Subaru leads the market with safe, family-friendly cars. Differentiating between each vehicle they offer can be difficult, though. Both the Outback and Forester grew out of being slim station wagons. Today, they are quite different.
The Subaru Forester is a little less expensive than the Outback, but that doesn’t make it any less desirable for drivers who are looking for the classic Forester look and features. If you want a little more “get up and go” out of your car, you can only upgrade the Outback. Let’s dive in to see more of the differences between these two sweet rides.
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, which is new for the 2020 model year. Upmarket trim levels come with leather upholstery, one-touch folding rear seatbacks, heated front seats, a massive 11.6-inch touchscreen (pictured above), 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 they’re not lacking anything, either.
Performance and fuel economy
Both models come standard 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. 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. The Outback’s fabulous flat-six is gone for good, so Subaru offers a turbocharged, 2.4-liter flat-four as a consolation prize. It’s rated at 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque, and it also shifts through a CVT.
The Forester returns 26 mpg in the city, 33 mpg on the highway, and 29 mpg in a mixed cycle. The Outback returns 26 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway with the naturally-aspirated engine, but those figures drop to 23 and 30, respectively, with the turbocharged flat-four.
Subaru doesn’t currently offer an electrified version 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, ultimately, 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 new Outback looks a lot like its predecessor; once again, Subaru played it safe. It falls in line with the Japanese firm’s current design language thanks to styling cues like a hexagonal grille, sharp, swept-back headlights, and C-shaped rear lights. The Cs are inspired by the engine’s boxer design, Subaru told Digital Trends. Its interior isn’t 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 191.3 inches from bumper to bumper, 73 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. Select the Outback and you’ll have 32.5 cubes to fill with five passengers on board, or 75.7 with the rear seats folded flat.
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 as the Forester, and every trim level comes standard with EyeSight.
When the time comes to sign the dotted line, the 2020 Forester will sting a little bit less than the 2020 Outback. It starts at $24,495 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 $34,595.
Outback pricing starts at $26,645. Subaru divided the lineup into seven trim levels: base, Premium, Limited, Touring, Onyx Edition XT, Limited XT, and Touring XT. At $39,695, the most expensive Outback lands deep in luxury car territory. Note none of the aforementioned figures include a mandatory $1,010 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 (which is retiring after the 2020 model year) and the Volvo V60 Cross Country.
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