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Foresters and Outbacks have many differences in terms of ride quality, dimensions, price, ride height, image perception, transmission options, engine size, and fuel economy.
In terms of ride quality, the Outback has a longer wheelbase (distance between the axles is 5 inches longer than the Forester). Think of a stretch limousine…lengthening the distance between the axles provides a smoother ride because the vehicle platform covers more square area and therefore bumps are less noticeable. But don't think that the Forester has a harsh ride; in fact, it rides much better than its small sport utility competitors. It's just that the Outback is even smoother.
The Outback is nine inches longer and two inches wider. The Forester is three inches taller. Total interior space is about the same for both vehicles. (i.e. you could put the same number of ping pong balls in both cars.) Have big kids? Go for the Outback and its larger backseat. Have a big dog? Go for the Forester because the rear door on the Forester is more erect and there is more height for your pooch to stand up. Cyclists tend to prefer the Outback, as the extra length makes it easy to throw a couple of bikes in the back without even removing the wheels. If you travel long distances frequently and you're tall, you'll prefer an Outback.
Price Comparisons: Comparably equipped, the Outback is about $2500 more than the Forester. The difference buys you a slightly bigger car, with more standard equipment, and even higher quality materials (such as carpeting and interior surface finishes.)
In regards to ride height, you will sit slightly higher in a Forester, but Subaru engineers designed both vehicles with a "command driving position" (the auto industry term that describes that great feeling of sitting high in a vehicle so you can see what's ahead.) Because of the SUBARU BOXER engine design, the center of mass in the vehicle sits quite low so both vehicles handle quite nimbly and are very unlikely to roll over. Ground clearance is the same, at almost 9 inches, so both vehicles elude obstacles that grab mere mortal vehicles.
Overall image is a determining factor for Subaru shoppers. Many guests will tell us that the Outback looks more like a station wagon and the Forester looks more like a sport utility vehicle, and therefore the Forester is "cooler". Staff opinion is equally divided on the matter, which, ultimately, is just one of personal taste.
Transmission differences between the Forester and Outback: The Forester uses a 4-speed automatic transmission. Beginning with the 2010 model year, the 4-cylinder Outback uses a continuously variable transmission (CVT) which has no gears. In very simple terms, it's a fantastically durable steel belt that moves along a cone…the fatter part of the cone for speed, the narrower part for power. The transmission gives the Outback a two mile per gallon advantage in fuel economy, even though it is slightly heavier. (The 2014 Forester, yet to be revealed in the U.S., will most likely have a CVT transmission to improve fuel economy.) For manual transmission vehicles, the Outback uses a six speed manual transmission; the Forester uses a five speed.
Engine differences: The standard engine in both vehicles is the same potent 2.5 liter four cylinder BOXER engine with 170 horsepower. A 3.6 liter engine is available in the Outback with a five speed automatic transmission, and a turbocharged 2.5 liter engine is available in the Forester with a 4-speed automatic transmission.
The fuel economy difference: With the standard 2.5 liter engine and CVT, the Outback is EPA rated for 22mpg city/29 mpg highway. With the standard 2.5 liter engine and four speed automatic, the Forester gets 21mpg city/27 mpg highway. There are many factors that play into fuel economy, such as city vs highway driving, paved vs dirt roads, and personal driving habits.
Either vehicle makes a good choice for Northern climates, as they handle snow, sleet and ice with equal ability, thanks to Subaru Symmetrical All Wheel Drive. Both vehicles are Top Safety Picks according to IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) Hopefully the explanations above help you in your decision, one that ultimately comes down to your travel needs, space requirements, and personal taste. Safe travels and many happy miles with your Subaru!
This question was recently posted on Quora.com. For more information and other questions, visit: http://www.quora.com/Subaru/Whats-your-experience-driving-a-Subaru-Outback-or-Forester-Why-should-I-get-one-over-the-other