Subaru Forester vs Outback: Which Is Best For You?
John Goreham is a life-long car nut and recovering engineer. John’s focus areas are technology, safety, and green vehicles. In the 1990s, he was part of an academic team that built a solar-electric vehicle from scratch. His was the role of the battery thermal control designer. After earning his engineering degree, John also completed a marketing program at Northeastern University. For 20 years, he applied his engineering and sales talents in the worlds of semiconductor manufacturing, biopharmaceutical production, and automotive electronics supply chain. Always a writer, John has published numerous articles in technical journals such as Chemical Processing Magazine. In 2008 he retired from that career and dedicated himself to chasing his dream of being an auto writer. In addition to online publications such as Car Talk, John’s work has appeared in print in dozens of American newspapers, and he provides reviews to many vehicle shopping sites.
Subaru has slowly but surely worked its way to the top of the sales charts in the two-row crossover segment by offering drivers different takes on the same great theme.
The five-passenger Outback and Forester may appear similar on a screen when you research them online, but there are essential differences between these two off-road capable family crossovers.
Here is our breakdown of where the Subaru Outback and Subaru Forester differ and where they have similarities.
Table of Contents
- Subaru Forester vs. Outback Comparison
- Body Style - Wagon vs. SUV
- Tale of the Tape - Surprise! The Forester is "Bigger"
- Infotainment & Key Features
- Powertrain Options
- Trims & Special Off-Road Editions
- Price Range
- Safety Ratings
- Subaru Forester & Outback Pros and Cons
- Car Research & Comparisons
- Frequently Asked Questions
Subaru Forester vs. Outback Comparison
Specification / Capacity
|Minimum Ground Clearance|
|Cargo Volume |
with 2nd Row Up / Down
Body Style - Wagon vs. SUV
The most significant difference between the Subaru Outback and Subaru Forester is that the Outback adopts a longer, more wagon-like body style than the Forester. The Forester’s profile looks more like the CR-V, RAV4, and Nissan Rogue, and therefore seems to fit better in that grouping.
This choice is a plus for those shopping for the Subaru brand. Side-by-side, the Outback is a bit longer looking than the Forester, and its dimensions give it a less SUV-like appearance that appeals to some buyers.
No crossover in this size offers the commanding view that the Forester does, including the Outback. The Forester has a larger glass area and less headliner, dash, A-pillar, and door sill in the driver’s view. That means that the Forester offers best-in-class visibility. This is particularly true in the forward and side directions, though the Forester also has great sightlines to the rear as well.
Tale of the Tape - Surprise! The Forester is "Bigger"
Since the Outback is wider and longer, one would assume it is the “bigger” vehicle. However, the Forester has greater passenger volume and more cargo volume.
The truth is, these vehicles are practically the same size. The Forester’s slightly taller stance offers a bit more volume in the vertical direction. Hence, the slightly larger numbers on the spec page. The Outback’s longer body allows it to have a two-inch longer cargo floor.
Infotainment & Key Features
One might assume that Subaru would use the same infotainment system in both the Outback and Forester, but that is not the case. While we have tested and found both to be exceptionally good in terms of ease of use and features, the Outback has an optional 11.7-inch touchscreen that is much larger than the Forester’s 8-inch screen.
Both models offer Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and both require a cord for operation. A heated steering wheel is available on top trims and via packages on other trims. Steering-adaptive LED headlights that turn into curves are standard on both the Forester and Outback.
While both the Outback and Forester offer a base 2.5-liter horizontally-opposed “boxer” engine that many shoppers will find more than adequate, the Outback has a more powerful option. Those who want more than ample power should look to the Outback’s XT trims. The turbocharged engine of these trims adds significant torque and bumps power up nicely to 260 hp.
The stronger engine offers many advantages. It is better for serious off-roading, feels stronger in spirited driving, and is part of why the Outback can handle heavier towing.
All trims of the Forester and Outback use Subaru’s excellent continuously variable transmission (CVT). Some trims offer selectable ratios via paddle shifters. Like nearly all modern crossovers, Subaru no longer offers a manual transmission option.
Trims & Special Off-Road Editions
Presently, the Outback offers Base, Premium, Limited, Touring, Onyx Edition XT, Limited XT, and Touring XT trims. The XT trims indicate the turbocharged engine option. A new Wilderness trim that ups the ante for off-road abilities is coming later this year. The Onyx and Wilderness trims offer enhanced off-road and foul-weather abilities that go beyond the already impressive capabilities the Outback comes standard with. More ground clearance, a full-size spare, better tires, and changes to the mechanical bits all add up to capabilities that surpass what the Forester presently offers.
Both the Outback and Forester offer important off-road and harsh winter weather options. Hill Descent Control is available on both models, as is Subaru’s X-mode feature that allows drivers to tackle extreme situations. A heated windshield is part of some packages and also available on top trims to keep your wipers from icing up. It is touches like these that we feel sets Subaru apart from some crossover SUV manufacturers.
The Subaru Forester’s Base price begins at $ 25,845, including the destination and delivery fee. The top trim Touring has a price of $35,945. There are five Forester trims in all, including Premium, Sport, Limited, and Touring.
The Outback starts at $ 27,845, inclusive of Subaru’s mandatory fees. The top trim Touring XT has a price of $40,995. There are presently seven Outback trims with the Wilderness trim soon to join the list. Subaru says the new Wilderness trim will start at around $38K.
Current Subaru Forester & Outback Deals & Incentives
|Year||Make||Model||Cash Incentives (up to)||Best Avail. APR||Lease Offers||Expiration|
|2021||Subaru||Forester||0.00%||$239/month for 36 months, $2,499 due at signing||6/1/2021|
|Year||Make||Model||Cash Incentives (up to)||Best Avail. APR||Lease Offers||Expiration|
|2021||Subaru||Outback||0.00%||$249/month for 36 months, $2,499 due at signing||6/1/2021|
You may qualify for additional deals and incentives, check out this month's Subaru deals here.
Both the Outback and Forester earn the highest safety scores possible, the IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus designation. This designation applies to every trim.
No options are required to own the safest possible Outback or Forester.
Subaru deserves credit and recognition for democratizing safety.
Subaru Forester & Outback Pros and Cons
Subaru Outback Pros
- Slightly longer cargo compartment
- Optional turbocharge engine
- Larger infotainment screen option
- 3,500-pound towing capacity (vs. 1,500 for Forester)
Subaru Outback Cons
- Slightly less passenger and cargo volume
Subaru Forester Pros
- Better outward visibility
- Slightly more cargo volume
- Smaller footprint
- Shorter wheelbase helps in tight off-road trail situations
Subaru Forester Cons
- No turbo option
- Lower tow rating
- Smaller infotainment screen
Frequently Asked Questions
Which is better, the Subaru Outback or Forester?
While the Subaru Outback and Forester share many attributes, the Outback has trims with features that surpass what the Forester offers. These include an optional turbocharged engine, a larger infotainment screen, and a higher towing capacity.
Which is more comfortable, the Outback or Forester?
The Subaru Forester offers more passenger volume, more headroom, and more front-seat legroom for the driver than the Outback. The two vehicles have a very similar ride feel. We have found that the less expensive trims with the smaller tire diameters offer a smoother ride. This is true of both models.
Which Subaru model is the best?
The Forester is the most popular Subaru model, outpacing the sales of its sibling, the Outback, by roughly 20%. If sales are any indication, the Forester is the best Subaru model.
Which costs less, the Subaru Outback or the Subaru Forester?
While both the Outback and Forester have a lot of overlap in pricing, the Forester is roughly 10% less expensive than the Outback when similarly equipped.