Ride Quality: 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. Where the Forester has a SUV-style suspension, the axles are closer together. This gives the Outback an advantage, if a smoother ride is what you're looking for. But don't think that the Forester has a harsh ride; in fact, it rides much better than its small sport utility competitors. There have been many improvements in ride quality and interior comfort in the 2014 Forester. The interior has richer materials, more insulation, less road noise, upgraded tech, and available reclining rear seats and is a great improvement over the previous generation Forester. The differences in ride quality between a 2013 Forester and the new 2014 Forester are like night and day. Folks who have had Foresters previously will be pleasantly surprised by the quieter interior when they go for a ride in the new Forester.
Dimensions: The Outback is about nine inches longer and one inch wider. The Forester is two inches taller. When comparing maximum cargo volume, for example, if you were to put ping pong balls in both cars, you would have slightly more ping pong balls fitting into the Outback, with 71.3 cubic feet, unless you get the new Forester without a moonroof, which allows for 74.7 cubic feet. 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. Have just one or two small children riding in car seats? The new Forester has a fold down center armrest with cup holders placed at a child's arm height. Plus, there is a heavy duty interior step inside the rear doors to allow kids to climb into the back seat with ease. 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. If you are short, or have difficulty getting in or out of low vehicles, the Forester may be best.
Price: Comparably equipped, the Outback is about $1500 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.) Comparing the MSRP of a 2.5i Premium of each model gives the Forester a $1000 advantage. If you want the cream of the crop fully loaded model with all the bells and whistles, a 3.6R Limited Outback has an MSRP of about $32,095, while the 2.0XT Touring Forester has a MSRP of $32,995. (Optional features and accessories are available for each at an additional charge.)
Ride Height: 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.
Image: 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" or "sportier". You can use either Subaru model to ferry your family, pets, kayaks, bikes, or even fill the cargo space with mulch for the garden! Both models come with the cargo tray and cargo cover, so no nosy peepers can see all the crowned jewels/dog food/garden mulch you drive around with in your vehicle. Staff opinion is equally divided on the matter, which, ultimately, is just one of personal taste.
Transmission: Transmission differences between the Forester and Outback: The Forester now has Subaru Lineartronic CVT, which the Outback has had since 2010. 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 updated transmission gives the Forester a slight advantage in fuel economy. The Forester also has a turbocharged version capable of achieving 23 mpg city/ 25 mpg highway. The Outback has a fully synchronized 6-speed manual transmission available for it's 2.5i base and 2.5i Premium models, and Lineartronic CVT with 6-speed manual mode and paddle shifters as an optional feature of the 2.5i and 2.5i Premium models and standard on the 2.5i Limited. The 3.6R Outback is available in only a 5-speed automatic with manual mode, paddle shifters, and downshift rev-matching control. The 2014 Forester 2.5i base and 2.5i Premium have a fully synchronized 6-speed manual transmission with Incline Start Assist. Lineartronic CVT with Incline Start Assist and manual mode is available for 2.0XT Forester models, optional on 2.5i base and 2.5i Premium, and Standard on 2.5i Limited, 2.5i Touring, 2.0XT Premium, and 2.0XT Touring Forester models.
Both the 2.5i Outback and 2.5i Forester have the same powerful 2.5-liter DOHC aluminum-alloy 16-valve horizontally opposed SUBARU BOXER engine with Active Valve Control System.
The 3.6R Outback has a 3.6-liter DOHC aluminum-alloy 24-valve 6-cylinder horizontally opposed SUBARU BOXER engine with Dual Active Valve Control System.
The 2.0XT Forester has a 2.0-liter DOHC intercooled, turbocharged aluminum-alloy 16 valve 4-cylinder horizontally opposed SUBARU BOXER engine with Dual Active Valve Control System.
In terms of engine power and torque, the 2.5i Liter Forester has 170 hp @ 5800 rpm and 174 lb.-ft. torque @ 4100 rpm. The 2.0XT Forester has 250 hp @ 5600 rpm and 258 lb.-ft. torque @ 2000-4800 rpm.
On the other hand, the 2.5i Outback has 173 hp @ 5600 rpm and 174 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4100 rpm, while the 3.6R Outback has a powerful 256 hp @ 6000 rpm and 247 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4400 rpm.
With the standard 2.5 liter engine and CVT, the Outback is EPA rated for 24mpg city/30 mpg highway. The 3.6R Outback is EPA rated for 18 mpg city/ 25 mpg highway.
With the 2.5i Forester manual, it is EPA rated for 22 city/ 29 mpg highway. The 2.5i Forester with CVT is EPA rated for 24 mpg city/ 32 mpg highway, and the 2.0XT Forester has an EPA rating of 23 mpg city/ 28 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. Unleaded gasoline with minimum 87 octane recommended for all Outback models and 2.5i Forester models. Although premium gasoline (91 octane) is recommended, and 93 octane recommended for maximum performance, if you use regular unleaded gasoline with 87 octane, no harm will come to your turbocharged Forester, it just won't achieve maximum performance. The 2014 Forester has a 15.9 gallon fuel tank, while the 2013 Outback holds 18.9 gallons.
Towing Capacity: If you have heavy things you tow around, opt for the Outback. The 2.5i Outback has a maximum towing capacity of 2,700 lbs, while the 3.6R Outback can haul 3,000 lbs. The 2014 Forester has a maximum towing capacity of 1,500 lbs.
Both Outback and Forester models come equipped with several Active and Passive Safety Features.
For Active Safety Features, Both have Subaru Symmetrical All Wheel Drive (AWD), Subaru Boxer Engine, 4-wheel anti-lock brakes (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist, Brake Override System, Vehicle Dynamics Control, Traction Control, Tire Pressure Monitoring System, and Daytime Running Lights.
Both Outback and Forester have these Passive Safety Features: Driver and front passenger front airbags (SRs), Subaru advanced frontal airbag system, side-curtain airbags protecting front and rear outboard occupants (SRS), seat-mounted front side-impact airbags (SRS), height-adjustable front seat head restraints, height-adjustable 3-point front seat belts with pretensioners and force limiters, 3-point rear seat belts at all seating positions, rear child-safety door locks, LATCH system: Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren, rollover sensors, and three individual rear seat head restraints.
Features unique to the Forester are the Driver's side knee airbag (SRS), and Whiplash-protection front seats.
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), and the 2014 Subaru Forester was just named a Top Safety Pick+ and was the only small SUV to ace the IIHS Small Overlap Crash Test! 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!