Subaru Forester vs. Subaru Outback

By

Automotive Editor

Willis is a freelance writer based out of Philadelphia. Born and raised in Colorado, he graduated from Williams College. When he's not writing about cars or the outdoors, he spends his time rock climbing or reading with his two cats.


, Automotive Editor - February 11, 2019

Two popular Subarus, the Forester and Outback, have more in common than you might think. The Forester is taller, but the two offer nearly identical cargo capacities. Both offer the exact same standard all-wheel drive and 8.7 inches of ground clearance for all your off-road escapades. So, which adventure-mobile should it be? We dove into the details to find out.

See a side-by-side comparison of the Forester & Outback »

What the Forester Gets Right

The Forester’s first advantage is a happy accident of model generations. After five years in action, the Outback is at the end of its current generation but has yet to see a full redesign. The Forester got a ground-up remake in 2019, which means that it rides on Subaru’s new Global Platform, which is stiffer and quieter. Both models offer strong safety technology, but only the Forester is available with Subaru’s latest attention-monitoring system.

The Forester manages a slightly better mix of power and economy as well. Although it has the more powerful engine, the Forester returns an EPA-estimated 26 miles per gallon city, 33 mpg highway, and 29 combined, which edges out the base Outback's 25/32/28 mpg (city/highway/combined). Being slightly shorter, the Forester is the lighter vehicle, which translates into slightly easier passing on the highway.

Despite being shorter (and narrower), the Forester has a couple inches of height on the Outback. That means that its cargo space is configured differently, with a taller but narrower hold. This is better for some items (like tall dogs) but worse for others (like bikes that lie flat).

Finally, a base-spec 2019 Forest costs $2,050 less than an equivalent 2019 Outback. Being technically the more compact vehicle, this is in line with industry norms.

What the Outback Gets Right

Unlike the tall Forester, the Outback works to keep more of its mass lower. It’s longer and wider, keeping cargo space cavernous and visibility strong. The wagon body houses an interior that’s spacious and comfortable. The major upside of the lower body is handling. The Outback will still take on rocky roads with aplomb, but it'll handle more like a sedan on the pavement. The longer wheelbase also helps to smooth out bumps, lending the Outback a composed ride.

Unlike the Forester, the Outback also offers a more powerful engine. A 3.5-liter six-cylinder is on tap, which bumps power up to 256 horsepower. This engine makes the Outback the quicker of the two cars, but it also opens up new utility. The Outback will tow up to 3,000 pounds with the six-cylinder engine, compared to the Forester’s 1,500-pound towing capacity.

Finally, while the Outback may not have the fanciest optional safety technology, it earned a Top Safety Pick Plus award from the IIHS, a bit better than the Top Safety Pick Forester.

A Matter of Character

Both these vehicles are adventure ready and plenty practical. The differences come down more to personality. The Forester is a true crossover. With a taller and narrower profile, it’s a compact car that’s been stretched vertically. This makes it cheaper and more SUV-like, although not much more practical. By contrast, the Outback has more of a station-wagon character. It can match the Forester’s space and utility, but it rides and handles more like a mid-size sedan. Many drivers will prefer this combination, but some may enjoy the SUV-like feel of the Forester.

Our Verdict: Subaru Forester

The Subaru Outback has a great deal going for it, even late in its model generation. It offers a more powerful engine than the Subaru Forester, and it’s the perfect car for buyers who need utility but don’t like crossovers. But the Forester wins out for now, largely because of its recent redesign. With thrifty powertrains, exceptional value, and Subaru’s latest platform, the Forester is among the best in its class. It shouldn’t get too comfortable, however – the Outback is due for its own remake next year, and we have a hunch that it'll be just as good.

Take a closer look at the Subaru Forester »

Take a closer look at the Subaru Outback »

Side-by-side comparison of features, pricing, photos and more!

, Automotive Editor

Willis is a freelance writer based out of Philadelphia. Born and raised in Colorado, he graduated from Williams College. When he's not writing about cars or the outdoors, he spends his time rock climbing or reading with his two cats.


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