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Published January 21, 2022
Should I buy the Subaru Forester or Subaru Outback?
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Practicality, cargo space and light off-roading adventures may come to mind when thinking about the Subaru Forester and Subaru Outback.
The Outback was introduced in 1994, and has few competitors on the market today, with Motortrend describing it as a “mainstream midsize wagon-like crossover.”
The Forester debuted in 1997 and competes with compact crossover SUVs such as the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Mazda CX-5.
But how do the Forester and Outback stack up against each other? We’ve put together a handy guide to help you decide which adventure car is best for you. We’ve looked at the important elements, such as:
First, let’s take a look at the specifications for each Subaru.
Engine: 2.5-liter flat-four-cylinder, 182 horsepower
Miles per gallon: 26 city/33 highway
U.S. News and World Report says you’ll easily be able to get up to speed in the city or countryside with the Forester’s engine, although you might find acceleration uninspiring.
However, even with all-wheel drive, the Subaru Forester gets better gas mileage than many of its classmates, and while you shouldn’t expect sporty performance, the Forester offers a smooth, composed and balanced ride.
Engine: standard 182-hp 2.5-liter 4-cylinder; optional 260-hp turbocharged 2.4-liter
Miles per gallon: up to 26 city/33 highway
As the Subaru Outback has the same base engine as the Forester, drivers may be underwhelmed with acceleration on the highway. For more power, try the punchier 260-horsepower 2.4-liter engine in the Outback.
Like the Forester, the Outback gets good gas mileage and offers a relaxed ride with responsive steering.
Both the Subaru Outback and Forester have good light off-roading capabilities. Both vehicles have about 8.7 inches of ground clearance and standard all-wheel drive for both helps maintain grip on a variety of surfaces.
Combine those features in both cars with standard hill descent control and X-Mode off-road driving and you’ve got two capable off-roaders optimized for adventures in mud, snow, and ice.
Available features include driver drowsiness monitoring, blind spot monitoring, lane change assist, rear cross traffic alert and reverse automatic emergency braking.
Available options include LED fog lights, blind spot monitoring, lane change assist, rear cross traffic alert, reverse automatic emergency braking, driver distraction monitoring and front view camera.
Both cars receive high marks for safety. Both the 2021 Forester and 2021 Outback received an overall safety rating of five out of five stars, with five stars in the frontal and side crash tests and four stars in the rollover test, from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave both vehicles the highest rating of Good in all six of its crash tests.
The 2021 Forester edges out the Outback for reliability, according to J.D. Power. The Forester has a predicted reliability score of 83 out of 100, while the Outback scored 70 out of 100.
A J.D. Power predicted reliability score of 91-100 is considered the Best, 81-90 is Great, 70-80 is Average, and 0-69 is Fair and considered below average.
Car information and stats gathered by the trusted non-profit Consumer Reports are based on information it received from the latest subscriber survey for over 300,000 vehicles. According to subscriber surveys, the Forester has a 5 out of 5 reliability rating, and the Outback has a 4 out of 5 rating.
Trouble spots for both cars, according to Consumer Reports, are the in-car electronic systems in some models, while Outback owners also reported issues with the wagon’s climate system.
Again, the Forester and Outback run neck and neck when it comes to their interiors. Both cars have attractive cabins with quality materials. With higher trim levels on both vehicles, you’ll find luxuries like heated rear seats and leather upholstery.
U.S. News and World Report says the Forester’s Starlink infotainment system is easy to learn, featuring a responsive touchscreen with a user-friendly interface. Standard infotainment features for the 2021 Forester include a 6.5-inch touch screen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
You can upgrade to an 8-inch touchscreen. Also available are features like a Wi-Fi hot spot, automatic climate control, panoramic moonroof and push-button start.
The Outback comes standard with two 7-inch touchscreens with the same easy-to-use Starlink infotainment system as the Forester. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and two USB ports are also among the standard features.
Upgrades include an 11.6-inch touchscreen, six-speaker stereo, wireless device charging, dual-zone automatic climate control, proximity keyless entry and a moonroof.
Both the Forester and Outback provide ample room for 5 passengers to sit comfortably with plenty of headroom and legroom in both rows of seats. Visibility is good for drivers in both vehicles.
According to U.S. News and World Report, “few other vehicles in the class provide as much cargo room as the Forester.”
The base model gives you 31.1 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats and 76.1 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down. In all other models, those totals drop slightly to 28.9 cubic feet and 70.9 cubic feet, respectively.
You’ll also find plenty of cargo room in the Outback: 32.5 cubic feet of space behind the second-row seats and 75.7 cubic feet with the back row folded flat. Underfloor storage is also plentiful. For ease of loading cargo and adventure gear, a hands-free liftgate is available in the Premium trim and standard in every higher-level trim.