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2021 Subaru Forester Vs 2021 Subaru Outback -There Is A Clear Winner

What is the difference between the 2021 Subaru Forester and the 2021 Subaru Outback? Here is the complete comparison. We think there is a clear winner.


Subaru shoppers have more questions about the 2021 Subaru Forester and the 2021 Outback than any other models. They are close in size, and customers want to know which model is best for them and their particular needs. Here is a complete breakdown of the two most popular Subaru models.

What is the difference between the Subaru Forester and the Outback?

The new-generation 2021 Subaru Outback is a "midsize crossover/wagon, "where the fifth-generation Forester is a "compact SUV." Outback looks and feels more like a wagon and drives like a car, where the Forester looks and feels more like a small sport utility vehicle.

2021 Subaru Forester pricing, features, specs, 2021 Subaru Outback pricing, features, specs

Comparably equipped, the Outback is about $2,000 more but offers a new 2.4-liter turbocharged engine option. Some customers prefer Forester's higher sitting position and outward visibility, and other drivers prefer the Outback's smoother ride and European handling.

Because the Outback has a longer wheelbase (four inches longer than the Forester), the wagon offers a smoother ride because the vehicle's corners cover a larger area. Therefore, bumps are less noticeable.

2021 Subaru Forester pricing, features, specs, 2021 Subaru Outback pricing, features, specs

Both Outback and Forester ride on the new Subaru Global Platform, giving both cars superior handling and crash absorption abilities. All 2021 Forester and Outback trims come standard with Subaru's Symmetrical all-wheel-drive, 8.7-inches of ground clearance, and both offer a "dual-function" version of X-Mode that can be driver-selected to different terrains for off-pavement adventures.

How big is the 2021 Subaru Outback?

The Subaru Outback is almost two inches wider and eight inches longer, while Forester is two inches taller. Both have excellent outward visibility, with Forester being the best with larger greenhouse windows. The Outback has 32.5 cubic feet of cargo-carrying ability with the seats up; Forester has 35.4 cubes. With the seats down, Outback offers 75.7 cubic feet; Forester has a bit more with 76.1 cubic feet.

Outback has slightly more space for people with 109 cubic feet and Forester 107.8 cubes. Rear legroom is very similar, with Outback scoring 39.5 inches and Forester 39.4 inches of rear legroom.

What is the difference in engine power?

Standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder Boxer engines in both cars produce 182 horsepower and 176 lb-ft of torque and run on regular unleaded gasoline. Both come with a Lineartronic CVT automatic (Continually Variable Transmission). Both get an EPA estimated 26/33 city/highway mpg. They both come with a three-year/36,000-mile comprehensive warranty and a five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty.

The significant advantage with the Outback is it comes with an optional 2.4-liter turbocharged engine producing 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque. It gets an estimated 23/30 city/highway mpg. If you need more power to carry extra cargo and passengers up a high mountain pass, the Outback XT turbo is the better choice for you. You can read our full test of the 2.4-liter vs. 2.5-liter engine here.

What if I want to tow a small trailer or camper?

If you need to tow a small trailer Outback has 2700 lbs of towing capacity with the standard 2.5-liter engine and 3,500 lbs with the optional 2.4-liter turbocharged engine. Forester has a maximum towing capacity of 1,500 lbs.

How safe is the Forester vs. Outback?

In the latest IIHS crash tests, Forester and Outback earn the highest "Top Safety Pick+" rating. Both models come standard with Subaru's EyeSight driver-assist safety technology, including the new DriverFocus anti-distraction and convenience system.

What is the price of the 2021 Subaru Forester?

The 2021 Forester comes in five trim levels, and the base trim has an MSRP of $25,845, Premium ($28,845), Sport ($30,445), Limited ($32,445), and Touring ($35,945). Pricing includes $1,050 destination.

2021 Subaru Forester pricing, features, specs, 2021 Subaru Outback pricing, features, specs

What is the price of the 2021 Subaru Outback?

The 2021 Outback comes in seven trim levels, base $27,845, Premium ($30,095), Limited ($34,645), Onyx Edition XT ($36,195), Limited XT ($38,545), Touring ($39,045), and Touring XT ($40,995). Pricing includes $1,050 destination.

We give the nod to the 2021 Subaru Outback over the 2021 Subaru Forester for three reasons. The Outback offers a car-like ride but has the utility of an SUV. The Outback provides the 2.4-liter turbocharged engine with the added power for active customers, and three, the Outback has more towing capacity. We think there is a clear winner.

You Might Also Like: Is Subaru Outback The G.O.A.T.? The Amazing Success Story Continues

Denis Flierl has invested over 30 years in the automotive industry in a consulting role working with every major car brand. He is an accredited member of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press. Check out Subaru Report where he covers all of the Japanese automaker's models. More stories can be found on the Torque News Subaru page. Follow Denis on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Photo credit: Subaru, main image - Planet Subaru


mike wood (not verified)    March 11, 2021 - 1:34AM

i prefer the forester for easier turning and parking. i dont agree with your conclusion as i dont want a longer car like the outback. I did test drive the outback and yes its a little bit smoother on the road. But it has things on it I refuse to use. Like the stupid touch screen for air/heat. I want to use knobs for my air. Also, the outback indicator safety lights are poorly placed. As an owner of an older 04 forester, i think the 2021 forester, which i purchased from Prestige Subaru, Turnersville, NJ in november, is a great SUV. It is long enough and wide enough for me. After all, I'm driving it in populated areas, in NJ near Phila, Pa. and I need a car that can be easily parked. One will never find a perfect car. there are tradeoffs. The forester is a dream to drive in bad weather. I dont care about the towing capacity or the high speed. I just want functionality, durability, safety, and visibility. if i wanted a smooth riding car I would buy a luxury vehicle. But lets see how well your luxury vehicle drives in snow. The Forester is a glorified snowmobile. Whether its an ice storm, torrential rain, or snow, the car holds the road very well and is a dream to drive. Get the Forester touring and you will be very happy. i think the outback is best for families. The Forester is great if you are in a hurry as it passes and cuts in and out of traffic with ease.

Pete Stavros (not verified)    March 11, 2021 - 9:53PM

In reply to by mike wood (not verified)

Although I would pick the Outback over the Forester, I agree with you about the controls. I want knobs for climate control, volume, and tuning. Guess I'm just old-school. While recently setting out to get a new Outback, my wife and I bought a new Ascent Touring. I wanted something bigger than the Outback. There are plenty of knobs and buttons, some of them redundant with the touch-screen controls which is fine by me. Also, I like that the infotainment screen is incorporated into the center stack rather than looking like it was such into the top of the dashboard.

Traveler (not verified)    March 12, 2021 - 10:18AM

In reply to by mike wood (not verified)

Thanks for your very common sense review. It so perfectly states what I also feel are my typical requirements when evaluating a new car purchase. Nice job thinking thru your writeup and attention to practical details in your review. Cheers !

Jill Burns (not verified)    June 20, 2021 - 7:49PM

In reply to by mike wood (not verified)

Thank you for this comment! I was weighing both cars and I agree with you about the knobs and feel of SUV! I pretty much agree with all of your points and appreciate your info on both cars. I too think I prefer the forester. Thanks again!!!

Ann Cocks (not verified)    March 11, 2021 - 10:55AM

I was considering both the Outback and the Forester until I discovered that the Forester only had the one underpowered engine choice. I'm living in Colorado where the high altitude takes away horsepower and I drive an old Honda Civic and it's rather frightening trying to merge onto highways and get back up to speed after traffic lights. Whenever I buy a new vehicle, I NEVER want to experience that "thrill" of having cars and trucks roar up behind me while my foot is pressing the gas pedal to the floor and I'm praying my speed will come up to the limit soon. The Forester with its current non-Turbo options is a hard no for me. I do think the touch screen is stupid for air/heat and definitely the heated seats too. You always want to stab that button right away in cold weather, not wade through a bunch of screens. And having to wade through touch screens at highway speeds or in traffic to adjust the heat or a/c and/or the radio is a hazard IMO. Why would a car maker do this?

Bob (not verified)    March 23, 2021 - 4:56PM

In reply to by Ann Cocks (not verified)

I looked at the Outback when the current model came out and I HATE the large screen. I just can't even consider the vehicle just because of the screen. I want knobs and switches. And I bet the large bulk of folks that consider the Outback don't want that stupid screen either. I'm looking at the Forester and if it weren't for all that piano black around the screen and heat/air controls, I would have bought one months ago.

George Briggs (not verified)    March 11, 2021 - 12:12PM

Thanks for the comparison. I'm considering trading up from a 2011 Outback, so this helps. One question...what accounts for the difference in towing capacity? I would have thought the same engine and drive train would have made the towing capacity equal.

Douglas Cooper (not verified)    March 11, 2021 - 8:15PM

In reply to by George Briggs (not verified)

Between the Outback and Forester, a difference in tow rating is based on wheelbase length. Shorter vehicles have lower towing capacities for safety and legal reasons. As for the different tow ratings for the Outback engine choices it's most likely down to what the engines can pull reasonably without being stressed too much.

Rusty Black (not verified)    March 11, 2021 - 5:57PM

It’s my opinion that square footage is a lot more relevant than cubic footage giving another big Dodge to the outback which is why I got it. I really think cubic footage is a joke nobody’s gonna pull everything up to the top. Why do you do it?

Joel (not verified)    March 11, 2021 - 10:08PM

I drove both 2018s and found the Outback was a little bit smoother over bumps was quicker. The Forester felt more spacious with great viability. Forester also has crazy good turning radius. The Forester to me had more precise and nimble handling. The Outback with its larger wheel base made it feel bigger and less nimble. That was my biggest turn off. And to me the Forester still has very adequate acceleration and a very smooth ride. So I went with the Forester and I'm happy with that choice. Plus it fits in my garage better than the Outback. Another thing, I'm not a fan of turbos. Most recommend premium fuel and I'm not about that.

John (not verified)    May 24, 2022 - 3:28PM

In reply to by Joel (not verified)

We purchased our 2nd Subaru in 2020. We have a 2000 Outback sport that has been a great vehicle.
We went with the Forester vs the Outback for several reasons.
1-head room, easy to get into without bumping our head and the doors open all the way out, almost.
2-visibility is great and it doesn’t have the long nose that the Outback has. One reason we got rid of our previous vehicle.
3- knobs yo use, and plenty of leg room in the back.
and lastly the great ride. Subaru is a go to vehicle in bad weather, doesn’t slip or slide in snow.

John (not verified)    May 24, 2022 - 3:29PM

In reply to by Joel (not verified)

We purchased our 2nd Subaru in 2020. We have a 2000 Outback sport that has been a great vehicle.
We went with the Forester vs the Outback for several reasons.
1-head room, easy to get into without bumping our head and the doors open all the way out, almost.
2-visibility is great and it doesn’t have the long nose that the Outback has. One reason we got rid of our previous vehicle.
3- knobs yo use, and plenty of leg room in the back.
and lastly the great ride. Subaru is a go to vehicle in bad weather, doesn’t slip or slide in snow.

Keil Miller Jr (not verified)    March 12, 2021 - 1:38AM

The clear winner for me was the 2021 forester, which I purchased for my wife. The height and upright posture is a must. I'm getting old. I don't want to try to get out of a car.

jg (not verified)    March 22, 2021 - 1:20PM

In reply to by Keil Miller Jr (not verified)

Well, you have to get out eventually... :)

Did you realize the top of the front door panels are shaped to allow them to be used as grab bars (or at least hand-holds)? I read that many years ago and had to go out to my car to see for myself, and sure enough there it is -- just enough of a protrusion above the window glass to grab onto (Outbacks have them too). Now anytime I get the opportunity, I like to point it out like Subaru-trivia.

Tom Swinburn (not verified)    August 23, 2021 - 4:59PM

In reply to by Keil Miller Jr (not verified)

I'm with you. Old school, and old I drove pickups and vans hundreds of thousands of miles running service during my career. I like the high-up---upright seating position and the viability afforded by the Forester. It's what I'm most used to and comfortable with. The turbo is, to me, an unnecessary and potentially costly "toy". The Forester will more than adequately handle passing and getting up to highway speeds. Most of the "reviewers" have yet to grow up. And never will. "More power" is their mantra, needed or not. It seems that ALL--bar none are teenage boys at heart regardless their chronological age. Adults tend to the objective rather than the subjective. Reviewers tend tot do the opposite.

Lynnell Marshall (not verified)    March 12, 2021 - 10:47AM

I have a 2016 2.0XT touring Edition which i purchased new after driving a 2007 Outback Legacy Ltd. 4 cyl. I LOVE the speed and handling of my Forester. I miss the 6 CD player in my Outback and the fact that it warms up substantially faster in the winter. BUT the engine caught fire because a piece of engine had a catastrophic failure resulting in hole in engine block which caught the engine on fire at 92,000 miles. Luckily some nice people stop to help my daughter by putting out the fire and insurance won't cover engine defects and Subaru did nothing about. Too bad the good Samaritans didn't let it burn. Its currently a lawn ornament. Where the love here? I don't feel it. Anyway, I was looking to buy another Forester then I see no turbo in Forester. NICE JOB SUBARU!!! Now I'm definately going to have to look a different make/model vehicle. Atta way to fix it when it ain't broke and brush one off that is broke and was defective. One more suggestion I would like to make. Get rid of eyesight, if I needed a copilot, I'd fly a plane. Its pure annoyance on steroids. FORTUNATELY, my year doesn't have it. A rental i was issued did have it and I actively looking for a bridge to drive off prior to my arrival at my destination.. But my Forester is da bomb hopefully it lasts longer than my Outback did.

Rick Ward (not verified)    March 12, 2021 - 12:16PM

so if I am not going to tow and if I don't want a Turbo Charger (the engine is too new to evaluate longevity and or potential mechanical issues vs the tried and proven 2.5 boxer) and if I don't care if the Outback is "longer" then the decision for me is easy Forrester......old guy/old wife and old dog The Gump Forrester Work For Me

Nelson Ricardo (not verified)    March 12, 2021 - 2:24PM

Outback is king. Yes, the touch screen is a bit of a turn of as it's laggy and has a lot of redundancies but the most necessary buttons like volume and AC temp control have physical knobs so I'm cool with that. But I don't think that's the most annoying feature. To me is all the features that I have to turn off for me to drive how I want, like the lane departure, collision brake, auto start/stop, and assistive handling. Dont get me wrong, there are times that all those have helped, but I would like to choose them and turn them on depending on the roads I'm driving, not have it imposed by Subaru. NOW THE GOOD PART: The handling is fantastic, it drives definitely european, snappy, quick, responsive and it does what you want, reminds me of a Peugeot. It has decent power for what I need, has a decent oomph but sometimes has a deadzone on the early gears that you have to get used to. In this car, I can take my dogs and don't be afraid since it has plastic covers in the back and the seats have a cool fake leather that's easy to clean. The look of this car is the highlight, I've never received so many compliments on any car I had, this car looks badass, in olive green and black rims ( onyx xt ). It's great for road trips and camping because of the space and good mpg. Overall great car and I wouldn't change it for a forester.

Brian Cullen (not verified)    March 14, 2021 - 5:52PM

I think the three reasons to choose the outback are good ones but they are also highly subjective. We all want to feel like we are driving a alfa Romeo but the reality is that this is not really achievable even in an outback.
I think the biggest difference is actually the price and the better visibility of the Forrester but that is just my preference (to get the best value and the best visibility whilst driving safely).