Renita Naraine: ICYMI: We’ve been doing a long-term test of the 2023 Mazda CX-50, but it’s about time we put the all-new SUV to the test against another family-friendly rival. We had originally planned for it to go up against the Subaru Outback — you can compare the specs of the two off-road ready crossovers here — but alas, the stars weren’t aligned for that comparison. Thus, we chose a new direction and forced the CX-50 into a battle with the 2022 Toyota Venza, in all its hybrid glory. They’re both mid-size SUVs that seat five, both have standard all-wheel-drive, and both are great options for daycare drop-offs. However, even before we get to the hybrid bit, there are some important characteristics — and very distinct differences — between the two.

Elle Alder: It’s a comfortable dilemma to face. Mazda has continued to step up the premium experience with the 2023 CX-50, delivering a large, capable, well-appointed crossover. Built taller than its competitor in this showdown, the Mazda is outwardly the more adventuresome, cow-path ready cottage runner. Priced from $37,900 and stickering at $45,350 as tested in top GT Turbo guise, this crossover delivers an above-average drive from below the average Canadian new-car sale price. The thoughtful CX-50 feels markedly more pleasant than many of its peers, but until an anticipated hybrid materializes, it’s a pleasure with tradeoffs.

In the 2022 Toyota Venza we have solid familiarity, if not much in the way of inspiration. Similarly capacious with many of the same features presented without the same flair, the Venza is above all a vehicle that sells on its reliable and efficient hybrid powertrain — a proven setup shared with several models in the Toyota lineup and standard from base. Less backroads-oriented than the Mazda, the Toyota is better suited to in-town taxi duty than cottage-bound parenting. The mid-grade Venza trades the top-trim Mazda’s attractive leather trimmings for softer front seating, but the experience is otherwise best understood as RAV4 Hybrid — just with a little extra. The 2022 Venza starts from $39,150, while this halfway XLE reaches $45,145 before freight and fees.

android, suv comparison: 2023 mazda cx-50 vs 2022 toyota venza

2023 Mazda CX-50 Photo by Clayton Seams

android, suv comparison: 2023 mazda cx-50 vs 2022 toyota venza

2023 Mazda CX-50 Photo by Clayton Seams

android, suv comparison: 2023 mazda cx-50 vs 2022 toyota venza

2023 Mazda CX-50 Photo by Clayton Seams

android, suv comparison: 2023 mazda cx-50 vs 2022 toyota venza

2023 Mazda CX-50 Photo by Clayton Seams

android, suv comparison: 2023 mazda cx-50 vs 2022 toyota venza

2023 Mazda CX-50 Photo by Clayton Seams

android, suv comparison: 2023 mazda cx-50 vs 2022 toyota venza

2023 Mazda CX-50 Photo by Clayton Seams

android, suv comparison: 2023 mazda cx-50 vs 2022 toyota venza

2023 Mazda CX-50 Photo by Clayton Seams

android, suv comparison: 2023 mazda cx-50 vs 2022 toyota venza

2023 Mazda CX-50 Photo by Clayton Seams

android, suv comparison: 2023 mazda cx-50 vs 2022 toyota venza

2023 Mazda CX-50 Photo by Clayton Seams

RN: If you’re looking for a little more from the CX-50, Mazda will be releasing a new top trim this autumn called the Meridian Edition, starting at $47,850 — cool, but it still doesn’t get you a hybrid, which makes all the difference at the pumps. The Venza boasts fuel consumption of nearly half of that of the CX-50. The CX-50 supposedly has an average fuel consumption of 9.4 L/100 km, but it’s important to note that during my long-term test with the CX-50, I was seeing numbers closer to 11.0 L/100 km. Granted, I do a lot more city driving than highway driving, but that’s still higher than the average of 10.4 L/100 km that Mazda says the CX-50 gets in the city. Meanwhile, the Venza has a combined fuel economy of 6.1 L/100 km. When you’re paying roughly the same price for a vehicle up front, it’s safe to say you’ll reap the benefits of saving at the gas pumps, and the Venza gets major points in that category.

However, any points the hybrid just received are quickly lost when you get into the Venza’s infotainment system. It’s basic, to say the least, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sure, the back-up camera kinda sucks and looks like it was updated 30 years ago, but Toyota owners don’t become Toyota owners based on its high-tech cameras and ground-breaking infotainment system. Rather, they love its reliability, so maybe this old school system isn’t a huge disadvantage to the average Toyota consumer.

android, suv comparison: 2023 mazda cx-50 vs 2022 toyota venza

2022 Toyota Venza Photo by Clayton Seams

android, suv comparison: 2023 mazda cx-50 vs 2022 toyota venza

2022 Toyota Venza Photo by Clayton Seams

android, suv comparison: 2023 mazda cx-50 vs 2022 toyota venza

2022 Toyota Venza Photo by Clayton Seams

android, suv comparison: 2023 mazda cx-50 vs 2022 toyota venza

2022 Toyota Venza Photo by Clayton Seams

android, suv comparison: 2023 mazda cx-50 vs 2022 toyota venza

2022 Toyota Venza Photo by Clayton Seams

android, suv comparison: 2023 mazda cx-50 vs 2022 toyota venza

2022 Toyota Venza Photo by Clayton Seams

android, suv comparison: 2023 mazda cx-50 vs 2022 toyota venza

2022 Toyota Venza Photo by Clayton Seams

android, suv comparison: 2023 mazda cx-50 vs 2022 toyota venza

2022 Toyota Venza Photo by Clayton Seams

EA: Agreed — the weakness of that infotainment really can’t be understated here. Toyota’s old-gen system has never been quick, pleasant, or comprehensive, and it dates every vehicle it remains in. A new-generation system recently debuted in the new Tundra, but it will be a while before it trickles down into the rest of the range.

In fairness, the Mazda system isn’t stellar. It looks nice, but is small and distant. Oddly, it employs a rotary control knob and does not respond to touch input in its native interfaces, but does support touch in Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. On the positive side, the Mazda system wins points for an ergonomic at-hand volume knob right in front of the centre armrest, and which can be knocked left and right to skip tracks. It’s a thoughtful touch.

Zooming out on such convenience and comfort, both cars come out similarly in their tested specs. Both crossovers offer wireless device charging, though the Mazda steps this up with wireless CarPlay as well. Wireless keys with push-button start are today’s norm, but both vehicles get perks such as sharp LED lighting, along with heated and ventilated seating. Furthermore, both cars offer adequate highway lane-keeping assists, though the Venza’s active Lane Tracing Assist offers slightly superior performance to the noticeably passive and reactive Mazda’s.

Compare the specs of the Mazda CX-50 and Toyota Venza

RN: Both vehicles have safety features to suit different family sizes, but depending on the size of the family, buyers may have a slightly different opinion than mine. By the numbers, the CX-50 has merely a single millimetre more front headroom than the Venza, but the Venza has almost 40 mm more than rear headroom than the CX-50. If you’re an adult, that might be a positive, but with three kids in the back, I’m more concerned with legroom and overall width. The kids don’t have long legs, but in a car seat, their dangling legs come fairly close to the front seatbacks — it’s like being on an airplane with an annoying kid kicking the back of your seat, and you want nothing more for the parent to tell the kid to stop, except I’m the parent and the kid just won’t stop. Though there isn’t a ton more legroom in the CX-50’s rear, there is noticeably more, even if it only means feeling slightly less kicks than in the Venza.

The CX-50 is also wider than the Venza, and while it may not be largely visible to someone in passing, it’s hugely appreciated by someone — me — who needs to fit three car seats in a back seat. I’ll take all the extra millimetres I can get.

With the seats up, the CX-50 has more space than the Venza, 889L vs 816L respectively. After spending some time in the Mazda, I know that it can handle a day trip to the beach with three kids — which essentially looks like a week’s worth of packing for a vacation. The Venza’s shape is a bit different than the CX-50’s and while I can’t say that it would be able to fit quite as much, it definitely has enough cargo space for those routine trips to the grocery store. If more space is required, the Venza has five litres more than CX-50’s 1,595L with the rear bench seat folded.

EA: All considered, we’re left with two similar vehicles that deliver slightly different emotional experiences. This top-trim Mazda is stylish and spacious for a crossover, and wonderfully appointed. The Venza is determinedly neutral, but remains equally inoffensive and still offers higher trims for greater comfort and convenience.

Shoppers looking to the shorter term will likely find greater emotional satisfaction in the Mazda, but long-term fuel costs that double those of the Venza will surely bring pause. Still, accessible rear seats, a large cargo area, and better rear visibility than the Venza are appealing. Likewise, greater and more direct power make the CX-50 feel the more capable and competent highway cruiser of the paid, and the more satisfying overall drive.

Conversely, the Toyota’s efficiency is an attractive point for the crossover and makes it an especially compelling urban runabout, where stop-and-go regeneration will make the most of its fuel-saving hybrid battery. We’ve no particular concerns with the Mazda powertrain as 2.5Ts go, but looking farther out, the Venza’s standard hybrid powertrain is so well proven and renowned for its longevity that it shines as a distinctly safe and solid buy. There are good reasons why Venzas are so common in high-mileage airport taxi fleets.

It leaves for a tricky decision. The Toyota Venza seems the sensible path, but it’s a two-year-old design that feels a decade out of date. As a young enthusiast who values some soul in their drives, the Mazda seems the one for me — but at twice the fuel cost?

android, suv comparison: 2023 mazda cx-50 vs 2022 toyota venza

2023 Mazda CX-50 vs 2022 Toyota Venza Photo by Clayton Seams

Confusing everything further, the ways that these vehicles’ respective strengths highlight weaknesses in the others make me want to wait. The probability of a CX-50 hybrid and a less concrete hope for a refreshed, more current-feeling Venza seem destined to shrink the gap, albeit in favour of a CX-50 hybrid. If you’re shopping farther out, a Mazda announcement would be something to watch for; if you’re shopping today, the CX-50 2.5T offers a lot of car and a greater sense of value for money.

RN: I agree with you on that, Elle, and couldn’t have said it better myself. The Venza put up a fair fight, but the CX-50 takes the win. It’s got a bit more style and a bit more space for my car seats and kids. Yes, I’d prefer the hybrid powertrain in there to add some extra fuel savings, but like you said, it may just be a matter of waiting for that hybrid CX-50.

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