let's take a look.
The Outback and the CX-50 are closely matched in many ways, including price and available powertrains. Unlike most CUVs, both also come standard with AWD on all trims.
The Outback can be had for under $30,000 in its base form, which is powered by a naturally aspirated 2.5L four-cylinder making 182hp.
The CX-50 is even cheaper, with its entry model coming in under $29,000, though it looks like the base versions are extremely hard to come by at the moment. It's also powered by a naturally aspirated 2.5L four-cylinder that makes an almost identical 187 horsepower.
Both cars also offer a turbocharged engine upgrade on higher trims, a 260 horsepower 2.4 liter on the Outback and a 256 horsepower 2.5 liter in the Mazda.
Both can also be optioned up quite heavily, with the top end versions of either the CX-50 or the Outback both coming in around $43,000 to $44,000.
In terms of size, the Outback is the larger of the two in terms of both length and cargo space, with the Mazda having a slightly wider, more planted profile.
Choose the Outback if...
The Subaru Outback has always been known as one of most off-road capable CUVs you can buy, and it's also one that's been around for the longest.
One of the reasons for its off-road prowess is that it comes with Subaru's legendary symmetrical AWD system, and combined with computerized tricks like the X-Mode it's even better.
And while all versions of the Outback can hold their own off-road, it's Wilderness trim which really ups the ante for off-roading with a lifted suspension, more aggressive tires and other tweaks for weekend adventuring.
Choose the CX-50 if...
The CX-50 also uses traditional inline four cylinder engines compared to the Subaru's boxer four-cylinder engines. This isn't to say one design is better than the other, but maintenance and repairs will likely be simpler on the Mazda's inline setup.
Another reason one might want to choose the Mazda is because it uses a conventional six-speed automatic transmission compared to the Subaru's CVT. Modern CVT's aren't nearly as bad as they used to be when it comes to the "rubber band" feeling, but some drivers will just prefer the normal automatic.
While the Outback might be the winner for off-road capability, the Mazda should be the easy pick when it comes to handling and fun on the road. Mazda's have always been known for their great handling, and despite being the "rugged' member of their lineup the CX-50 shares its sibling's sharp handling and good steering.
No Wrong Choice
The decision between the two will ultimately come down to whether you prefer the CX-50's more upscale cabin design and sportier handling to the Subaru's larger interior and more rugged design.
The Subaru should also have the edge when going off-road, but either should be able to handle basic trails and light duty adventuring, especially when fitted with appropriate all-terrain tires.
So yes, the station wagon as we knew it might be basically extinct, but its modern counterpart has more flavors than ever and the Subaru Outback and Mazda CX-50 are perfect examples of this.
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