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We compare the Mazda CX-5 and the Subaru Forester

I'm looking for a compact SUV, 2013 or newer, foreign-made. I'd like something with lots of room that's nice to drive, safe and good on gas – ideally for $17,000 or less. A guy I work with insists that my best choice is a Subaru Forester but I like the looks of the Mazda CX-5. I don't absolutely require all-wheel drive. I've already ruled out the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V. – Danielle, Ottawa

The list of good compact SUVs out there is anything but compact.

You've narrowed the list, but there's still the 2013 Kia Sportage ($15,904 for AWD), 2013 Hyundai Tucson ($15,829 for AWD) and the 2013 Nissan Rogue ($16,123 for AWD).

A North American SUV, the 2013 Chevy Equinox ($16,483 for AWD), took top place in J.D. Power's 2016 dependability study of three-year-old vehicles.

The Forester and the CX-5 were both on the lower half of that list (seventh and eighth out of 10, respectively).

But they're safe options, literally. The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) named both as top safety picks.

2013 Mazda CX-5 GX

2013 Mazda CX 5.

  • First generation: 2013-2017
  • Average asking price for base: $16,226 (Canadian Black Book)
  • Seats: Two front, three rear
  • Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder
  • Transmission/drive: six-speed manual, six-speed automatic/front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive
  • Fuel Economy (litres/100 kilometres): 9.1 city, 6.8 highway (manual), 8.9 city, 7.3 highway (automatic), 9.3 city, 7.6 highway (AWD)

With the CX-5, you saved when you bought it – and when you filled it up. And it was even fun to drive.

Mazda said the 2013 CX-5, which started at $22,995 new, had the "best highway fuel economy of any SUV sold in Canada – including hybrids."

"The 2013 Mazda CX-5 is conventional in concept, yet still offers engaging styling and driving dynamics, class-leading fuel efficiency and modern amenities," review site Edmunds said. "The CX-5 offers a compelling combination that can't be found elsewhere at this price."

There were three trims – GX, GS and GT. With AWD, you're looking at $17,402, on average, for the GX.

Edmunds liked the design, fuel economy and agility on the road, but it complained about mediocre sound and navigation systems, and the lack of an optional engine with more oomph than the155-horsepower 2.0-litre SkyActiv four. (Mazda added an optional 184-horsepower 2.5-litre four for 2014).

Consumer Reports gave the 2013 CX-5 a four out of five rating for reliability. Complaints from subscribers included rear brakes that needed replacing at 34,000 kilometres and rough shifting.

There was one recall to fix a rear lift-gate stay that could corrode and potentially break off.

2013 Subaru Forester 2.5 X

2013 Subaru Forester.

  • Third generation: 2009-2013
  • Average asking price for base: $14,550 (Canadian Black Book)
  • Seats: Two front, three rear
  • Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder
  • Transmission/drive: Five-speed manual, four-speed automatic/all-wheel drive.
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 kilometres): 11.3 city, 8.8 highway (manual), 11.3 city, 8.9 highway (automatic)

It's called the Forester, and it can happily take you through muddy fields with a kayak on its roof. But it has plenty to offer if you prefer city life and like lots of room.

"The Forester is an appealing choice even if the closest you'll ever get to the great outdoors is watching the movie starring John Candy and Dan Aykroyd," Edmunds said. "And that huge cargo area is just as good at bringing home a TV from Best Buy as it is hauling camping gear from Yosemite."

Starting at $25,995 new, the Forester came in two trims, base and limited – but you could add convenience, touring and limited packages. There was also a turbocharged XT limited ($19,890 used, on average).

Edmunds liked the roomy cabin, cargo space and the comfortable ride. But it said the interior fit and finish was more basic than rivals.

Consumer Reports had a long list of likes: ride, handling, driving position, visibility, controls, ease of getting in and out, rear seat and the fuel economy. But it said the Subaru had an "antiquated" four-speed transmission.

It gave the 2013 Forester four out of five for reliability.

There have been complaints of excessive oil consumption in Foresters built after 2011. The Automobile Protection Association says the powertrain warranty has been extended to six years and nearly 150,000 kilometres for affected vehicles.

There were three recalls, including one for brake lines that could corrode prematurely.

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