Subaru Forester: Top Competitors & Alternatives for 2023

Subaru Forester Alternatives Competitors

The Subaru Forester is one of the most popular compact two-row crossovers in America. It is one of the top-selling crossovers, and in many cold-weather US markets, it is the top-selling vehicle of its type.

The Forester offers best-in-class visibility, and every crossover Subaru makes has all-wheel drive, but the Forester offers more. Its dual-X-mode off-road settings can help a driver overcome obstacles that other brands’ crossovers cannot. Add in top safety scores and outstanding fuel economy, and it is easy to see why so many crossover shoppers opt for the Forester.

Here is our list of alternatives to the venerable Subaru Forester.

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Subaru Forester Weaknesses

The Takeaway: The Forester is the very best at certain things like off-road and all-weather capability in this class, and its visibility is unmatched. However, it has a history of some concerning powertrain issues.

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The Forester has relatively few weaknesses. One is quality. Past models suffered from engine oil consumption and CVT transmission defects that resulted in class-action settlements and extended warranties. Older models suffered from overheating due to cylinder head warping.

The current Forester also offers only one powertrain, and it is nothing to brag about. Subaru offers a 2.5-liter, non-turbo engine with near worst-in-class power and torque coupled to a CVT transmission that feels odd to many drivers. There is no power upgrade available, nor is there an electrified version of the Forester.

Which competitor may be a better fit for you depends upon your priorities. If you seldom venture off-road and don’t live in the harshest snow belt areas, many excellent alternatives are available. However, if you do like adventure, Ford and Toyota recently attacked Subaru’s strengths by offering very capable off-road trims of the Bronco Sport and RAV4. Toyota also has a crossover of the Forester’s size with triple its efficiency.

Subaru Forester vs. Competitors

The Subaru Forester faces tough competition from the Toyota RAV4 Adventure and Prime, Ford Bronco Sport Badlands, Mazda CX-5 Turbo, and Honda CR-V. While the Forester offers 182 HP and 29 MPG, the RAV4 Adventure has 203 HP and the Prime boasts 302 HP with exceptional fuel economy. The Bronco Sport Badlands matches the Forester in horsepower but lags in efficiency. The Mazda CX-5 Turbo provides similar power and slightly better fuel efficiency. The Honda CR-V stands out with 212 HP and impressive fuel economy. The Forester's Top Safety Pick Plus rating adds to its competitive edge.

Model Top Trim HPBest Trim MPG/MPGeIIHS Safety ScoreConsumer Reports Reliability Score
(past three years averaged)
Subaru Forester
182 HP
29 MPG
Top Safety Pick Plus
Toyota RAV4 Adventure
203 HP
28 MPG
Top Safety Pick
Toyota RAV4 Prime
302 HP
94 MPGe*
Top Safety Pick
Ford Bronco Sport Badlands
250 HP
23 MPG
Top Safety Pick Plus
Mazda CX-5 Turbo
250 HP
24 MPG
Top Safety Pick Plus
Honda CR-V
212 HP
38 MPG
Top Safety Pick

*MPGe = Miles per gallon of gasoline-equivalent (Measures fuel efficiency of hybrid and electric models)

1. Toyota RAV4 Adventure & TRD Off-Road

Toyota RAV4 Forester AltThe Toyota RAV4 is a perennial best-seller in the Forester's class and often the top-selling non-truck in America for any given month. The RAV4 comes in many flavors, but not all of them are true competitors to the Forester regarding off-road and all-weather capabilities. The Adventure trim of the RAV4 certainly is.

The RAV4 Adventure and TRD Off-Road trims offer added ground clearance, multi-mode AWD, and many other off-road-oriented features to match what pretty much every Forester trim has in terms of capabilities. This pair of RAV4s is the most direct Subaru Forester competitor.

The Takeway: Those looking for a RAV4 that can match the Subaru Forester’s impressive all-road and all-weather capability will find it in the Adventure and TRD Off-Road trims.

Current Toyota RAV4 Deals & Incentives

YearMakeModelCash Incentives (up to)Best Avail. APRLease OffersExpiration
2024ToyotaRAV4$399/month for 36 months, $2,999 due at signing12/5/23

You may qualify for additional deals and incentives, check out this month's Toyota deals and average prices paid.

2. Toyota RAV4 Prime

Toyota RAV4 Prime Forester AltTwo things that Subaru does not offer a Forester shopper are an up-powered trim or electrified trim. Toyota’s RAV4 prime offers both to a compact crossover shopper. With a whopping 302 hp and a 94 MPGe rating, the RAV4 Prime simply blows the Forester out of the water regarding performance and efficiency.

The RAV4 Prime can operate on electricity only for up to 42 miles and has a 38 MPG rating when operating as a hybrid. Every trim has AWD, and the RAV4 Prime can also tow. The RAV4 prime is among the fastest-selling vehicles in America, and we have seen dealer markups of $30,000! This vehicle is the pinnacle of its class, but it doesn’t come cheap.

The Takeaway: If you want a more powerful and also more efficient crossover than what Subaru’s Forester offers, the Toyota RAV4 Prime is the best solution.

Current Toyota RAV4 Prime Deals & Incentives

You may qualify for deals and incentives, check out this month's Toyota deals and average prices paid.

3. Ford Bronco Sport Badlands

Ford Bronco Sport Forester AltAs good as the RAV4 Aventure is, it does not come with an up-powered engine. Ford’s new Bronco Sport Badlands Edition is a new compact crossover that doesn’t make its buyer choose between off-road capability and power.

The Bronco Sport offers extreme off-road ability via a multi-mode off-road system it dubs GOAT mode (goes over any terrain), a locking rear differential, added ground clearance, and all-terrain, snow-rated tires. Couple that with a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine with a geared transmission, and you have an off-roader that directly challenges the Forester by exploiting its powertrain weaknesses.

The Takeaway: Ford looked at the Subaru Forester’s off-road and all-weather capabilities and decided to up the ante.

Current Ford Bronco Sport Deals & Incentives

YearMakeModelCash Incentives (up to)Best Avail. APRLease OffersExpiration
2023FordBronco Sport$375/month for 48 months, $3,456 due at signing1/2/24
2024FordBronco Sport$436/month for 48 months, $3,719 due at signing1/2/24

You may qualify for additional deals and incentives, check out this month's Ford deals and average prices paid.

4. Mazda CX-5 Turbo

Mazda CX-5 Forester AltIf you are looking for a compact crossover with outstanding on-road capability as an alternative to Subaru’s Forester, the Mazda CX-5 is the place to start. Like the Forester, the CX-5 is made-in-Japan, unusual for this segment. Unlike the Forester, the CX-5’s strengths are its good looks and its on-road capability.

The CX-5 can come with a torquey 2.5-liter turbocharged engine mated to a geared transmission. The CX-5 does not have class-leading ground clearance, and that helps it turn better. The CX-5 is great in winter weather but not the model you’d opt for if you fish or hunt every weekend.

The Takeaway: The Mazda CX-5 is a classy premium crossover that excels at spirited on-road driving.

Current Mazda CX-5 Deals & Incentives

YearMakeModelCash Incentives (up to)Best Avail. APRLease OffersExpiration
2023MazdaCX-5$329/month for 36 months, $2,999 due at signing1/3/24
2024MazdaCX-52.90%$399/month for 36 months, $2,999 due at signing1/3/24
2024MazdaCX-502.90%$415/month for 36 months, $2,999 due at signing1/3/24

You may qualify for additional deals and incentives, check out this month's Mazda deals and average prices paid.

5. Honda CR-V

Honda CR-V Forester AltSize matters in compact vehicles, and the CR-V offers one of the largest interiors and cargo volumes in this segment. While not an off-roader like the Forester, the CR-V is fine for occasional journeys across a muddy field to park at a fall soccer game.

The CR-V is a typical Honda. It uses a small turbocharged engine with a good combination of power and efficiency or a 2.0-liter non-turbo engine in its hybrid trim. The CR-V is fun to drive, efficient, affordable, and a heck of a bang for the buck.

The Takeaway: The CR-V is the crossover for those who want the most space possible and a Honda ownership experience.

Current Honda CR-V Deals & Incentives

YearMakeModelCash Incentives (up to)Best Avail. APRLease OffersExpiration
2024HondaCR-V3.90%$319/month for 36 months, $3,399 due at signing1/2/24

You may qualify for additional deals and incentives, check out this month's Honda deals and average prices paid.

Frequently Asked Questions

What models compete with the Subaru Forester?

The Toyota RAV4, Ford Bronco Sport, Mazda CX-5, and Honda CR-V are all top competitors to the Subaru Forester. Each attacks a specific weakness in the Forester’s design, or in the case of the Bronco Sport, challenges the Forester in almost every aspect.

What is the most reliable alternative to the Subaru Forester?

The Subaru Forester scores well on Consumer Reports’ reliability ratings. However, it is not perfect. One crossover that does have perfect reliability scores for the past five years is the Mazda CX-5. Those looking for the best reliability in the segment will find it in the CX-5.

 Is the Bronco Sport Badlands better than the Subaru Forester for off-roading?

The Subaru Forester is a legend when the pavement ends. Short of a Jeep Wrangler, there wasn’t much that beat the Forester in the forest. That is until Ford introduced the Bronco Sport Badlands. The Badlands adds a locking rear differential and snow-rated tires to its list of available features. Two things you won’t find on any Forester.

Which has a larger cargo volume, the Subaru Forester or the Honda CR-V?

The Subaru Forester offers one of the largest cargo volumes in its class of 69 cubic feet. However, the Honda CR-V offers up to 74 cubic feet of total cargo volume.