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The 8 Most Reliable 3-Year-Old SUVs, The Popular Subaru Forester Is It Best?

Consumer Reports says the 2021 Subaru Forester hits the used-car sweet spot. What does it mean for new SUV shoppers, and why does Consumer Reports pick the Forester as one of the best?

In The Sweet Spot

The 2021 Subaru Forester should be on your used SUV shopping list. Why? Because it hits the "sweet spot" according to an updated Consumer Reports (by subscription) ranking of the best 3-year-old small SUVs

CR says the sweet spot is when a vehicle "Is just coming off lease and has low miles, and because the lessor had to keep the car in good condition. So the 2021 Forester is likely to have been maintained properly, and the interior was treated well."

CR ranks another Subaru model among the best.

Consumer Reports also says the 2021 Subaru Crosstrek is a top-used small SUV pick you should have on your radar. You can read my report on the Crosstrek here.

Forester Is the Most Reliable

Consumer Reports, a trusted source for car reliability, only recommends the most dependable 3-year-old cars and SUVs. The Forester, with its top ranking in CR's Annual Auto Surveys of its members, was identified as a top pick for used model shoppers. This should instill a sense of confidence in potential buyers, knowing they are considering a reliable vehicle. 

CR gives the 2021 Forester a reliability rating of 80/100. It's ranked # 3 of 16 in reliability among 2021 compact SUVs and has an owner satisfaction rating of 4/5. Read my Forester reliability report here

CR says, "We expect the 2021 Forester will be much more reliable than the average new car."

More Forester Details

  • 2021 Subaru Forester
  • Depending on the condition and trim level, you can expect to pay between $19,675 - $24,375. 
  • The owner reported MPG is 28 mpg.

CR says, "This popular small SUV delivers a combination of roomy interior, excellent visibility, commendable fuel economy, simple controls, comfortable ride, and responsive handling. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, combined with the CVT, yielded 28 mpg overall, which is among the best in class at the time for a nonhybrid." 

Fuel Efficiency

CR says the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is mated to a CVT and returned 28 mpg overall, which is excellent. Forester gets an EPA-estimated 26/33 city/highway mpg and 29 combined mpg

"But acceleration isn't exhilarating, and the engine's noise isn't the most pleasant. The cabin is roomy, with a particularly generous rear seat and very easy access. The controls are simple to use, including the infotainment system." 

Safety Tech

CR says, "While forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking were standard, both blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic warning were optional, so try to find a model built with those two features."

Consumer Reports does not mention the Forester's EyeSight driver-assist safety tech. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives it the highest Top Safety Pick+ award. Check out the recent scores in my report here.

What sets the Forester apart from other compact SUVs?

All 2021 Forester trims come standard with a 2.5-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine, Subaru's excellent Symmetrical all-wheel-drive system, X-Mode with hill-descent control, 8.7 inches of ground clearance, and EyeSight driver assist safety technology with advanced adaptive cruise control with lane centering.

The Forester Sport also featured dual-function X-Mode for increased capability off-road and in severe weather conditions. It's designed for deep snow, mud, ice, and deep sand. 

2021 Forester Model Guide

For used SUV shoppers, the 2021 Forester compact SUV comes in five trim levels. My 2021 pricing and model guide provides more information on each trim level.

  • Base trim 
  • Premium trim 
  • Sport with dual-function X-Mode
  • Limited
  • The top of the lineup Touring

What's new for 2021?

The popular Premium and Sport trims had the new steering-responsive LED headlights as standard equipment. In addition to getting steering-responsive LED headlights, 2021 Forester Premium and Sport trims get additional new upgrades used SUV shoppers will want. 

New for 2021, Premium trims came standard with keyless access, push-button start, and fog lights. The popular Sport trim added blind-spot detection with lane change assist and rear cross-traffic alert, which was optional on 2020 models.

New for 2021, the Limited added a 7-speed manual mode for the Lineartronic CVT automatic transmission.

CR's other mainstream (non-luxury) 2021 model year small SUV Top Picks are in alphabetical order.

  • Honda CR-V
  • Honda HR-V
  • Hyundai Tucson
  • Kia Sportage
  • Mazda CX-5
  • Subaru Crosstrek
  • Subaru Forester
  • Toyota RAV4

In conclusion

Why should you pick the Forester over the other six models? 

The Forester (and the Crosstrek) have additional upgrades that set it apart for active individuals who want to use their vehicle for more than a grocery hauler on the weekends. 

The Forester and Crosstrek stand out from the other models due to their unique features. They offer added all-wheel-drive settings for off-pavement capabilities, a feature that many active customers value. 

Subaru's excellent Symmetrical all-wheel-drive system and over fifty years of development experience ensure that these vehicles are designed to meet the needs of active individuals. This should pique the interest of potential buyers, especially those who are looking for a versatile SUV. 

We're interested to hear your thoughts. What do you like about the Forester over CR's other recommended models? Do you have any personal experiences or insights to share? Click the red Add New Comment link below and let us know. Your feedback is valuable to us and to other potential buyers."

I am Denis Flierl, a top Torque News reporter since 2012. I’ve invested over 13 years in the automotive industry in a consulting role, working with every major car brand. I am an experienced Rocky Mountain Automotive Press member. You'll find my expert Subaru analysis here. Follow me on my X SubaruReportAll Subaru, WRXSTI, @DenisFlierlFacebook, and Instagram.

Photo credit: Subaru


ER (not verified)    June 20, 2024 - 11:54AM

Not sure if that's your pricing or CR's that you are reporting for a 2021 Forester but it's way off. Your article says that, depending on condition/trim, a '21 Forester is between $19.6k and $24.3k. Just taking the Sport trim as an example and searching within 100 miles of metro Cleveland, regardless of condition/mileage, the cheapest Forester Sport available is $25.4k (above the highest point in your range) and the most expensive is $29k. Limited and Touring trims are well above the quoted range. You may want to clarify that the only trims that might fall in that range are the '21 Forester Base or Premium trims, otherwise you're way off.

Marta Calabrese (not verified)    June 22, 2024 - 10:23AM

I own my second Subaru Forester 2023 and gave my 2019 Forester to my brother. I love the big windows so I can easily see all around me. Only problem I have is that my short legs make it an effort to get in. Being 74 means I have to move slowly but once I am inside the car rides great.