2019 Subaru Forester vs. 2020 Subaru Outback: Compare Crossovers

July 29, 2019
2019 Subaru Forester

2019 Subaru Forester

Despite names from seemingly disparate corners of the planet, the Subaru Outback and Subaru Forester approach carrying people and cargo in very similar ways. 

More importantly for shoppers, both vehicles are relative values among competitors. 

The 2020 Outback is new this year and a familiar shape and face for shoppers considering the off-road-ready, adventure wagon. The Forester was new for 2019, another familiar face and shape, but with more value than anything else on the road—it was our Best Car to Buy 2019 and the first repeat winner for The Car Connection in our award’s history. 

The Forester’s resume is impressive, and so is its overall score—we rate it at 6.8. The Outback’s 6.4 overall rating is lower, for now. Safety—a Subaru strong suit—isn’t yet in for the Outback, we expect that score to rise. 

MORE: Read our full reviews of the 2019 Subaru Forester and the 2020 Subaru Outback

2019 Subaru Forester Sport

2019 Subaru Forester Sport

2019 Subaru Forester Sport

2019 Subaru Forester Sport

2020 Subaru Outback

2020 Subaru Outback

2020 Subaru Outback

2020 Subaru Outback

Style and performance

The Outback and Forester are immediately recognizable to fans of the wagon and crossover, respectively—and the brand. Neither venture too far from the roads set before them and follow closely their predecessors in shape and execution. Where both improve over prior models is in interior materials and layout, a longtime Subaru foil. 

The Forester typically wears durable cloth, upgradeable to cloth with orange and black accents in Forester Sport versions, or leather in top trims. The fit and finish are better in the Forester than in prior generations; the dash and center console are wrapped in more elegant materials that are not only softer but also better looking. For example, the Forester’s serpentine shifter gate from just a few years ago has been replaced with a better-looking boot—small touches make a big difference. 

Samesies with the Outback. Most versions of the 2020 model will be fitted with an 11.6-inch touchscreen in the center—not long ago reserved for high-end luxury vehicles—with a soft dash and impressive materials everywhere. Most versions of the Outback wear cloth upholstery that’s similarly durable, but top trims get nappa leather that’s uptown all the way. Onyx edition models get the best of both worlds: a durable synthetic leather that’s hard-wearing and waterproof. 

Both Forester and Outback share a 2.5-liter flat-4 and continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) tuned for efficiency. In both cars, the flat-4 makes 182 horsepower and returns 29 mpg combined, according to the EPA. 

The power isn’t overwhelming in either model, but Subaru’s clever throttle tuning makes both feel faster than they are. Power comes on quickly, and base models surge ahead quickly off the line before tapering off early. 

Although both notch a 6 on our scale, the Outback may nudge ahead slightly due to an uprated turbo-4 engine option, a 2.4-liter turbocharged flat-4 borrowed from the Ascent. In the Outback, it makes 260 hp and a more progressive throttle calibration that means it’s more not only more patient off the line but also offers deeper wells of power for mountain highway passes. 

Both Forester and Outback offer similar levels of off-road capability, which is to say, stellar. The Outback and Forester have as much ground clearance as many Jeeps, with enough all-wheel-drive traction to scramble up mountain roads with relative ease. 

Picking a winner for performance is hard to do: the Outback has a higher ceiling, but both cars have set a high bar already. 

2019 Subaru Forester

2019 Subaru Forester

2019 Subaru Forester

2019 Subaru Forester

2020 Subaru Outback

2020 Subaru Outback

2020 Subaru Outback

2020 Subaru Outback

Comfort, safety, and performance

The Outback and Forester can’t separate on comfort either. 

Both crossovers offer space for up to five adults, with room behind the second row for more than 30 cubic feet of cargo space. 

The Outback rides atop a wheelbase that’s longer, and offers three more inches between the wheels compared to the Forester. The Outback offers 39.5 inches of leg room for rear-seat riders, but the Forester boasts 39 inches. Front-seat riders in both models have plenty of available space and accommodations, but the Outback’s seats are just a little more comfortable. We’d stick bigger adults in the back of the Outback. The Forester and Outback have just more than 35 cubic feet of cargo space, but more of the Forester’s space is above the rear seat backs—vertical space may not be needed all the time. 

The Forester’s safety scores are impressive so far: five stars from federal testers and a Top Safety Pick+ from the IIHS. The Outback aims for similarly impressive figures, but official tests aren’t yet done. 

We see value in both toward the base ends. The Forester Premium costs about $27,700, and it’s loaded with small details such as alloy wheels, roof rack, 10-way power driver’s seat, tinted windows, rear-seat vents, a cargo cover, illuminated vanity mirrors, remote engine start from a smartphone app, and more. A package with heated seats, blind-spot monitors, and keyless ignition costs about $1,300, and a power tailgate is a reasonable $550 more. For a hair under $30,000, a well-optioned Forester Premium is the one we’d buy.

Same story, second verse with the Outback. The Outback Premium costs less than $30,000 to start with an 11.6-inch tablet-style touchscreen for infotainment, four USB charge ports, power-adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, 17-inch wheels and sound-insulating front windows for a quieter cabin. Keyless ignition, navigation, blind-spot monitors, a power liftgate, and moonroof are on the options list. 

Both values are compelling. But who wins? Shoppers, we say.

Summary

6.8
Expert Rating
The 2019 Subaru Forester is a well thought-out crossover SUV with exceptional space, a great ride, and standard AWD without a fuel-economy penalty.
6.4
Expert Rating
The 2020 Subaru Outback is more refined than ever and features the same, remarkable off-road capability.

Styling

6.0
Expert Rating
The 2019 Subaru Forester has all the charm of a hiking boot on wheels, if that’s your thing.
Read More
5.0
Expert Rating
Same goes for the 2020 Subaru Outback.
Read More

Performance

6.0
Expert Rating
The 2019 Subaru Forester’s well-isolated feel makes it a great adventure companion.
Read More
6.0
Expert Rating
The base 2020 Outback doesn’t have scads of power, but it doesn’t really need it.
Read More

Comfort & Quality

8.0
Expert Rating
The 2019 Subaru Forester has a spacious, well-organized interior.
Read More
8.0
Expert Rating
Hauling people and cargo is where the 2020 Outback shines.
Read More

Safety

9.0
Expert Rating
The 2019 Subaru Forester hasn’t been crash tested yet, but it’s especially well-equipped to avoid an impact.
Read More
No crash-test data yet exists for the 2020 Outback.
Read More

Features

7.0
Expert Rating
The 2019 Subaru Forester is priced well for a compact crossover SUV.
Read More
8.0
Expert Rating
The 11.6-inch touchscreen may draw stares, but the Outback’s value should draw smiles.
Read More

Fuel Economy

5.0
Expert Rating
By crossover SUV standards, the 2019 Subaru Forester is a miserly machine.
Read More
5.0
Expert Rating
Most versions of the Outback will manage close to 29 mpg combined, according to the EPA.
Read More

MSRP

from $24,295
from N/A

Invoice

from $22,915
from N/A

Fuel Economy - Combined City and Highway

29

Engine

Regular Unleaded H-4, 2.5 L

Drivetrain

All Wheel Drive Read Full Specs
Compare Free Dealer Price Quote
With competitive price quotes from multiple dealers, you will be prepared when you meet your local car dealer. Please tell us how to contact you so that dealers can compete for your business!
Search Dealers by ZIP Code
Update ZIP Code
2019 Subaru Forester
2020 Subaru Outback
Looking for dealers in your area...
Powered By
We are committed to your privacy. By submitting this form you agree the phone number you provided may be used to contact you (including text, autodialed or pre-recorded calls). Consent is not a condition of purchase.
2019
The Car Connection
See the winners »
2019
The Car Connection
 
Ratings and Reviews
Rate and review your car for The Car Connection
Review your car
Related Head to Head
The Car Connection Daily Headlines
I agree to receive emails from the site. I can withdraw my consent at any time by unsubscribing.
Thank you! Please check your email for confirmation.