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2020 Subaru Forester vs Outback

2020 Subaru Forester vs Outback

2020 Forester vs Outback - How do they stack up? What are the differences?

Looking for an SUV but do not want to spend a small fortune on something that might not last you a decade or two? Consider the 2020 Subaru Forester and the more wagon-like 2020 Subaru Outback. These two vehicles have a lot in common since they are both made by Subaru, but they come from two different segments.

The one thing that they - and all Subarus - have in common is that they come with standard all-wheel drive (AWD). That means you get something that is dependable during winter and in the rain, plus you can do some off-roading in both of these vehicles since they each have a ground clearance of 8.7 inches.

The other thing these two SUVs have in common is that their base engines are a bit lackluster. You don't get another choice on the Forester, but you get the XT variants on the Outback, which a lot of people really like. That means you might need to consider spending more on a higher-powered model.

So, which Subaru is the right one for you? Is cargo space something you need to think about? How much cabin space do you need? Let us take a deeper look at the 2020 Subaru Forester and 2020 Subaru Outback. Once we have gone through the details on their powertrain options, drivability factors, and safety ratings and features, we will let you know which Subaru we think has the best overall value.


The Powertrain

Let's kick things off by talking about the powertrains on the 2020 Subaru Forester. You only get one option here, so you will have to make due with a 2.5-L 4-cylinder engine that gets paired up with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Together, these elements work to generate 182 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque.

That might not feel like a lot of power for a vehicle in this segment, and it isn't. The 2020 Subaru Outback has the same standard 2.5-L with a CVT, but you can opt for an XT variant which gives you a 2.4-L 4-cylinder turbocharged engine. Also matched with the CVT, this powertrain nets you a much sturdier 260 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque. Luckily for you, this is Subaru we are talking about, so all-wheel drive is the standard drivetrain on both vehicles. It is exceptional for getting through hazardous road conditions or traveling off of the beaten path.


How a vehicle drives is just one aspect of drivability. You also need to consider things like comfort, interior design, technology, and utility. You will be spending your hard-earned money, so you want to make sure you get something that is well-rounded. So, just how drivable are these two Subaru models?

The 2020 Subaru Forester is up first. Unfortunately, this SUV is defined by its lackluster engine, which is sluggish to accelerate. It takes about 9.3 seconds to get up to 60 mph - one of the slowest times in its segment. It might not be a spunky vehicle, but the Forester is incredibly sturdy and can change directions with ease. The 8.7 inches of ground clearance - coupled with AWD - makes this vehicle a better off-roader than others in its class.

The 2020 Subaru Outback is also slow to accelerate if you get the base engine. It needs about 8.7 seconds to get up to 60 mph, but rest assured that the turbo engine does much better, coming in with a 0-60 time of 6.1 seconds. The CVT does a nice job of smoothly shifting between gears, but you will feel some body roll while rounding through turns due to the vehicle's design. Steering feels great on-center, and it offers the driver a lot of feedback. Also, with its 8.7 inches of ground clearance, the Outback can also handle off-roading adventures.

What about comfort though? That is certainly something that Subaru gets right. The Forester's front seats are well-bolstered and padded for comfort, and the rear seats are pretty comfy too. The well-tuned suspension is able to eliminate all kinds of bumps, and there is hardly any road noise that seeps into the cabin. However, the vehicle's taller stature means that some wind noise does get in when you get going on the highway. Still, it is a nice trade-off for the commanding view you get from your place in the driver's seat. Also take note that the climate control system works well, and the controls are all placed within reach. If you decide to get one of the higher trim levels, you get heated front and rear outboard seats thrown into the mix.

Likewise, the Outback is built for comfort. The front seats are nice and soft, equipped with just the right amount of support and bolstering. All in all, it is a great vehicle to take on a road trip. The ride quality is also delightful, as only a few vibrations will make their way inside. They mostly get absorbed, and the vehicle never feels too light and drift-y. The ride remains compliant and well-controlled in virtually all driving situations. The only problem we have is that the touchscreen controls for the climate control system are way too complex and, therefore, pretty distracting.

The interior design of the Forester is very straightforward even if the materials appear to just be average. The controls are clearly labeled and intuitively placed, and the 8-inch touchscreen displays crystal-clear graphics. Even the built-in navigation system is easy to use and shows the rear-view camera's graphics with clarity. Getting in and out is simple enough due to the tall doors and ride height that is reminiscent of your standard SUV. You can easily seat three adults in the rear due to how much space there is, and drivers will enjoy the highly adjustable steering wheel and driver seat.

The Outback is similarly designed. The seats are highly adjustable as well although they are not as upright as what you get in an SUV. (In other words, they maintain that good ol' station wagon lean that the older Outbacks were designed with. Most of us are not complaining one bit!) In the rear, you will find plenty of room for heads and legs, making it so that even taller adults can feel relaxed. The whole cabin has a sensation of openness to it, and the large windows mean you get very small blind spots and a fantastic outward view. Again, the only problem here is that the controls are routed through the touchscreen, which is hesitant to respond. You will spend too much time trying to get through menus and not enough time with your eyes on the road.

For the most part, the Subaru's technology is easy to use in both vehicles. The Forester's dual touchscreen has an easy-to-navigate layout. The navigation system is clear and responds well to your voice commands. Smartphone app integration is standard, so you can use Android Auto or Apple CarPlay if you do not jive with the built-in navigation. There are plenty of USB ports to be found in the front and rear.

The Outback has a great sound system and plenty of USB ports as well. However, the optional vertical 11.6-inch touchscreen is not terribly functional. It is not responsive and ends up showing some awkward graphics. For example, smartphone app integration takes up the top half of the screen, rendering the bottom half pointless. Native voice commands are not always understood well by the system.

There is a lot of storage in either vehicle, so if you need versatile cargo space, you've got it. However, the Forester does lag behind its competitors in terms of space. The high roof and flat cargo floor do make it easy to load big items into the vehicle. Utility also suffers due to the LATCH system, which has anchors that are buried too deep within the seats.

The Outback's cargo is also a bit behind that of an SUV because of its wagon-like style. The cargo floor is flat in this vehicle as well, so you do get the ability to easily load and unload items. It is also simple to install gear on top of the roof rails since the roof height is not too tall. The cabin does have some clever small item storage areas, but there is not a lot of volume to most of them. The front seat passenger does get a nifty phone shelf, and passengers in the rear seats get bottle holders on the doors. Ultimately, though, the center console is just a lot smaller than what you get inside of a standard SUV.

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Safety is something you probably take seriously, and so does Subaru. They have worked to create safe - and reliable - vehicles for consumers, especially those with families. Both the Forester and Outback have standard Subaru Eyesight, which bundles a bunch of driver aids. This gives you lane keep assist with lane centering, adaptive cruise control, and forward collision warning. The latter feature acts quickly, but you will get inundated with beeps from notifications coming up.

The National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (otherwise known as NHTSA) has rated both vehicles this year. It gave the 2020 Subaru Forester five out of five stars overall, losing only one star on the rollover test. The rollover risk was assessed to be 16.90%, which is typical for this segment. NHTSA gave the Outback five stars overall too, and it also lost a star on the rollover assessment. On both vehicles, there seems to be an issue with cracks forming by themselves on the front windshield. There is also a recall on the Outback for loose or missing brake pedal mounting bracket bolts.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (referred to as IIHS) named both vehicles 2020 Top Safety Pick Plus models. The Forester got "Good" ("G") ratings on everything but the Sport trim's LED projector beam headlights, as they have inadequate visibility when taking sharp left and right curves. The Outback got "G" ranks as well, save for the "A" it got on the Base, Premium, and Onyx Edition's LED projector beam headlights and the LEDs on the Limited and Touring, which received an "M" grade.

Which Has the Best Value

In terms of value, both the 2020 Subaru Forester and 2020 Subaru Outback come from long lines of reliable vehicles with good resale values. In a decade or so, you should be able to sell your vehicle for a decent price. But as for the here-and-now, know that you get a lot of trim level options on both vehicles - definitely a bonus. They both have industry-average warranties though.

The Outback does not have the great fuel economy the EPA estimates (29 mpg combined). Instead, it gets about 9 mpg less than anticipated. The standard engine on both is practical but lacks power. You can get all the bells and whistles added onto it though, but if you get the XT, be prepared to spend a bit less on add-ons. The XTs have much better power output but will cost you a good deal more, aligning their price tags more with the typical SUV. Also, the materials used in the cabins on both are just kind of bland. But the Outback's XT variants give it the better value.

Which is Better?

Overall, the 2020 Subaru Outback trumps the Forester due solely to the fact that it offers the XT variants with the turbo engine. These variants are nimble enough, even though you trade fuel economy for power. Still, the base engine is going to be too dull for most drivers. If you have a lead foot, you will certainly want to test drive an Outback XT model. They are great little cruisers and have that wagon-esque design that many of us remember fondly from a few decades ago. The Outback proves that wagons can still be practical and efficient people- and cargo-haulers.

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