A crossover that ticks nearly every box. The 2021 Subaru Forester is one of the more popular compact crossovers, especially in colder climates. With its standard advanced all-wheel drive, upscale features, and off-road chops, there’s a good reason for its popularity in these snowy areas.

Remarkably efficient but limited performance. The Forester has a single engine option: a 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine that delivers 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque. This four-pot pairs with a continuously variable transmission and all-wheel drive. The powertrain combination delivers outstanding on- and off-road traction and a surprising 29 miles per gallon combined, according to the EPA.

While it’s efficient and has a legendary all-wheel-drive system, the Forester’s engine leaves a lot to be desired in performance. This deficiency is especially evident when comparing it to the optional 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engines in the Chevrolet Equinox and Ford Escape, which deliver 252 and 250 hp, respectively. The Mazda CX-5 also gets a leg up with its optional 2.5-liter turbo engine that delivers up to 250 hp.

A few years back, the Forester had the peppy XT model with the WRX-sourced 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder. Unfortunately, it garnered only a small cult following, so Subaru cut it.

Bring on the rugged terrain. The Subaru Forester has an advanced torque-vectoring AWD system that can handle the ugliest conditions. Plus, with its 8.7 inches of ground clearance, it’s got plenty of room to navigate moderately choppy trails.

Very few crossovers can match or beat it, but one that falls in the latter category is the Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road with its torque-vectoring all-wheel drive, advanced off-road drive modes, and 8.6 inches of ground clearance. Plus, the RAV4 TRD Off-Road looks the part of an off-roader.

Subaru Forester

Loads of features and space but date looks. The Forester’s base trim has plenty of standard features, including 17-inch wheels, automatic climate control, cloth upholstery, a split-folding rear seat, adaptive LED headlights, and a 6.5-inch infotainment touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

This easily trumps the Honda CR-V’s 5-inch screen and lack of smartphone integration. It also beats the Escape’s puny 4.2-inch standard screen with no smartphone integration. The CX-5 has a larger 7-inch standard screen, but it lacks standard smartphone integration. The RAV4 manages to beat the Forester with its 7-inch screen and smartphone integration.

The Forester also has loads of space with 39.4 inches of rear leg room, 31.1 cubic feet of cargo room with the rear seats up, and 76.1 with the rear seats folded. The rear leg room beats the RAV4’s 37.8 inches and is consistent with all others in its class.

However, the Forester’s 76.1 cubic feet of maximum cargo room beats the Equinox (63.9 cubic feet), CR-V (75.8 cubic feet), RAV4 (69.8 cubic feet), Escape (65.4 cubic feet), and CX-5 (59.6 cubic feet).

The big downside to the Forester is its dated design. From the outside to the inside, it looks like it’s stuck about five to 10 years behind its competitors. However, some buyers may appreciate this simpler design.

Final thoughts. If you can look past its dated appearance and underwhelming powertrain, the 2021 Subaru Forester is a great do-it-all option for a family crossover. It can handle moderate off-roading, has good fuel economy, includes great standard features and premium options, and comes in at a fair price.

For buyers looking for something more modern, the Mazda CX-5, Chevy Equinox, or Toyota RAV4 all fit that bill. These three also work for buyers seeking more optional power.

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