I recently went into a Subaru dealership to buy a 2015 Subaru Forester. I currently live in Colorado, and may move back to Alaska, so it’s important to me to have an all-wheel drive vehicle for either winter experience. Although I went into the dealership to buy a Forester, I ended up buying an Outback. As a result of that experience I thought I’d share what I learned about the two Subarus.
The obvious difference between the two vehicles is that the Forester is a small SUV, while the Outback is more of a station wagon, though some people say it looks like a smaller SUV. I went into the dealership to buy a Forester because my current car is (was) a 2006 Toyota RAV4, and I wanted another SUV style vehicle. But, in my opinion, I think the Forester body design/style is dated. From a purely design standpoint, I think my RAV4 looks much nicer than the Forester. This became further apparent to me when I saw a Forester parked next to an Outback.
The Forester interior is very plain. My old RAV4 looks much more finished, and the Outback interior is much nicer than both of those vehicles. The Outback interior is nicer, more modern, and more finished than the Forester. I’m not sure, but it seems like Subaru has put a lot of design money into the Outback, and very little into the Forester.
I took two test drives of the Forester, and found the ride to be rough and bumpy, like I’d expect with a Jeep. By contrast, my RAV4 had a much smoother ride, and the Outback has a nicer ride than either the Forester or the RAV4. (I also took a test drive of a Honda CR-V, and the Outback ride is comparable to the CR-V.)
I thought the Forester would be larger than the Outback, and it does indeed have more headroom than the Outback. But the numbers aren’t that different. The Outback has 108.1 cubic feet of passenger volume and 35.5 cubic feet of cargo volume, while the Forester comes in at 108.3 and 34.4 Despite the Forester being a taller vehicle with more headroom, I think the numbers work out this way because the Outback is a little wider and longer than the Forester.
Engine and gas mileage
The base engines in both vehicles are the same. Neither one is fast, but they get the job done. The Forester is estimated to get 32/24 mpg, and the Outback is estimated to get 33/25 mpg.
All wheel drive
My understanding is that both vehicles have the same all wheel drive (AWD) systems, but the Outback also has an additional XMODE that can be used for climbing and descending dirt/gravel roads. I think that’s an option on the Forester.
Weight and towing
The Outback feels like a much heaver vehicle, but a little research shows that the 2014 Outback had a weight of 3,423 pounds, which is only slightly greater than the 3,296 pounds of the Forester.
There is a huge difference in the towing capacity though: Edmunds shows the 2014 Outback has a towing capacity of 2,700 pounds, which is much higher than the 1,500 towing capacity of the Forester.
The Outback is about $2,000 more expensive than the Forester for each model level. (Subaru refers to their model/pricing levels as Standard, Premium, and Limited.)
Since I had the RAV4 for eight years, I decided that it was worth an additional $2,000 to have what I thought was a nicer vehicle for hopefully the next 8+ years.
The biggest issues with the Forester for me was the significantly rougher ride. Several times a year I make very long road trips, and I think my bodily organs would all be arranged after a 10-15 hour drive in the Forester. The body styling/design was another significant drawback for me; I didn’t like the idea of buying a car whose design looked older than my 2006 RAV4.