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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 has been the name of dependability, reliability and safety for decades. But when it comes to the 2021 Outback and Forester - two standout models among a distinguished bunch – how can drivers tell them apart? This overview is designed to outline everything necessary for making an informed decision between these vehicles – so that any driver behind the wheel knows they got what's right for them.

Size and Styling

From the outside, the Outback appears more like a wagon while the Forester presents as more of a traditional SUV, with some height.

The Outback's length is substantially greater than that of the Forester; measuring 191.3 inches end-to-end compared to 182.1 inches for the latter model. Furthermore, the Outback boasts a wider width at 73 inches versus 71.5 inches in the Forester.

The Forester is taller, standing at 68.1 inches with roof rails - two inches higher than its counterpart. Both vehicles share exactly the same ground clearance of 8.7 inches though, making them equally suitable for driving through uneven terrain.

Realistically, an extra few inches won't make much of a difference for most drivers. While the Outback may be slightly harder to park due to its additional length, it isn't so large that it would have trouble fitting into most spots.

Both vehicles offer plenty of room inside the cabins. First-row leg room in both vehicles measures 42.8 inches for the Outback, and 43.3 inches in the Forester; second row passengers enjoy 39.5 inches of leg room from their taller vehicle while receiving 39.4 inches in the Forester. As expected from a taller vehicle, headroom is slightly greater in both models, though all margins are extremely slim.

When it comes to cargo capacity, both vehicles boast generous storage spaces. The Outback's rear cargo area measures 32.5 cubic feet while the Forester's hold measures 31.1 cubic feet. Both models boast easy-folding rear seats with a 60/40 split configuration so you don't have to fold down every seat simultaneously.

When extra cargo space is needed, all rear seats can be lowered for maximum capacity. Outback and Forester models offer maximum cargo capacities of 75.7 and 74.3 cubic feet, respectively; however, note that higher trims of the Forester (every trim except the base model) offer slightly different structural designs which result in smaller cargo capacities.

Stylistically, these Subarus appear very similar to one another. They have rounded edges and traditional-looking headlights; there's nothing particularly modern or eye-catching about them. While some drivers may prefer something else altogether, Subarus can be ideal for those who don't need vehicles that stand out too much or look too futuristic.

The exterior features on both Subaru Outback and Forester are impressive. Both models have standard LED steering responsive headlights which adjust their angle depending on which way the car is traveling, providing more effective illumination of dark roads. Furthermore, both models come with available LED fog lights for added safety.

On the Outback, all trims feature raised roof rails and some can have a power moonroof that tilts or slides open. On the Forester, most have raised roof rails but not all. Plus, there's an available roof spoiler and chrome exhaust outlet to add to its sporty appeal. Plus, almost all Forester trims offer panoramic power moonroofs - larger than traditional moonroofs so as to let in more natural light for added ambience inside the cabin.

For added convenience and style, the Forester All-Weather Package can be added. This bundle includes a de-icer built into the windshield wipers as well as heated side mirrors.

Both models offer the same selection of wheels: 17-inch or 18-inch. For the Forester, there are additional choices; however, its base model starts out with steel wheels which aren't as attractive as the aluminum-alloy wheels that the Outback comes standard with.


Boosting performance, this powerful 2.5-liter engine gives you a wealth of 182 horses and plenty of torque for the perfect drive in any conditions. Flaunting Subaru's renowned all-wheel-drive system with dual active valve control as standard, your ride is sure to be balanced no matter what Mother Nature throws at you.

Before we dive in, there are some distinctions between the Outback and Forester even though both models feature the same engine. For instance, towing capacity in an Outback with its 2.5-liter engine is 2,700 pounds while in the Forester it's only 1,500 pounds - an astronomical difference that should be taken into consideration if people plan on towing small boats, work equipment or other types of gear behind their SUVs.

Further, every Outback with this engine comes equipped with X-MODE and Hill Descent Control - programs designed for difficult terrain that make navigating in rough conditions or on steep hills much simpler. By comparison, the base model of the Forester does not feature these features while all other trims do.

Subaru Forester models only offer this 2.5-liter engine, while Outback's top three trims all boast 2.4-liter turbocharged engines. Onyx Edition XT, Limited XT and Touring XT all boast impressive towing capacities of 3,500 pounds thanks to their powerful 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque outputs.

Like its non-turbo counterpart, the turbocharged engine is paired with a lineartronic continuously variable transmission. Trims equipped with more powerful engines also feature X-MODE and Hill Descent Control as standard features.

The Forester features an auto start-stop system to conserve gas. When activated, this feature detects when your vehicle has been stationary for more than a few seconds - such as at a red light or stuck in traffic - and temporarily turns off its engine. According to estimates, you'll get 33 miles per gallon on the highway and 26 in town.

Fuel economy for the Outback is identical if it has the standard engine under its hood. However, if equipped with a turbocharged engine, efficiency drops to 30 miles per gallon on the highway and 23 in the city. Furthermore, only one model of Outback lacks auto start-stop system; why Subaru decided not to include it in both models remains unclear; even though one does, both SUVs still boast identical fuel economy figures.

One feature the Outback offers that the Forester lacks is Auto Vehicle Hold. This helps keep pressure on brakes when stopped on a hill, keeping your Subaru from rolling backwards before you press on the gas again.

Comfort, Options and Performance

The Outback and Forester have similar interiors at lower trim levels. Entry-level models of each SUV feature manually adjustable front seats with cloth upholstery; however, as you move up in trim level you'll gain access to heated, power-adjustable front seats as well.

Mid-level Outbacks can be equipped with heated rear seats, heated steering wheels and StarTex synthetic leather or leather upholstery. Touring and Touring XT versions of the Outback feature ventilated front seats as well as Nappa leather upholstery for additional luxury.

The Forester doesn't quite match up to its rival in terms of sophistication. Instead of Nappa leather seats, it only has leather. One trim level offers heated rear seats and a heated steering wheel; unfortunately, you cannot get a Forester with ventilated front seats.

Interiorly, the Outback offers more features than its rival. While the Forester has some nice details, they cannot compare to what the Outback can provide.

Both models offer keyless access with push-button start, dual climate control and Wi-Fi capability. More Outback trims than Forester models offer this feature. Moreover, the Outback can be equipped with a hands-free power liftgate, auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink technology, as well as retractable/removable cover for the cargo area - features that are just not available on Foresters.

Technology-wise, both SUVs offer plenty of features. Both feature Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, HD Radio and SiriusXM Satellite Radio - with size being the key factor when it comes to high-tech elements. The Forester's lower trims boast 6.5-inch touchscreens while its two highest trims boast eight-inch displays. In comparison, the Outback's most basic trim comes with just seven inches while all others boast massive 11.6 inch displays.

One of the five Forester trims comes standard with integrated navigation and a premium sound system with nine speakers, both available for an additional cost. Out of seven Outback models, three come standard with navigation while another three offer it as an option. Four Outback trims boast a premium audio system featuring 12 speakers that is found across all models.

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Both models feature similar safety packages. Both come standard with EyeSight Driver Assist Technology, a suite of driver-assist systems including pre-collision braking, lane departure alert and adaptive cruise control with lane centering.

Higher trims of both models come equipped with blind-spot monitoring, lane change assist and rear cross-traffic alert - all useful when it's hard to see other vehicles. Some even feature reverse automatic braking. Furthermore, these vehicles may come equipped with the DriverFocus Distraction Mitigation System that 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 ahead, an alert will be sent.

The Outback has an available front-view camera that gives drivers a 360 degree perspective of what's ahead, making it useful when parking. All trims of both cars - Outback and Forester - also come equipped with a rear vision camera to assist people when backing up.

Which Model to Choose?

When comparing the prices of entry-level Outback and Forester models, there is not much of a difference. The Outback has an starting price of $26,795, which is not much more than what base trim of the Forester costs at $24,795. Those who enjoy driving taller SUVs may prefer the Forester; those seeking slightly larger cabins might opt for the Outback instead.

When upgrading in trim level, there are many factors to take into account. As previously noted, the Outback has more high-end amenities, particularly with its most premium models. As such, it will likely attract attention from those with more refined tastes. Its XT trims offer plenty of excitement with their turbo engines; therefore they could be hard to pass up by those who enjoy rapid acceleration or need something powerful enough to tow cargo.

The Forester's top trims offer pleasant drives and appealing exterior features. While it does not come with ventilated seats or Nappa leather interior, the Forester still provides some upscale amenities most would be satisfied with. At $34,895 for the Touring model, some may find this price point a bit high; Sport ($29,395) or Limited ($31,395) are better alternatives at more reasonable costs.

Except for the Outback's base trim ($29,045) and Premium ($33,945), all other models cost more than $33,000. The Touring XT tops off the lineup at nearly $40,000.

Price aside, it becomes apparent that people will need to shell out a considerable amount for all the premium features in the Outback. A stronger engine, comprehensive technology package and sophisticated interior features are all desirable - but only if someone can afford them.

Thus, the Forester may be the more practical option while the Outback would appeal to customers seeking something beyond average offerings.

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