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New Subaru Forester Vs 2021 Ascent - Why The Smaller Forester Hits The Sweet Spot

Should I buy the 2020 Subaru Forester or the 2021 Subaru Ascent? See why the Forester hits the sweet spot for a majority of SUV shoppers.


Subaru offers two SUVs for customers, the 2020 Forester and 2021 Ascent, but which one is the best for SUV shoppers? The two models are designed for very different buyers. The 2020 Subaru Forester is a compact SUV, the 2021 Ascent is a mid-size SUV with three rows of seats.

There is more to the Ascent than the additional seating capability and you may not need to spend the extra money to get the added features. Subaru built the Ascent for growing families who need three rows of seats, cargo room, and extra power. The 2020 Forester is designed for a wider audience of customers who aren’t hauling a large number of people around.

2020 Subaru Forester, 2021 Subaru Ascent

With the Ascent, you’ll get standard or optional equipment not offered on Forester, such as a front view camera, a turbocharged engine, and nineteen cupholders. Ascent is over four inches wider, fifteen inches longer, and almost three inches taller than Forester. The Ascent also carries a bigger price tag of about $8,000 more than Forester.

The biggest advantage of the Ascent is the SUV has more power and room for hauling people and cargo. It comes with a 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 260 horsepower versus the Forester’s 2.5-liter normally aspirated four-cylinder engine producing 182 horsepower.

2020 Subaru Forester, 2021 Subaru Ascent

The towing capacity in the Ascent is 5,000 lbs versus 1,500 lbs for the Forester. But with the larger more powerful Ascent, you will burn more fuel.

The Forester gets significantly better fuel mileage coming in at 26/33 city/highway mpg and the Ascent gets an EPA estimated 20/26 city/highway mpg. Both run on regular unleaded fuel so you don’t need the higher grade premium fuel. The Ascent will travel 501 miles on a tank of fuel, Forester will go 547 miles between fill-ups.

In driving dynamics, both come standard with all-wheel-drive for all-weather capability, with a higher ride height for better outward visibility. The Ascent with the longer wheelbase has a smoother ride, while Forester is going to be more agile in the corners.

The 2020 Subaru Forester is the brand’s best selling model delivering 85,860 to customers through June versus 31,397 Ascent models. If you don’t need the extra seats, cargo capacity or towing capability, the Forester compact SUV is the better value and hits the sweet spot for a larger number of SUV shoppers.

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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 and the founder of 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 USA, Planet Subaru


jg (not verified)    July 11, 2020 - 10:34PM

In reply to by nigel (not verified)

You should investigate the side effects of turbocharging and Direct Injection, like LSPI and intake cleaning requirements before salivating over turbo-only engines.

And despite the blanket dismissal of the 2019+ Forester, you should drive it before you criticize it — otherwise there’s no basis for your reported facts. Not that it replaces a turbo (I had an XT), models with the SI drive can dump extra gas in the engine for better performance, and there’s no turbo lag. There’s also a TON better gas mileage than the XT, which was my primary reason for getting rid of it.

Samantha Jackson (not verified)    March 5, 2021 - 2:50PM

I currently drive a Forester but am considering trading that in for the Ascent. It's the extra passenger and cargo space that I believe would make our family more comfortable for road trips. Something I need to find out before I take this any further is the width of the Ascent from mirror to mirror. I have a 2 car garage but it has two double doors, not a single large door. I am concerned about a tight fit trying to park the Ascent in the garage. When you say 4 inches wider on the Ascent over the Forster, is that mirror to mirror or driver's side door to passenger side door?