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Subaru Outback vs Subaru Forester: Which Crossover SUV is Right for You?

Subaru Outback vs Subaru Forester

The Subaru Outback and Subaru Forester are the two most popular vehicles in Subaru's entire lineup. While the Outback is its top seller, the Forester is not far behind. Even though they have similar sales numbers and are both crossover SUVs, the Outback is more of a wagon while the Forester has a sporty or SUV feel to it. Which one works best for you definitely depends on what you expect out of your vehicle. Each one has some definite benefits, and each one has a few drawbacks you should be aware of before you commit to buying either one. Let's take a look at the Subaru Outback versus Subaru Forester Head to Head where it counts.

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Which Vehicle Performs Better?


If you're looking for an SUV with some good pickup, the Outback is the one for you. Both the Outback and the Forester have a 182 horsepower 2.5 L 4-cylinder engine. The Outback has an optional 2.4 L Turbo that will draw 260 horsepower. That's going to give you a little extra zing when you are driving on the highway.


The Forester unfortunately doesn't have any upgrades to the engine, so the 2.5 litre 4-cylinder is all you're going to get. That's not to say it's a bad engine by any means, but if you're looking for some extra power you simply don't have the choice when you go with a Forester.


Both the Outback and the Forester handle the road pretty well. The Forester has a higher clearance and the Outback is very smooth feeling on the road. That said, the Forester may not give you the most fun ride when compared to the Outback. It's a close call though it really depends on what you're looking for when you get behind the wheel in terms of which one would handle better for you. 


When it comes to performance the Subaru Outback and the Subaru Forester are fairly evenly matched until you factor in the fact that the Outback is giving you a second option in terms of engines. Because of that, the Subaru Outback definitely wins in the performance category.


Which Vehicle is a Better Value?


In a head-to-head battle over prices, the Subaru Forester is going to beat the Subaru Outback at every trim level. The 2020 Subaru Forester starts at $24,495. That's more than $2,000 lower than the base model of the Subaru Outback. Even when you go to the top of the line trim level, the Forester Touring Edition, it's still only $34,595. Compare that to the Subaru Outback’s top trim level which is the Touring XT. That one cost more than $5,000 more than the Forester.


There are seven different trim levels available for the Subaru Outback. The Forester has five different trim levels available. 


It's worth noting that the difference in price between these two vehicles does come with some benefits. The Subaru Outback Touring XT clocks in at $39,695 but you're also going to get more features and luxurious options as a result of that extra price, as should be expected for a high trim level vehicle. So again, it really depends on what you're expecting out of your ride. If you're just looking for the most affordable vehicle, then Forester is definitely where you want to go. Even though the Subaru touring XT offers a lot of luxurious extra features, that doesn't mean that the Forester, from the base model even up to the Forester touring is by any means a poor quality vehicle, it's just giving you different features.


The benefits you are getting from the Outback include Nappa leather seats and water repellent synthetic leather that you can get as upgrades. There’s a heated steering wheel, as well as heated and ventilated seating and more. The Forester still has a spacious interior and wide opening rear doors, but the Outback edges it out in terms of comfort and features that you're going to get for your money overall.


A point in the Forester’s favour is that it does have a superior cargo area compared to the Outback. When you fold down the rear seats in the Forester you're getting to 76.1 cubic feet. Even when you're using the rear seats, they're still 35.4 cubic feet. That puts it ahead of nearly every other vehicle in its class.


The Outback isn't slouching when it comes to storage space by any means. It offers 75.7 cubic feet with the rear seats down in 32.5 cubic feet when they are in use. It's very close to the forest there, but it's still falling a bit behind. Factor in the price difference, if you're looking for something that has a lot of room then the Forester may be the better choice for you.


When it comes to overall value, the Subaru Forester wins.


Which Vehicle Gets Better Gas Mileage?


Beyond the initial sticker price, the other thing you need to consider in terms of which vehicle is going to provide the greatest value is your fuel economy. In this way the Forester outshines the Outback. The difference isn’t extreme because, as we said, both of these vehicles share an engine. The Forester and the Outback are both rated at 26 miles per gallon in city and 33 miles per gallon on the highway in terms of fuel economy. When you go for the Outback’s turbo engine option then you're dropping that down to 23 in the city and 30 on the highway.


The Forester is the better option in terms of gas mileage however because you need to remember that the Outback and the Forester are not the same class of vehicle. The mileage for the Outback is pretty average when you compare it to most other vehicles in its class, while the Forester is actually standing out amongst its competitors. When you stop to consider the fact that you're also getting all wheel drive from the Forester then it's a definite win in that category.


When it comes to gas mileage, the Subaru Forester wins.


Which Vehicle Has Better Features?


The Subaru Outback and the Subaru Forester both have a Starlink infotainment system. The Outback uses a 7-inch touchscreen and also has two front-facing USB ports. When you go for a higher trim level however, you're going to get an 11.6 inch touch screen and you can even get USB ports put into the rear seats as well as wireless charging station and Dual Zone climate control. That’s a good package of features overall.


The Forester can't really compete with the Outback in terms of the level of features that you’re going to get, especially the infotainment system. It comes with a 6.5 touchscreen in the base model and you can upgrade it to an 8-inch touchscreen on the higher trim levels if you want. You can also get a Wi-Fi hotspot and the rear USB ports which are great upgrades, but still not on the level that the Outback is going to offer.


When it comes to the range of features, the Subaru Outback wins.


Which Vehicle is More Reliable?


Both the Subaru Outback and the Subaru Forester come with identical warranties from the manufacturer as you would expect. That warrant covers 3 years or 36,000 miles limited plus a 5 year and 60,000 mile powertrain warranty. This is pretty standard and would apply to any Subaru vehicle.


According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the 2020 Subaru Outback has an overall safety rating of five stars, which is about as good as you're going to get. The five-star rating covers front crashes, side crashes, side barrier, rear passenger and every aspect that was tested. The only place that the Outback falls even slightly short was in rollover testing where it got a four out of five. Even then, that meant a less than 19% chance of a rollover in an accident.


The Subaru Forester also got a 5-star safety rating from the national highway traffic safety administration. It scored all fives across the board and again only lost one star on rollover testing, just like the Outback.


Both the Outback and the Forester have been given the rating of Top Safety Pick Plus from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Since both are from Subaru, they come with the same standard collection of safety features that Subaru offers. This is called the Subaru EyeSight suite. This includes features like rear cross-traffic alert, reverse automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, leave vehicle safety alert, blind-spot monitoring and so on. All things being equal this is an outstanding group of safety features that Subaru offers, and you're not really losing out one way or the other if you have to choose between the Outback or the Forester in terms of the safety features you're going to get.


If you're concerned about the safety of your family and yourself when you're on the road then Subaru is one of the top of the line automakers in that regard. They go out of their way to ensure that their vehicles are as good as they can be and as safe as they can be in just about any circumstance, which she can give you some pretty decent piece of mind.


When it comes to reliability, the Forester and the Outback are evenly matched


Which Vehicle Has More Problems?


Both the Subaru Forester and the Subaru Outback have fairly good track records in terms of vehicle problems. That said, the Subaru Forester has had some serious issues in the past with excessive oil consumption. There have been instances where drivers have had to replace a quart of oil about every 1000 miles or so in the Subaru Forester. That's definitely a problem, but Subaru has yet to address it in any meaningful way. This was especially true for the 2015 Subaru Forester model. It was also a problem in 2014 and to a lesser degree in 2013 as well.


The response from Subaru in light of this issue that a number of drivers had to face was that the vehicle was still operating Within normal parameters. It's hard to make the case that this could be true given that there's no way you would ever want to replace oil that frequently. That said, nothing else was forthcoming. 


The Subaru Outback has had some issues over the years, in 2015 there were some problems with accessories not working correctly stemming from electrical issues for instance.


Overall, the Subaru Outback has had fewer performance issues that would require you going to visit a mechanic that of the Subaru Forester has had. That's mostly because of that oil consumption issue that was present in the Forester


Are they Worth It?


Subaru Forester and the Subaru Outback are both very popular models for a reason. They both sell incredibly well for Subaru. The Forester sold over 180,000 units in the US alone in 2019. This was nearly identical for the Subaru Outback. Both vehicles offer nearly identical safety features and ratings, not to mention comfort and fuel economy. 


What it gets down to it, neither of these vehicles is a bad choice by any means. Subaru has done a lot of good work in crafting two very impressive vehicles that get you where you need to go and comfort and style. In the simplest terms both the Subaru Outback and the Subaru Forester are worth your time and money if you're looking for a new crossover vehicle.


Which Vehicle Is the Better Option?


When it comes right down to it the differences between the Outback and the Forester are very slim. The Forester is going to win out in terms of price tag, but the features that you get from the Outback and the overall ride handling and comfort may give the Outback the edge in the long run. If you're looking strictly for a cheaper vehicle with no other considerations, then by all means go with the Forester. But if you want the total package, we're going to give the nod to the Subaru Outback as the better option overall. 


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