Subaru Forester vs. Outback: Which One Is Better For You?

Subaru Forester vs. Outback: Which One Is Better For You?

Gather 'round for a tale of two very similar Subarus: the Forester and the Outback.

Technically, the Subaru Forester is a compact SUV, and the Subaru Outback is a station wagon. But when it comes to blurring the lines that separate one from the other, Subaru is undeniably a pro.

That's primarily thanks to the Outback's unique qualities that set it apart from other station wagons, which are a rare breed these days, as consumer trends shift toward crossover SUVs like the Forester. Only a few automakers other than Subaru currently feature wagons among their lineups, namely Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo.

But not always are they all-wheel-drives, as is the case with both the Outback wagon and the Forester compact SUV.

For the record, Subaru equips most of its vehicles with all-wheel-drive, including the Forester and the Outback. This is arguably the brand's would-be legacy that sets it apart in the ever-increasingly competitive world of auto manufacturing.

In general, AWD vehicles allow for better handling and performance on wet, snowy, or icy roads, making them safer to drive. So if you live in an area that experiences its fair share of dicey, Subaru may be the carmaker for you regardless of the specific model.

Read on as we dissect the many similarities and the few differences between the Forester and the Outback. (Spoiler alert: the resemblances between the two, both inside and out, are uncanny.)

How do the Forester and the Outback differ in price?

In short, not much. When it comes to the difference in pricing between the Forester and the Outback, both models size up more or less equally.

New Foresters range in price depending on the trim – $25,000-$35,000 – while new Outbacks go for slightly more: $27,000-$40,000.

No matter their age and mileage, used Foresters, however, go for significantly less: $17,000 for late-year base models or $32,000 for upper-trim Sport editions. Even Outbacks that are only slightly used also bring major savings, with base models priced as low as $15,000 and top-tier Touring and Limited trims for around $35,000.

Which is larger, the Forester or Outback?

Thanks to their similar dimensions, both the Forester and the Outback – 15.2 and 15.9 feet long, respectively – sport interior cabins with sufficient space to comfortably seat five full-size adults and plenty of cargo, too.

Speaking of cargo, what sets them both apart from other competitors in their respective classes is their capacity to carry just that. Once again, both Subarus are on par with each other. Behind the back seats, the Forester and the Outback feature 31.1 cubic feet and 32.5 cubic feet of cargo room, respectively. Folding down the seats makes for a roomy 76.1 cubic feet in the Forester and 75.7 cubic feet in the Outback.

While the Forester sizes up similarly to other small SUVs like the Toyota RAV4, the Kia Sportage, and the Honda CR-V with its 8.7 inches of ground clearance, the Outback sits significantly higher off the ground than other competitors in the wagon class.

Just like the Forester, the Outback features a total ground clearance of 8.7 inches. That means the Outback is ready to roam into territory where other hatchback sport sedans – most of which sit between six and seven inches off the ground – can't. Opting for one of the upper-trim Outback Wilderness editions brings a total of 9.5 inches of ground clearance, thanks to its tougher springs and shocks.

How do the Forester and the Outback compare in terms of fuel economy?

The Forester and the Outback also perform similarly when it comes to gas mileage, given their nearly identical weight and size and the fact that most versions of both vehicles sport the same equipment under the hood.

All Foresters feature identical engines regardless of their trim, a 182-horsepower four-cylinder that allows it to travel 26 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the freeway.

The Outback, on the other hand, is available with two flat-four-cylinder engine options: a base 2.5-liter with 182 horsepower – the same as that of the Forester – and a turbocharged 2.4-liter with 260 horsepower. Both use a continuously variable automatic transmission (or "CVT") that mimics an eight-speed transmission.

The base model Outback achieves 26 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway, just like the Forester, whereas the Outback's beefier engine option makes for a fuel economy of 22 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the freeway.

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What sort of tech features and upgrades do the Forester and the Outback offer?

Talking tech, standard on the Forester are a 6.5-inch touch screen, two USB ports, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, satellite radio, HD Radio, Bluetooth, and four speakers. The Outback's lineup is similar, although it features not one but two touch screens, both of which measure seven inches.

Available upgrades on the Forester include an 8-inch touch screen, a six-speaker audio system, a Harman Kardon sound system with nine speakers, a Wi-Fi hotspot, two additional USB ports, and navigation.

Optional add-ons to the Outback include two rear USB ports, a six-speaker stereo, HD Radio, navigation, wireless device charging, a Rockford Fosgate stereo, and a 12-speaker Harman Kardon premium stereo.

The Outback also features an infotainment system with an 11.6-inch touch screen in all trims save for the base model.

Premium upgrades on both models bring moonroofs – panoramic on the Forester – and dual-zone climate control systems.

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Which is safer, the Forester or the Outback?

Both the Forester and the Outback received equally top marks from the National Highway Traffic Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Both Subaru models come with a lengthy list of safety and driver-assist technologies, including front-collision warning, rearview cameras, pedestrian detection systems, lane-departure warning, rear-seat reminder, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high beams.

Also standard on both the Forester and Outback are adaptive pivoting headlights that rotate as the vehicle turns, allowing the driver to have an optimal line of sight while navigating curves.

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How much weight can the Forester tow compared to the Outback?

While the Forester can tow up to 1,500 pounds, here the station wagon takes the win. When equipped with its standard engine, the Outback can pull up nearly twice as much – 2,700 pounds – while turbocharged models can haul up to an impressive 3,500 pounds.

To sum up, the most prominent contrast between the Forester and the Outback is the latter's significantly heftier towing capacity and slightly higher price tag.

The similarities vastly outnumber the differences, so regardless of whichever Subaru you choose – the Forester or the Outback, or another wagon or crossover SUV altogether – you can purchase any of Shift's vehicles directly from the comfort of your own home. You can also trust that it has no hidden flaws, thanks to Shift's 150-point inspection, and know that you are getting a fair, up-front price without having to haggle.

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Author
Shift Editorial Team