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Which to choose: Subaru Outback or Subaru Forester?

The Subaru Forester and Outback are two of the most well-regarded softroaders on the market.  How do you choose?

Let’s start with what’s the same about the two.  Both have have “Subaru” written on them, so resale is going to be as good as it gets.  Both have Subaru’s excellent all wheel drive system – read the reviews on Forester and Outback for more details (links at bottom).  Both have, in most versions, Subaru’s X-Mode system, a CVT transmission and both are wagons.
 
The differences start with the sizes.   The Forester is 4595mm long, the Outback 220mm longer at 4815.  The Outback is wider – 1840 vs 1795, another 45mm. The Forester is however taller, 1735 to 1675, a difference of 60mm.   The Forester is lighter, even in diesel form at 1633kg, the petrol 3.6R Outback is 1702kg.
 
The exterior styling reflects the dimensions.  The Outback looks like what it is, a conventional station wagon raised a bit for light offroading.  The Forester looks far more SUV-ish, taller, boxier and smaller.
 
Simply, there’s more room in the Outback, and that’s reflected in the cargo space in the back.  It’s not quite the difference you’d think, thanks to the Forester’s extra height, but vertical room as not always as easy to use as horizontal room.  Both vehicles have a very spacious second row.
 
Inside, both cars have much the same switchgear, design and controls.  The infotainment unit is basically the same, but the version in the Outback 3.6R on test had a few more features.  In general, the Outback feels a bit better laid out and a touch more modern, and had some newer features like an electronic park brake.  Safety is 5 star for both.  One of our testers has found the satnav to be quite ordinary on both, and certainly it is no standout especially given that many owners will head off the beaten path.
 
On the blacktop both are a similar drive.  Neither could be called sporty, even if the 3.6R has Subaru’s SI-Drive car setup modes.  They’re both very comfortable, easy cars to drive which offer assured levels of grip on all surfaces.  The Forester has the better visibility and is a little smaller, so it’s easier around town.   Dirt roads are much the same, both class-leading excellent.
 
When it comes to offroad work the Subarus occupy an interesting, and rather lonely niche.  Well ahead of car-based softroaders, they are still some way behind low-range stalwarts like the Pajero, Grand Vitrara or Prado.  The Outback is very good for what it is, a raised wagon, but the Forester is better. That’s because the Forester has a little bit of extra clearance, much better approach angle, better ramp and departure angles.  It’s also lighter, smaller and more nimble.  In real terms, the Outback probably follow the Forester just about anywhere, but scrape more and require more skill or track building.
 
Both cars have full-sized alloy spares, and both have a 60L fuel tank.  Our testing team feels that is too small for the petrol Outback 3.6R, but starts to be reasonable if not great for the diesel Forester and would be more liveable in diesel Outbacks.  Towing is 1800kg braked for both (base model Forester only 1500kg).
 
If we look at comparative pricing we find the Forester runs from $29,990 to $47,990.  Outback starts from $35,990 and tops out at $47,990. 
 
Comparing two common specs – the diesel auto wagon Outback (not the Premium) is $37,490 and diesel auto wagon L (top-spec is the S) Forester is $35,490.  All prices are exclusive of dealer delivery, but even so there’s not vast amounts of difference.  There’s more difference within each model type if you look at changing models, transmissions or petrol to diesel.

Summary

Both Forester and Outback stand out as true touring softroaders that would be a sensible choice for even remote Australia, with their excellent all wheel drive system, general praticality and full-size spares.  The Outback is that little bit larger and roomier, slightly more modern inside, and a bit more expensive.  The Forester is the better offroader, more nimble around town, will go further on the smallish 60L tank and is the easier option to kit out for offroading.  There’s no important difference between the two when it comes to driving on dirt or bitumen.
 
In the end, the conclusion is in the end the obvious one based on size; choose the Forester as it’s cheaper and better offroad unless you need the space of the Outback, or prefer the Outback’s sytling, slightly better interior.
 
We also have an article on the WRX vs Liberty vs Outback.

2015 Subaru Outback 3.6R CVT

PRICE : $47,990  (+ORC); WARRANTY : 3 yearS / unlimited km; SAFETY :  5 STAR ; ENGINE : 3.6L petrol; POWER : 191 kW at 6000 rpm; TORQUE : 350 Nm at 4400rpm; 0-100km/h :  7.6 seconds;  TRANSMISSION : CVT with 6 virtual speeds and paddle shifts; DRIVE :  AWD; BODY :  4815mm (L);  1840mm (W),  1675mm (H); TURNING CIRCLE :  11m; GROUND CLEARANCE  : 213mm; WEIGHT :  1702 kg; SEATS: 5; TOWING : 750kg unbraked, 1800kg braked, max TBM 180kg; FUEL TANK : 60 litres; SPARE : Full-size alloy; THIRST : 9.9L/100km ADR81/02 combined cycle; FUEL : 91 RON

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

 


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Lance Holmes
Lance Holmes
5 years ago

One difference I have seen listed is that Forester has only a 1500 lb towing capacity while Outback is listed at 2700 lb.

Robert Pepper
5 years ago
Reply to  Lance Holmes

Hi Lance – in Australia both are rated at 1800kg braked with a couple of exceptions in the range such as the lowest spec Forester.

Ben S.
Ben S.
3 years ago
Reply to  Robert Pepper

Why do you think the towing capacity for the United States is lower than models rated in Australia? Does it have to do with liability concerns, or are models sold in Australia equipped better for towing? I have heard that the Foresters sold in Australia have self-adjusting suspension for towing – I live in the states and have a 2017 Forester and our towing capacity is 1500lbs…a tad disappointing.

madd
madd
5 years ago

Outback is 220mm longer.

Robert Pepper
5 years ago
Reply to  madd

Good pickup, fixed thanks

Christoph
Christoph
3 years ago

We bought the 2017 Outback, main reason – space and towing capacity. I also found the Outback just felt more comfortable and a better ride than the Forester. Test driving both, the forester felt like a tin box while the Outback felt quite luxurious. We bought the base model 2.5L and upgraded speaker system and infotainment display we didn’t find was worth it. The jump to 3.6L probably would be worth it but we wouldn’t be using all that extra power or gas so partially fuel consumption was on our minds as well. We also considered the Honda CRV all wheel drive but the Subaru actually had better fuel consumption and of course the superior all wheel drive system.

Christoph
Christoph
3 years ago
Reply to  Christoph

Just to clear up the choice, we did not go with the ugraded infotainment system and upgraded speaker system. We stuck to the base model.

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper