An unmistakable family resemblance links Subaru’s Forester and Outback models. While they overlap in some areas, like pricing, they’re two different vehicles. The bigger Outback (pictured above) is, at its core, a station wagon version of the Legacy with a lift kit and a brawny design. The Forester used to be a station wagon too, but it morphed into a crossover about a decade ago and it hasn’t looked back since.
Still confused? Read on for our Subaru Outback vs. Subaru Forester comparison highlighting design, technology, performance, and fuel economy.
Subaru made a name for itself by offering rugged, all-wheel-drive cars, not tech-oriented ones. The base version of the Forester is markedly utilitarian. It comes with a 6.5-inch screen embedded in the center console, a bargain-basement four-speaker sound system, automatic climate control, and very few creature comforts. You’ll need to explore the upper echelons of the trim ladder if you require features like navigation displayed on a bigger touchscreen, a push-button ignition, a power-operated tailgate, and a heated steering wheel.
The same applies to the Outback. Upmarket trim levels come with leather upholstery, one-touch folding rear seatbacks, heated front seats, an eight-inch touchscreen, keyless entry, and automatic headlights. Basic trim levels, especially the most affordable model, unabashedly embrace the function-over-form approach to building a car, though it’s not lacking anything, either.
The Forester comes with a naturally aspirated (that’s non-turbocharged), 2.5-liter flat-four tuned to deliver 182 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 176 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm. The Outback, on the other hand, comes standard with a naturally aspirated, 2.5-liter flat-four. It makes 175 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 174 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm.
In both cases, Subaru’s time-tested symmetrical all-wheel drive system and a continually variable transmission (CVT) transfer the engine’s power to the four wheels. Subaru no longer offers the Forester with a manual transmission, and the Outback lost its stick years ago.
Want more power? Of course you do; neither model is particularly peppy in base form. In the Forester, you’re out of luck — at least for the time being. The last-generation model’s turbocharged flat-four hasn’t returned yet, and reports claim it never will. In the Outback, you can choose a 3.6-liter flat-six that delivers 256 hp and 247 lb-ft. The CVT and all-wheel drive remain.
The Forester returns 26 mpg in the city, 33 mpg on the highway, and 29 mpg in a mixed cycle. The Environmental Protection Agency states Outback drivers can expect to see 25 city, 32 highway, and 28 combined with the four-cylinder, or 20, 27, and 22, respectively, with the six. Keep in mind there are numerous factors that influence fuel economy, including your driving style, the type of roads the car travels on, what it carries, and how it’s maintained.
Subaru doesn’t currently offer an electrified option of the Outback and the Forester. The brand launched an electrification offensive in 2018 when it released the Crosstrek Hybrid, so it’s reasonable to assume other models could receive an evolution of the gasoline-electric powertrain. Plug-in hybrid models — and, possibly, electric cars — will retain Subaru’s all-wheel-drive system.
The current, fifth-generation Forester (pictured below) made its debut at the 2018 New York Auto Show and went on sale shortly after as a 2019 model. It’s one of Subaru’s newest models. Design-wise, it’s more of an evolution of the current model than a revolution. The company played it safe, and the overall proportions haven’t changed significantly. The same applies to the interior. It’s a lot more streamlined, and it’s more modern-looking, but motorists going from a fourth- to a fifth-generation Forester won’t experience dramatic change.
The Outback paved the way for the Japanese firm’s current design language. The 2019 Ascent, Subaru’s long-awaited eight-seater crossover, borrows styling cues from its wagon sibling, including the hexagonal grille and the sharp, swept-back headlights. It’s contemporary inside, too. It’s not futuristic or daring by any means, but step inside and you’ll notice that, for example, the touchscreen is neatly integrated into the dashboard, and all of the buttons and switches are right where you expect them to be.
The Forester stretches 182.1 inches long, 71.5 inches wide, and 68.1 inches tall with roof rails. The Outback measures in at 189.9 inches from bumper to bumper, 72.4 inches wide, and 66.1 inches tall. Both have 8.7 inches of ground clearance, which adds peace of mind when soldiering down dirt roads or powering through snowy trails. The Forester offers up to 35.4 cubic feet of trunk space with five passengers on board, and 76.1 feet with the rear seats folded flat. Note that adding a moonroof lowers those figures to 33 and 70.9, respectively.
Subaru puts a big focus on safety. Every Forester regardless of trim level comes standard with dual front and side airbags for the front passengers, curtain airbags for both rows, and a knee airbag for the driver. That’s in addition to electronic driving aids like traction control and electronic stability control. Subaru’s EyeSight suite of technology (which includes features such as adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, and lane departure warning) comes standard regardless of trim level.
The Outback offers the same airbags and, on some models, EyeSight.
When the time comes to sign the dotted line, the Forester will sting a little bit less than the Outback. It starts at $24,295 before buyers begin adding options. Subaru breaks down the lineup into five trim levels called Base, Premium, Sport, Limited, and Touring, respectively. Opt for the range-topping model and you’ll need to sign a check for $34,295.
Outback pricing starts at $26,345. Subaru divided the lineup into six trim levels: 2.5i, 2.5i Premium, 2.5i Limited, 2.5i Touring, 3.6R Limited, and 3.6R Touring. At $38,995, the most expensive Outback lands deep in luxury car territory. Note none of the aforementioned figures include a mandatory $975 destination charge.
The Subaru Forester fights in the same segment as the Ford Escape, the Honda CR-V, and the Toyota RAV4. The Outback, on the other hand, competes in a small segment that includes the Buick Regal TourX and the Volvo V60 Cross Country. The smaller Volkswagen Golf AllTrack is another option, as is the more expensive BMW 3 Series Sports Wagon.