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2021 Subaru Outback vs Honda CR-V

2021 Subaru Outback vs Honda CR-V
Reviewed & fact checked by
James Murdoch

2021 Outback vs CR-V - How do they stack up? Which is Better?

Are you in the market for a reliable and affordable small SUV this model year? If so, then the 2021 Subaru Outback and Honda CR-V have probably popped up a few times in your search engine results. There is no doubt to be had - these are both excellent options worthy of your consideration. But is there one that is a better deal than the other?

Both vehicles are capable daily drivers, but there is one thing that gives the Outback an edge: Its 8.7 inches of ground clearance and standard all-wheel drive make it a solid off-roader. The Outback has been around for over 25 years now, and Subaru has taken that time to greatly refine this model. It has evolved from a station wagon into a mid-size SUV, but the wagon-esque vibe has never truly gone away. The Outback drives just like a sedan but has that SUV-like ground clearance and a commanding outward view. This makes it a rather unique model indeed. But that is not to underscore the Outback's immense comfort and versatility.

The 2021 Honda CR-V is of a more traditional ilk. Spacious without the bulky SUV build, this small SUV strikes a solid balance between comfort and spirited handling. All-wheel drive is available for an extra cost though, and there is not as much ground clearance. In other words, the CR-V is a capable daily driver but not really all that effective as an off-roader.

While the CR-V does not make any changes for 2021, the Outback now comes with adaptive LED headlights on every single trim level. There is also now a seatbelt reminder that is standard for all passenger positions. As an additional safety measure for parents of young children, there is now a check back seat reminder.

The biggest problem with the Outback is its slow acceleration from the standard engine. It just is not that exciting. The CR-V's is at least a little more inspiring. The Outback's infotainment system can be a bit frustrating to use, as can the CR-V's. Both models could benefit from more refined touchscreen interfaces and controls.

So, which one should you buy? We will go over both vehicles' powertrains, drivability factors, and safety features and ratings. That will help to determine which vehicle has the better value and is the overall smarter option to buy.

The Powertrain

First up, we have the powertrain options. Getting the right powertrain can determine just how enjoyable of a driving performance you get. Of course, when small SUVs are concerned, they are typically engineered for fuel economy and practicality, not sportiness. So do not expect either the Outback or the CR-V to be extremely athletic. However, they both hold their own in this packed segment.

Let us start with the 2021 Subaru Outback. As we already mentioned, all-wheel drive is the standard drivetrain. That's just par for the course with Subaru. A standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine - which generates 182 horsepower and 176 lb-ft - sends power to those four wheels via a continuously variable automatic transmission (or, for short, a CVT). CVTs are used to increase fuel efficiency and, in some cases, come at the cost of smooth provision of power. However, this CVT provides quick, smooth shifts when you need them to get through traffic.

If you want something a bit spunkier, the Outback offers a turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 260 hp and 277 lb-ft. It is only available on the three highest trim levels: the Onyx Edition XT, Limited XT, and Touring XT. The 'XT' in the names is indicative of this engine. Also, note that these trim levels come with enhanced AWD with even more drive modes equipped.

The 2021 Honda CR-V is powered by a standard turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that puts forth 190 hp. It, too, is paired up with a CVT. This CVT is also quite capable of making smooth shifts. Front-wheel drive is standard issue, but any of the CR-V's trim levels can be optionally equipped with all-wheel drive instead. You just have to pay extra for it. Also, this engine is the only one available for the CR-V.


Now that we have gone over the powertrain options for the 2021 Subaru Outback and 2021 Honda CR-V, it is time to talk about how these vehicles actually drive. What lends to a vehicle's drivability? Factors in this include acceleration, braking capabilities, steering, handling, ride comfort and quality, and even how well the tech features work.

Take the 2021 Outback. The only real downside to this vehicle is that its base engine is kind of slow. It might not be the worst in its class, but it gets from 0 to 60 mph in 8.8 seconds - far from being an industry-leading time. Opting for the turbo 4-cylinder gives you a huge boost in power, but it does come with a heftier price tag. Still, many Subaru buyers like the power the XT engine provides despite it taking fuel economy down a little and costing more.

Other than that, you get smooth shifts from the transmission and some strong braking capabilities. Body roll is average for this segment, but the Outback remains firmly planted on the ground and well-mannered overall. The steering provides the driver with plenty of feedback from the road and gives off a good on-center feel. Of course, the best part of its performance is the 8.7 inches of ground clearance, standard AWD, and selectable drive modes that work together to create an amazing off-roading experience. The Outback is able to handle all types of surfaces, even making its way around in the mud or snow with ease. If you live in an area where inclement weather frequently creates road hazards or if you plan to do a lot of off-roading, the Outback might be your best option.

Comfort is something that Subaru nails. The front seats are soft yet packed with lateral and lumbar support. The bolstering keeps you locked in securely, and the heated and ventilated seats can be quite comfortable. As far as the ride quality goes, most road surfaces will not generate any disturbances inside of the cabin. The most you will ever feel are minor vibrations while going over really jagged surfaces. Controlled yet compliant, the suspension handles just about everything that can be thrown at it.

Spaciousness is also something Subaru does well in the Outback. The seating position carries over from its days as a station wagon, but you still get a commanding outward view from behind the wheel. The massive windows and slender roof pillars mean you can see all around you, much like how you would in the old wagons. The one interior design pitfall is the touchscreen and its array of buttons. The system is slow to respond to some commands. This vertical 11.6-inch infotainment screen looks cool but just is not practical or functional.

Moving along to the CR-V. The 2021 CR-V offers a turbo engine that gets the vehicle from 0 to 60 mph in 8.2 seconds, but it somehow feels quicker than that on take-off. It might not be exciting, but it is not boring. Steering is all about precision, and the CR-V's handling is nimble for this segment. Body roll is kept to a bare minimum.

The CR-V's ride quality is smooth and serene. Tire and wind noise will seep into the cabin at highway speeds, but it is not that intrusive. Even the Touring trim with its 19-inch wheels manages to smooth out a lot of road imperfections. Comfort is paramount with the front seats being well-padded, and there is a minor amount of recline for the rear seats. The downside here is that the automatic climate control system sometimes struggles to maintain the temperature you set it at.

The control setup inside of the CR-V is problematic in general, especially with how things are relegated to the infotainment system. Its interface is clunky and has voice controls that struggle to recognize natural speech patterns. Also, some physical controls on the dash are small and hard to push while driving. On the plus side, the navigation system gives some crystal clear graphics. You can also easily sync your smartphone and benefit from multiple USB ports in the front and rear on the higher trim levels.

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.


Safety features are becoming more in-demand than ever with the rise of advanced driver aids. Buyer demand has led to these features getting bundled into suites that are now becoming standard across automakers' line-ups. This adds a lot of value to these vehicles.

Subaru certainly does not skimp on safety and security. On the Outback, you get treated to the Subaru EyeSight bundle of driver aids. Forward collision warning will let you know when the system detects an impending frontal crash and will apply the brakes if it senses you will not do so in time. Lane departure warning will let you know when the vehicle starts to drift outside of the lane, and lane keep assist will steer it back into the center of the lane. Adaptive cruise control maintains a safe following distance between the Outback and the vehicle in front of it. On top of all that, you get automatic high beam headlights. A driver attention monitor comes as an option on the Limited and is standard on above trims. A front-view camera gets equipped on the XT trim levels.

When it comes to safety ratings, Subaru gets some high scores for the Outback. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (otherwise known as NHTSA) gave the 2021 Outback five stars overall and only deducted one star on any of the tests (this one being on the rollover risk assessment). The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) assigned the Outback predominantly 'Good' marks on its tests. Given its history of reliability, the 2021 Subaru Outback should be a safe and long-lasting daily driver.

Similarly, the 2021 Honda CR-V is loaded to the brim with standard safety features. It comes with the Honda Sensing suite of driver aids. This bundles in forward collision warning, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, and collision mitigation braking. Blind-spot monitoring comes on the EX and above, and the Touring will give you LED headlights.

NHTSA assigned the 2021 CR-V an overall five-star rating. However, it did lose one star for the Passenger Frontal Barrier Crash Rating and another on the rollover risk assessment. IIHS also assigned the CR-V 'Good' marks on the whole.

Which Has the Best Value?

When it comes to value, the Outback gives you slightly more features for the price. The optional turbo engine will cost you more, but you do not have to worry about spending more money to equip AWD. The Outback has far superior off-roading capabilities but certainly has no problem functioning as a daily driver.

Which is Better?

Both the 2021 Subaru Outback and 2021 Honda CR-V are excellent small SUVs. In fact, we would say that they are the two top contenders in this segment. While we love many things about the CR-V, the Outback edges it out with its strong off-roading capabilities.

Used 2021 Subaru Outback: