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2021 Subaru Outback vs Forester

2021 Subaru Outback vs Forester

2021 Outback vs Forester - How do they stack up? What are the differences?

Subaru is a well-known automotive company, thanks to its focus on quality, reliability, and safety. The Outback and Forester are two of the best-selling Subarus in the market. They have many similar qualities as two-row SUVs, so it can be hard to distinguish them from each other. This overview will provide prospective customers with the information they need to choose between the two.

Size and Styling

When looking at these models from the outside, the Outback comes across as more of a wagon while the Forester appears more like a traditional SUV, with some height to it.

The length of the Outback is greater than that of the Forester. From end to end, the Outback measures 191.3 inches. This is a pretty sizable amount, and it's almost ten inches longer than the Forester is. The Forester has a length of 182.1 inches. The Outback is also the wider model, with a width of 73 inches compared with the 71.5-inch wide Forester.

However, the Forester is the taller vehicle. With roof rails, it has a height of 68.1 inches. This is two inches taller than the Outback is. Both vehicles, though, have the same exact ground clearance, which is 8.7 inches. With this amount of clearance, they're suited to drive through uneven terrain.

To be realistic, a few inches here or there won't make too much of a difference to the average driver. If anything, the Outback might be slightly harder to park with its additional length, but it's not so large that it would be hard to fit in most parking spots.

Inside the cabins of both vehicles, there is plenty of space. First-row leg room is 42.8 inches in the Outback and 43.3 inches in the Forester. Second-row leg room is almost as generous. The Outback gives its passengers 39.5 inches of leg room, and there is 39.4 inches of leg room in the Forester. As expected from the taller vehicle, the Forester has a little more head room. Again, though, all of these margins are going to very minimal.

When it comes to cargo capacity, the two vehicles have spacious storage areas. The rear cargo area in the Outback has a volume of 32.5 cubic feet. In the Forester, the cargo hold measures 31.1 cubic feet. With both models, the rear seats have been designed to be easily folded down. They have a 60/40 split configuration, so the entire row doesn't have to be folded down at the same time.

When the most amount of cargo space is necessary, all the rear seats can be lowered. Maximum cargo capacity is 75.7 and 74.3 cubic feet in the Outback and Forester, respectively. An interesting point is that the four higher trims of the Forester (which is every trim except the base model) have cargo capacities of 69.2 cubic feet because of a slightly different structural design.

Stylistically, these Subarus look very similar to each other. They have rounded edges and traditional-looking headlights. Basically, there's nothing terribly modern or striking about them. Some drivers may prefer to look elsewhere, but Subarus can be well-suited for people who don't need vehicles that are too flashy, unique, or futuristic.

The quality of the exterior features on the Subaru Outback and Forester is impressive. Both models have standard LED steering responsive headlights. These can adjust their angle depending on the direction in which the vehicle is traveling, and as a result, they're able to more effectively light up dark roads. Both models have available LED fog lights, too.

With the Outback, all trims have raised roof rails, and some trims can have a power moonroof that can either tilt or slide open. On the Forester, most trims have raised roof rails, but not all. Another difference is that there's an available roof spoiler and chrome exhaust outlet to add to the sporty nature of the Forester. Plus, almost all of the Forester trims have panoramic power moonroofs. These are larger than traditional moonroofs, and they can really add to the atmosphere in the cabin by letting in more natural light.

A few other components can be added onto the Forester as part of the All-Weather Package. This package includes a de-icer built into the windshield wipers as well as heated side mirrors.

Both models have the same options for wheels. They can either have 17-inch or 18-inch wheels. There are a few more choices for the Forester, but its base model starts out with steel wheels. These aren't as nice as the aluminum-alloy wheels that the Outback starts out with.


The two models can run on the same exact type of engine. It's a 2.5-liter engine with four cylinders and a dual active valve control system. It can generate 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque. It comes standard with Subaru's symmetrical all-wheel-drive system. This system provides balance and additional traction to the vehicle, and it can be useful when conditions are poor as well as when cornering.

All of this being said, there are actually some differences in related areas, even if the Outback and Forester have the same engine. For example, towing capacity in an Outback with the 2.5-liter engine is 2,700 pounds. In the Forester, it's only 1,500 pounds. This is a pretty large difference, and it may be something to note if people plan on towing small boats, work equipment, or other types of gear behind their SUVs.

Further, every Outback with this engine has X-MODE and Hill Descent Control. These two programs are ideal for use in difficult terrain and can make it easier to navigate in rough conditions and/or on steep hills. In contrast, the base model of the Forester doesn't have these features, though all the other trims do.

This 2.5-liter engine is the only one available with the Subaru Forester. With the Outback, the first four trims have the 2.5-liter engine, and the top three trims have 2.4-liter turbocharged engines. These trims are the Onyx Edition XT, Limited XT, and Touring XT, and they all have towing capacities of 3,500 pounds. They can make 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque, which are enviable numbers.

Like the non-turbo engine, the turbocharged engine has been paired with a lineartronic continuously variable transmission. Trims with the more powerful engines also have X-MODE and Hill Descent Control.

The Forester has an auto start-stop system to help it conserve gas. When this feature is turned on, it can sense when the vehicle is stopped for more than a few seconds. If so, such as when at a red light or when stuck in traffic, it'll temporarily turn off the engine. The Forester has an estimated fuel economy of 33 miles per gallon on the highway and 26 miles per gallon in the city.

Fuel economy is exactly the same in the Outback if it has the standard engine under its hood. If an Outback has a turbocharged engine, its efficiency is reduced to an estimated 30 miles per gallon on the highway and 23 miles per gallon in the city. The Outback doesn't have the auto start-stop system. It's unclear why Subaru decided to put it in one model and not the other, and it's a little perplexing that even though one model has it, the two SUVs can have the same fuel efficiency.

One thing that the Outback has that the Forester doesn't is Auto Vehicle Hold. This holds pressure on the brakes. It can be useful when the Subaru has been stopped on a hill, as it can keep the vehicle from rolling backwards before the driver is ready to hit the gas pedal again.

Comfort, Options and Performance

The lower trims of the Outback and the Forester are quite similar in how their cabins feel. Entry-level models of each type of SUV have manually adjustable front seats and cloth upholstery. Moving up in trim is associated with having heated, power-adjustable front seats.

Mid-level Outbacks can have heated rear seats, heated steering wheels, and StarTex synthetic leather or leather upholstery. The Touring and Touring XT versions of the Outback are complete with ventilated front seats and Nappa leather upholstery.

There's not the same level of sophistication in the Forester. It's limited to having leather seats, instead of the more premium Nappa leather. Only one of its trims has heated rear seats and a heated steering wheel, and it's not possible to get a Forester with ventilated front seats.

In terms of interior amenities, the Outback is the one with more to offer. The Forester has many nice features, but it doesn't match up to everything that the Outback can be equipped with.

In both models, there can be keyless access with push-button start, dual climate control, and Wi-Fi capability. More Outback trims than Forester trims have the dual-zone climate system. Also, the Outback can have a hands-free power liftgate, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink technology, and a retractable and removable cover for the cargo area. Those bonus features are just not available in the Forester.

As it relates to technology, both SUVs have a lot going for them. They have Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, HD Radio, and SiriusXM Satellite Radio. Size really matters when it comes to high-tech elements. The Forester's lower trims have 6.5-inch touchscreens, and its two highest trims have eight-inch touchscreens. In comparison, the most basic trim of the Outback has a seven-inch touchscreen. All the rest have large 11.6-inch touchscreens.

One out of the five Forester trims comes standard with integrated navigation and a premium sound system with nine speakers. Those components are available on one other trim, at an additional cost. Out of the seven Outback trims, three come standard with navigation, with navigation being available on three others. A premium sound system with 12 speakers is found on four trims.

Buying Tip:

To avoid overpaying on a new car, shop prices online first. Get up front pricing before you walk into a dealership. We recommend the following free services; Car Clearance Deals, NADAguides, CarsDirect & & Motortrend.
These free services will offer you the lowest prices and supply you with multiple competing price quotes. You will know the best price before you visit the dealer.


For the most part, the safety packages of these two vehicles are identical to each other. Standard in both models is a suite of driver-assist systems called EyeSight Driver Assist Technology. It has pre-collision braking, lane departure alert, and adaptive cruise control with lane centering.

Higher trims have blind-spot monitoring, lane change assist, and rear cross-traffic alert, all of which are useful when it's difficult to see other vehicles. Some trims of both models have reverse automatic braking. Another component that these vehicles can have is a DriverFocus Distraction Mitigation System. It uses a camera to keep track of where a driver's eyes are directed; if those eyes are looking down instead of at the road, an alert will be issued.

A difference is that the Outback has an available front-view camera. It provides the driver with an 180-degree perspective of what's in front of the SUV, and it can be useful when parking. All trims of the Outback and the Forester have a rear-vision camera to assist people when they're backing up.

Which Model to Choose?

When looking at the prices of the entry-level Outback and Forester, there's not too much of a discrepancy. The Outback has a starting price of $26,795. This isn't too much more than the cost of the Forester's base trim, which is $24,795. People who like to drive taller SUVs will likely lean towards the Forester, while those who want a slightly larger cabin will probably go with the Outback.

There are many more factors to consider when moving up in trim. As detailed above, the Outback has more high-end amenities, especially with its most premium trims. For this reason, it'll attract attention from those with more refined tastes. Its XT trims offer a lot of excitement with their turbo engines. They might be hard to pass up by people who love the feeling of acceleration and/or those who need something powerful to tow cargo.

The Forester's top trims can do a great job of treating people to pleasant drives, and they have attractive exterior features. While the Forester doesn't have ventilated seats or Nappa leather, it still has some upscale amenities that most would be more than happy with. The Forester Touring has a price of $34,895. This may be a little steep for some, so the Sport ($29,395) and Limited ($31,395) are other good options since they have more reasonable costs.

Other than the Outback's base trim and the Premium ($29,045), all the other Outbacks cost more than $33,000. The lineup is topped off by the Touring XT, which costs nearly $40,000.

Taking price into consideration, it becomes clear that people will have to pay a lot of money for all the premium elements in the Outback. The stronger engine, the comprehensive technology package, and the sophisticated interior features would all be great to have, but that's only if someone can afford them.

This means that the Forester may be the more practical choice, and the Outback would be the one that would appeal to customers who want more than the average offerings.

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