On the left we have the definitive softroader, and on the right we have the car nobody considers. 

You’re looking for a vehicle to support your outdoors life.  Maybe you’re a hiker, photographer, camper or rogainer.  You don’t want a full-on 4WD, you’re not much into cars but you do want a reliable vehicle that will support your lifestyle, eat up dirt roads and handle a bit of rough.  
We’ve got an article on just that sort of choice in general here, but this one is about two specific vehicles.  Both of them will fit the bill, but in different ways.
The Outlander XLS diesel can take 7 seats, but the lower-spec ones are cheaper and only five.  If you are the sort of person described in the opening words, then ignore the 2WD versions which are really city use only. Also be aware the Outlanders are really a 5+2, which is car slang for 2 small people.   The Forester diesel is a five-seater only, so your decision may already be made.  
The Outlander has a better interior seating arrangement in the second row with seats that fold away to provide more space than the Forester.  The Subaru has the more modern interior design, and more gadgets such as a better infotainment unit.  By comparison the Outlander looks dated.
The Outlander is larger than the Forester – 100mm longer and 20mm wider, although it is a bit shorter.   That translates into more interior space, particuarly in the cargo area.
Dynamically, the Forester is no sportscar (in diesel auto guise), but it is a much superior drive car to the Outlander which is safe, but rather slow and stodgy on the tarseal.  Moving on to dirt roads and both are superb.  The Outlander is even better than the Forester at soaking up bumps, but the Forester is the more accurate and involving drive.  The Subie has the advantage of full-time all wheel drive, whereas the Outlander is on-demand, although in this case the difference is small, as the Outlander’s on-demand system is effective.  Subarus are the benchmark for onroad and dirt-road grip.
Offroad, and both are good for their class and close in capability.   The Forester has Subaru’s X-Mode, but the Outlander has a very good 4WD system – unusual for an on-demand system – and bountiful power at very low speeds considering it has no low range, better than the Subie.   Going uphill and across ruts I’d give the win to the Outlander, but the Subaru fights back when it comes to hill descents thanks to its excellent electronic descent system that is effective on steep slippery inclines, where the Outlander requires a high degree skill and bravery because it lacks low range or any electronic assistance.  The Subie also has better ground clearance (220 vs 190mm) and that’s very important, as it is smaller dimensions – interestingly weight is the same.
On the touring front – both have full-sized spares and 60L fuel tanks, but the Outlander uses less fuel and has front recovery points so again while excellent, it noses ahead of the Subaru.  Official figures are 6.2 Outlander and 6.4 Forester, on test we found the Outlander to be closer to 7-9 and Forester 8-10.  I also like the way the Outlander’s spare can be accessed without unloading the back of the car, whereas the Subaru’s spare requires everything to be dumped out the back.  The Forester can tow 1800kg, the Outlander 2000kg but I wouldn’t go up to the maximum on either.


Two excellent vehicles and you can’t go wrong with either if you want a capable recreational SUV.  But I have to pick and winner and in this case I’d find it hard to go past the Outlander on the basis of interior room, economy and offroad abiity – unless you really prefer the higher-speed driving dynamics and interior design of the Forester.

Fair’s fair, we ran them over the same ground!

2015 subaru forester diesel 2.0D-S cvt

PRICE :  $41,490  (+ORC) WARRANTY : 3 years / UNLIMITED km SAFETY :  5 star (35.64 / 37, tested in 2015) ENGINE : four-cylinder 2.0-Litre diesel turbo BOXER POWER : 108kW at 3600rpm TORQUE : 350Nm at 1600-2400rpm 0-100km/h :  9.9 seconds TRANSMISSION : cvt with 7-speed automatic, paddle shifts, viscous centre diff with limited-slip DRIVE :  all wheel drive with X-mode offroad system GROUND CLEARANCE : 220mm BODY :   4595 mm (L);  1795 mm (W),  1735 mm (H) TURNING CIRCLE :  10.6 m WEIGHT :  1633 kg SEATS: 5 TOWING : 750 kg unbraked,  1800 kg braked, max TBM 180kg FUEL TANK : 60 litres SPARE : full-size alloy THIRST : 6.4 L/100km ADR81/02 combined cycle FUEL : diesel

2015 Outlander XLS Diesel Automatic

PRICE :  $39,490  (+ORC) Metallic/pearlescent paint + $550 WARRANTY : 5 years / 100,000 km SAFETY : 5 star (35.58 / 37, tested in 2015)  ENGINE : 2.2 diesel POWER : 110 kW at 3500 rpm TORQUE : 360 Nm at 1500-2750 rpm TRANSMISSION : 6-speed automatic with paddleshifts DRIVE :  On-demand 4WD GROUND CLEARANCE : 190 mm BODY :   4695 mm (L);  1810 mm (W),  1680 mm (H) TURNING CIRCLE :  10.6 m WEIGHT :  1630 kg SEATS: 7 TOWING : 2000 kg unbraked, 750g braked, max TBM 200 kg FUEL TANK : 60 litres SPARE : Full-sized alloy underslung THIRST : 6.2 L/100km ADR81/02 combined cycle FUEL : diesel

Also consider

A generic softroader article can be found here.   We have also a comparison of the Outback vs Forester, and Outback vs WRX vs Legacy.  If you want a sporty wagon then there’s the Forester XT, and the forthcoming Levorg – while that’s a roadcar, it’s a Subaru so it will handle dirt roads, as indeed does the WRX and WRX STi.
Hyundai’s Santa Fe is another option. Compared to Outlander and Forester it is well behind on offroad capability, although by no means the worst in class (there’s some real shockers).  It is better finished and designed vehicle than either of the Japanese vehicles compared above, dynamically somewhere between Outlander and Forester, and in top-spec models has the most luxury features.


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  1. I love My Subbie, I have never had a difficult time on off road terrain. I actually had a Outback 09 model and then went to the Forrester 12 model because the seating position and shorter wheel base, especially important where i live. I have seen the 10 Mitsi outlander model which I almost bought but had issues with seating comfort and rear seat size…..but apart from that they are almost the same car

    1. In my experience ,the extra ground clearance the Forester has (220-190 mm) is the stand-out point when venturing off road . It was a big selling point for me – as I can follow in a Prado’s wheel tracks across sand without any problems .
      With softer suspension , the Outlander’s more likely to scrape its belly . And this alone will slow and/or limit its progress on bush tracks before anything else .
      The Forester’s Hill Descent Control is another important advantage – drivers will certainly appreciate it when going down greasy clay hills …..

      I would have thought these two important advantages would have made the Forester the better , safer all rounder when going off road ?

      1. It depends on the terrain. The Outlander does better on steep hill ascents, the Subaru better on any descent. In sand the Forester has its handling and clearance, the Outlander less of a tendency to run out of power or a CVT to overheat although I don’t know how the centre coupling would go. We had to rest the Subaru’s CVT when on test, didn’t need to rest the Outlander. The softer suspension on the Outlander can be an advantage too, better able to keep four wheels on the ground.

        It would be unfair to call one better than the other without specifying the terrain.

        1. @Robert – any thoughts re the relative seat comfort? I find the Forester leather seats a bit too small and flat, and no lumbar support. The Outlander that I sat in had firmer seats (a bit too hard?) and felt more like you were sitting “on”, rather than in the seats. I get a sore lower back in many cars and this is a big issue for me when choosing a new car. I would love a Discovery Sport but don’t trust them on a big trip, and can’t afford any nasty surprises financially. They are very comfy though!

          1. Craig no, because seat comfort is very much a personal preference unless the seats are so obviously bad nobody likes them, or so very good everybody prasies them (and even then, there’s outliers…particuarly the people who pay attention to seats). Therefore I remain silent on this topic rather than give advice which may not suit an invidiual.

  2. Outdoorsy people should buy a Land Rover Discovery Sport … significantly better then either of these two.

    1. Hi George, different type of vehicle, but the Disco Sport isn’t ‘significantly’ better. The other two will match it for on-road performance and interior comfort, indeed both the Forester and Outlander rear seats are better for parents with young children; much easier to fit child seats and for the kids themselves to climb up.
      Also, the plastic cladding at the bottom of the Disco Sport’s door which is prone to being ripped off when the door gets caught on a high grassy verge.
      Both vehicles are also cheaper than the Disco Sport.
      So, it’s horse for courses…

  3. When a outdoorsy ends up in an out lander…..he knows it very well he is not stuck on to the same old page……he has persevered to get rid of the yesterdays junk and planned an unplanned journey to the unknown…..where speed didn’t matter off roads…….what mattered the most is absorb the shock and feel the thrill….oh that strange feeling of that pumped up adrenaline…..wont allow you to escape life but grasp on to the moments so that the life could escape the fun of riding a Mitsubishi Outlander!!!!

  4. Hi I spent the last month reviewing both vehicles Im waiting for a test Forester to arrive so I can have it for a day. I drove the outlander and found it good on rough roads and fine on motorways for the long term I will be driving mostly on road’s its a toss up between the 2 . Which one would be better suited to road work predominantly?

    1. For cruising, either will work fine. For faster work and on twisty roads, the Forester has superior dynamics but you won’t notice if you cruise around well under the speed limit.

  5. did you ever get to review the last of the Subaru duel range ones I beleive it was the 2008-2010 vintage how do you think they new ones without low range fair against the older 2008 model?

    1. Hi Tim, no I didn’t. However, I would say the newer models would be better in most circumstances as they have better traction control and more power. However, the dual range ones (a sort of low range) were manuals if I remember correctly, and unlikely to be power-limited in tough conditions like the new autos.

      1. A very popular modification for Duel range foresters is to change the 1.19 to either the 2001 one of 1:44 or even the old school L series (Leone 4WD wagon one) 1.59. That particular modification I would think would deliver amasing performance offroad.

          1. yeah it is noticeable the difference from the older to the newer that being said the low range even in the SH is still worth having I do notice it climbing hills and still going down them the difference feels like low first in the SH is like low 2nd in my SF.

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