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Forester vs Outback: Which SUV/Wagon Belongs in Your Garage?

The 2017 Subaru Forester and Outback are number one and two in sales in the Japanese automaker’s lineup. Which belongs in your garage?

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The number one question Subaru dealers get is, what’s the difference between the 2017 Forester and the 2017 Outback? If you are looking for a multi-purpose vehicle which one is best for you? Most consumers do their research online before they get to the dealer. Here’s a complete rundown of both, and you can decide which SUV/Crossover fits your needs best. Let’s check em out.

Ride quality

Outback has the longer wheelbase (the distance between the axles is four inches longer than the Forester). Lengthening the distance between the axles provides a smoother ride in the Outback because the vehicle platform covers more square area and therefore bumps are less noticeable.

Ground clearance

Both vehicles have 8.7 inches of ground clearance. This is important if you are taking your vehicle off-road or into the back country. Both will elude obstacles that will destroy other small SUVs.

Outward visibility

Both vehicles have a "commanding driving position" allowing you to see over traffic in front of you. Forester and Outback were ranked #1 and #3 for best outward visibility among all vehicles. You can check out the report here.

Total people space

Outback is considerably larger inside.108.1 cubic ft vs 103.3 cu. ft. Outback is almost two inches wider. Outback is over eight inches longer. Forester is two inches taller.

Cargo and dog space

Subaru says, more than half of Subaru drivers are also pet owners. A large dog can stand up better in Forester because it's a little taller. But will be able to lounge better in the Outback because it's longer. We think most large dogs prefer to stand up and look out. Advantage Forester.

Many Subaru owners use their vehicle to get away from civilization to go mountain biking. Two adult mountain bikes fit easily inside the Outback, flat with the wheels on. They would fit in a Forester, too, but would require tilting the front wheels or removing them.

Rooftop cargo solutions

You can also carry those mountain bikes on top of a Subaru Outback and Forester. Except on Touring model, Outback offers standard roof rails (bars run front to back) and also integrated crossbars (bars run side to side). Roof rails are standard on all Foresters except base model. Crossbars are optional on all Forester models.

Towing Capacity

Many owners are looking for a vehicle that will tow a small camper, boat or multi-purpose trailer. Forester can tow a small utility trailer, but for a sailboat you'll need the Outback. The Subaru Outback has a 2,700 lb. rating with six preset gear ranges (3,000 lb. with optional 3.6-liter engine). The Forester has a 1,500 lb. tow rating with two preset gear ranges. More on Page 2.

Engines and fuel economy

Both Forester and Outback come standard with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder powerplant. Both produce 170 horsepower. Both will run on regular unleaded gasoline. Outback gets 25/32 city/highway mpg, features a larger 18.5 gallon tank, and will travel 591 miles. The Forester gets an EPA estimated 26/32 mpg and has a 15.9 gallon tank with a 508 mile range.

Outback has an optional 3.6-liter six cylinder engine producing 256 hp. It comes mated to a high-torque Lineartronic Continuously Variable automatic transmission. It gets 20/27 city/highway mpg. Forester features an optional 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder engine producing 250hp. It comes mated with a high-torque Lineartronic Continuously Variable Transmission. It gets 23/28 city/highway mpg.


The 2017 Subaru Forester has a starting MSRP of $22,595*. The 2017 Subaru Outback starts at $25,645 (*not including destination $875). Go online here and build your car to get a better idea of the features and option packages.

Source: Subaru

Photo: Planet Subaru

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Jim Sheets (not verified)    October 11, 2016 - 3:38PM

We bought a top of the line Outback for a 7000 mile road trip. Terrific car.
The down side is the brand X GPS suite. It is wholly unreliable and often down right dangerous.
The voice command function is worse than useless. Why they didn't put Car Play in this wonderful car is beyond me. The problem is that to get the "loaded" model you have to pay for the lousy GPS and voice
add on. Don't toss your TomTom. Use your iPhone. Forget the installed GPS.

Steve Bailey (not verified)    January 2, 2017 - 7:03PM

I've owned now 2 Outbacks and 2 Foresters. I did not test drive the '17 Forester but put 50,000 on an '11 before trading to a '17 Outback Premium. I find the ride of the OB much more refined as well as offering a greater level of amenities at only a slightly greater price. Given that the EPA mileage is about the same and that the OB has more internal cargo room, it was an easy choice to go to the Outback. One issue I would deal with with camping gear, lots of luggage, etc... is the Forester has about 6" less length in the back, rear door to rear seats. That requires you to load "high" as it were, somewhat obscuring the view out the back window. This the cargo room in the OB is more useful (to me) theh what I experienced on the Forester. Nice cars both, but the OB can be a better choice.

Richard K Flitcraft (not verified)    July 16, 2017 - 9:33PM

I test drove the 2017 Forester and 2017 Outback today. Been looking at Subaru's for a few months now - Forester # 1 had the 2.0i turbo (peppy when the turbo kicks in), Forester # 2 (peppier than the 2.0) had the 2.5i four cylinder. The Outback had the 3.6R V6 engine. All three are nice, but the Outback has a smoother ride, the V6 is smooth and powerful, and the Touring model is top drawer. I love the fact that the engines in all of these are set front to back, and low in the chassis, with symmetrical AWD. The Outback looks sleeker and sportier and is not "stubby" like the Forester. With the V6, the cabin in the Outback will warm up and cool down quicker, plus what is offered seems to be a longer list of accessories. The Outback is a heavier car and feels really, really solid, and with the available V6, it moves without any delay at all. Pretty sure a 2018 Outback Touring model will find its way in my garage next year.

thillegass (not verified)    November 12, 2017 - 3:49PM

In reply to by Richard K Flitcraft (not verified)

The Outback's 3.6R engine is a flat six (or H6), not a V6. And you should really try the Outback with the 2.5i engine...plenty of power for most people and it gets about 5-6 mpg better mileage than the 3.6R engine.

Greg J (not verified)    November 28, 2017 - 7:33AM

In reply to by thillegass (not verified)

Yes, but will you be kicking yourself in the pants later when you'd wished you bought the larger engine.
Is it an annoyance to pass someone on the highway or 2-lane farm road, with the smaller 2.5i?

Vahe K. (not verified)    May 28, 2018 - 1:15PM

My question is this:
How many inches tall seats a person ( measured from ground to top of the head ) in Subaru Outback compared to Subaru Forester.