Subaru Forester vs Outback

Subaru Forester vs Outback: A comparison of Subaru crossovers known for long-term dependability and low cost of ownership.

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So you’ve decided on a new Subaru vehicle. Fantastic choice. One problem: Subaru has such an outstanding lineup of stylish, versatile and economical vehicles that it can be hard to decide which model is right for you. Let’s say you’ve narrowed your considerations down to what appears to be a simple choice between the Subaru Forester and the Subaru Outback. Both offer go-anywhere Symmetrical All Wheel Drive (AWD) and the long-term dependability that Subaru has built its reputation. Read car reviews or visit auto blogs and you’ll also see that both have legions of fans and loyal supporters.

It’s a tough choice, but don’t sweat it; you really can’t go wrong with either model. After reading this comparison guide, use Reply! to find the most competitive price quotes in your area on the Subaru Forester vs Outback.

Choosing a Subaru Forester vs Outback

The Subaru Outback has been a favorite in the North American market for several decades, while the Forester is a relative newcomer. Each offers similar performance and handling capabilities, as well as fuel efficiency and cost of ownership. So, what are the biggest and most important differences between the Subaru Forester vs Outback?

To get a fuller sense of the differences, we took a field trip to one of the larger Subaru retailers in the area. We kicked a few tires, tested some models, and even did a walk-through with a sales representative off the floor. The experience gave us some understanding of what you may go through when you visit a Subaru dealer, and it gave us some hands-on knowledge to filter the specs and sales hype through.

“The Forester is more utilitarian, no excess, just what you need,” said Sebati Oker, Sales Associate at Carr Subaru in Beaverton, OR.

Outback vs Forester“The Forester is basic, with fewer options, and it’s priced about $4,000 less, model to model, than the Outback. It’s also smaller, more maneuverable and nimble and meets more of the stripped-down, smaller footprint lifestyle many Subaru customers adhere to. It’s more of a no-fuss car. You can throw your muddy gear in the back, then hose off the interior when you’re done.”

The Outback, on the other hand, is more flush with features designed to keep drivers and passengers more comfortable. While it may feature more amenities, it still maintains its solid reliability and practicality (a hallmark of nearly all Subarus.)

“Outback drivers tend to have families and opt for more of the more elegant standard features found with the Outback,” said Oker. “The Outback tends to have a tighter and more ‘fit and finish’ ride. It’s much quieter. It’s longer and wider to provide better handling, with confidence in the turns and a more solid feel at higher speeds. The added length and width are good for hauling things like sports equipment or the family pet.

If you’re busy running errands and driving around town all week, but still hit the mountains and hiking trails on the weekend, the Outback might be just right for you. If you want outstanding AWD performance with no frills and a lower price tag, you might opt for the Forester instead.

To help with a more informed comparison, let's run down the features and specs for each vehicle and discuss comparisons with other vehicles competing in their classes. 

Subaru Outback 

Subaru Outback vs ForesterThe Outback is Subaru's most iconic vehicle. It set the standard for a new category of vehicle (the utility crossover wagon) and continues to set the pace. It’s designed with outdoor enthusiasts in mind, but can also serve the needs of urban dwellers looking for a dependable ride for the daily grind, one that isn’t afraid of a little gravel of surprise winter weather. Since its inception, the Outback has become the standard against which all other wagons (sport, utility, crossover or other) are measured, regularly achieving top ranking in its class by reviewers including U.S. News and World Report.

This elite sport wagon has standard features that include:

  • Roof rails with integrated crossbars
  • Under-the-floor rear cargo storage
  • 65/35-split fold-down rear seats
  • Rollover sensor

Because the Outback has so much cargo capacity and innovative, internal storage options, it is a top choice for moms.

You can choose between several motor options, ranging from a 2.5 liter, four-cylinder engine with 173-hp (which will deliver up to 30 miles per gallon on the highway) up to the 3.6 liter, 256-hp six-cylinder engine (which allows you to take advantage of the Outback's 3,000-pound towing capacity.) You can also select from a fully automatic, to an automatic with 6-speed manual mode and paddle shifts, to a standard transmission package.

Some of the optional features for you to choose from with your Outback include:

  • An SD-based navigation system
  • An upgraded Harman Kardon audio system
  • The EyeSight driver assist system that uses adaptive cruise control and includes a lane-departure warning
  • Rear-vision camera
  • Dual-zone climate control
  • Satellite radio

If you visit the Subaru website, you can click through a function that will give you a summary comparison of other manufacturers’ options in this class. You can save yourself the trouble (and get far more information) by reviewing any or all of these guides:

Subaru Forester

Subaru Forester vs OutbackThe Subaru Forester is an ideal choice for people looking for a compact SUV that cuts out the fat and only leaves the lean, premium meat. Like the Subaru Outback, the small crossover is designed for people who want to have a foot in each world: you enjoy the great outdoors and tend to be active that way in your spare time and on weekend; but you also need a reliable car to commute or navigate your way around an urban setting. The Forester can get you out in the mountains reliably on weekend while also serving as an outstanding car for commuters.

The Forester includes ample interior space and flexible cargo areas. The vehicle comes standard with:

  • 60/40-split fold-down rear seats
  • Seven airbags
  • Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity
  • An iPod/USB audio interface
  • Raised roof rails

Although the Forester is often referred to as a stripped-down version of the Outback, Kelley Blue Book calls the interior "impressively expanded, well-finished and well-appointed."

The Forester features Subaru's famous AWD that can traverse virtually any terrain. With approximately two more inches of ground clearance than other, comparable small crossover vehicles, the Forester can go just about anywhere. The 2.5X Forester's four-cylinder engine pushes out 170 horsepower with a standard five-speed manual transmission (you can get automatic transmission options.) The XT Forester has a turbocharged engine that produces an impressive 224 horsepower. Depending on the engine package you should get between 28 and 32 mpg on the highway, which contributes to the Forester's overall low cost of ownership. 

Different Forester packages offer a wealth of optional features to improve performance and comfort. The popular All-Weather package includes:

  • Heated exterior mirrors
  • Heated front seats
  • Windshield wiper deicer (perfect for regions with harsh winters)
  • Bluetooth audio streaming
  • USB port with iPod connectivity
  • Rear vision camera

Just as with the Outback, you can visit the Subaru website and click through to view a summary comparison of the Forester (including options and packages you may select) as it stacks up against other makes and models in its class. But save yourself the time and get even m ore information to make an informed choice by consulting these guides:

Subaru Symmetrical AWD Explained

“The all wheel drive train you find on a Subaru is more valuable and impressive in the long run than any other brand in this class because cars like the Outback and Forester were designed and built from the ground up on an AWD platform,” says Oker. “Most other cars trying to compete with the Outback or the Forester started out as two-wheel drive platforms and were later adapted to AWD. Some even had a few years where you had 2WD or 4WD before you got to the AWD models. The Subaru system is perfectly balanced, both in weight and power distribution.”

Forester vs OutbackSymmetrical All-Wheel Drive (AWD) comes standard on every single Subaru model for added traction, stability and performance efficiency. This, of course, includes the Subaru Outback vs. Forester. The AWD is symmetrical because the engine is mounted in-line with the drivetrain to be able to deliver equal power to all four wheels. Other makes and models built on an original 2WD system have to be reconfigured with complex designs to reliably provide equal power to all four wheels. A more convoluted system will make the vehicle operate less efficiently and of course, that means more parts. More parts mean it’s more likely something can break, which adds to maintenance costs and overall ownership costs measured over the life of the car.

Learn more about other Subaru models!

“Subaru AWD provides more grip and more predictable handling,” says Oker. “When it’s pouring rain on the freeway with low visibility, if you hit a huge puddle in the road, the Subaru will be able to handle it. Cars with only front-wheel drive or even some converted AWD or even 4WD systems can easily put you at risk for hydroplaning out of control.”

As power is distributed equally to all four wheels, Subaru AWD holds true to the path of a sharp or tight turn. It also offers stability of you suddenly have to steer clear of a hazard. Even skilled drivers can find they oversteer through corners or in response to sudden changes in driving conditions with front and rear-wheel drive cars.

“Drivers may not need AWD all the time,” concedes Oker. “But they’re confident in the traction AWD provides when they do and they can be particularly confident when they’re driving a Subaru with AWD.”

Subaru Outback vs Forester: Tale of the Tape

(These numbers are based on the standard, entry-level models and packages for each.)

Starting retail priceOutback engine

  • Outback: $24,495
  • Forester: $22,495

Exterior dimensions

  • Outback: 189” long, 107.9” wheelbase
  • Forester: 179.5” long, 103” wheelbase

Interior dimensions

  • Outback: 41” front head room, 42” rear head room
  • Forester: 42” front head room, 40” rear head room

Engine

  • Outback: 2.5-liter 173 horsepower base engine, 4x4 AWD
  • Forester: 2.5-liter 170 horsepower base engine, 4x4 AWD

Fuel efficiency

  • Outback: 21 mpg in the city, 28 mpg on the highway
  • Forester: 21 mpg in the city, 27 mpg on the highway

5-Year cost of ownership

  • Outback: $17,907 based on depreciation, fuel costs, insurance, etc.
  • Forester: $14,780 based on depreciation, fuel costs, insurance, etc.

(For 2014, Consumer Digest ranked the Subaru 2.5i premium model as one of the five best cars sold in the U.S. when measured for overall value comparing performance, utility, reliability and total owner costs over a five-year driving life.)

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Whether you're looking for an everyday vehicle for your family or a small SUV that can handle the roughest terrain, both the Subaru Outback and the Subaru Forester fit the bill. Because both of the crossover vehicles are designed for avid outdoorsmen, you'll discover that both vehicles offer a variety of optional features and that the cost between the two doesn't differ much.

As you conduct your Subaru Forester vs. Outback comparison, you'll find that both vehicles are reliable, have plenty of safety features and get good gas mileage, making either one of them a good buy.

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About the Author

Alex Gabriel is a content editor at Reply! with several years of digital marketing and and copywriting experience. A native of Portland and graduate of the University of Oregon, Alex has a passion for test-driving new cars he can’t afford. Click here to connect with Alex on Google+.