"What is the difference between the Forester and the Outback" is the most common question we hear at Stanley Subaru. Outback is Subaru's number one seller, and Forester number two.
Outback is a longer, more substantial vehicle--a "midsize crossover" where Forester is a "compact crossover." Outback looks and feels more like a wagon, Forester looks and feels more like a small sport utility vehicle. Comparably equipped, Outback is about $1,500 more. Many shorter drivers like the Forester's high perch; other drivers prefer the Outback's smoother ride and European handling.
Both won 2014 "Top Safety Pick Plus" awards from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Both also won Motor Trend's "Sport Utility of the Year" award in crowded fields. They offer the utility and all-weather prowess of a sport utility vehicle with the lower cost, higher fuel economy, better ride, and superior outward visibility of a car. They boast many safety features, including full-time symmetrical all wheel drive (with no buttons to push).
In terms of Ride Quality, the Outback has a longer wheelbase (distance between the axles is 4.2 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. Folks who have had Foresters previously will be pleasantly surprised by the quieter interior when they go for a ride in a 2014 or the new 2015 Forester.
The Outback is nearly nine inches longer and two inches 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 73.3 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.
At starting prices, the Outback is about $2000 more than the Forester. That difference gets you a slightly bigger vehicle with more standard equipment, including a 6.2" touch screen display and the SUBARU STARLINK system.
Similarly equipped Premium models with Eyesight favor the Forester only $2500, which still garners a 7" touch screen, power lift gate, and blindspot detection for the Outback.
The price difference nearly disappears between the fully-loaded Forester 2.0 XT Touring and the Outback 3.6R Limited, although the Outback retains the touch screen advantage and gets wood grain accent trim.
Optional features are available for every variant at an additional charge.
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" 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 available, 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.
The Forester has Subaru Lineartronic CVT and has since model year 2014, 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 Outback has a Lineartronic CVT with Adaptive Control, Hill Holder, Incline Start Assist and 6-Speed Manual mode with 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 has a Lineartronic High-Torque CVT with Adaptive Control, Hill Holder, Incline Start Assist and 6-Speed Manual mod with paddle shifters.
The 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 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 175 hp @ 5800 rpm and 174 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4000 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 25mpg city/33 mpg highway. The 3.6R Outback is EPA rated for 20 mpg city/ 27 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 2015 Forester has a 15.9 gallon fuel tank, while the 2015 Outback holds 18.5 gallons.
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 2015 Forester has a maximum towing capacity of 1,500 lbs.
The 2015 Outback and the 2015 Forester both earned IIHS Top Safety Pick+ Awards and scored Superior in Front Crash Prevention, the only vehicles in their fields to do so. (You can read about their ratings here.)
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 (SRS), front-seat side pelvis/torso 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, whiplash-protection front seats, rollover sensors, pillar-to-pillar support beam for collapsible steering column, and the LATCH system: Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren.
A feature unique to the Forester is the driver's side knee airbag (SRS).
Unique to the Outback is the driver and front passenger seat cushion airbag (SRS).
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 Pick Pluses 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!