2021 Subaru Forester

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The Car Connection
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Martin Padgett Martin Padgett Editorial Director
September 2, 2020

Buying tip

For less than $30,000 the Forester Premium has all the basics covered, plus it gets a power driver seat and a sunroof. It’s value, spelled in a different way.

features & specs

Limited CVT
Premium CVT
26 city / 33 hwy
26 city / 33 hwy
26 city / 33 hwy

A recent Best Car To Buy winner, the 2021 Subaru Forester notches big wins in utility and safety as one of our most recommended crossover SUVs.

Think of the 2021 Subaru Forester as the new pair of cross-trainers that feel broken-in from the minute you slip them on your feet. The Forester’s comfortable, spacious, but snug in the curves. You can depend on its grip, and count in it to entertain you. Plus, it fits your ginormous toes without requiring a wide size.

It’s not just blessed with utility; the 2021 Forester oozes useful from every pore. It earns a TCC Rating of 6.8 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The Forester’s drawn for anonymity, but trimmed for adventure. There’s little new in its roofline, grille, and LED headlights and taillights, but Subaru dresses it out with the verve of a sports shoe. We’re particularly fond of the Fila-style color combinations on the Forester Sport, and the browned-butter leather of the Touring edition—just keep in mind, it’s all going to get dirty if used properly. 

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The Forester’s split personality demands it. In one guise it’s a commuter champ, with a 182-horsepower flat-4 and a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) delivering adequate speed and ultimate traction through standard all-wheel drive. Its well-tuned suspension leans softly into corners without getting flustered. Flip it into X-Mode, find a place to turn off the pavement, and the Forester’s ready to slog through mud and gambol over anything shorter than 8.7 inches.

Bring along four friends, if you like. The Forester has all kinds of head and leg room, and can tote three across in the back seat, even if 6-footers perch in front. Tents, bikes, small herds of small animals—you’ll be amazed at what fits behind the back seat, or behind the front seats when the rears fold down to open up more than 75 cubic feet of space.

Subaru scores top crash-test ratings from the IIHS and the NHTSA, and makes automatic emergency braking standard. It stocks the base $25,845 Forester with cloth upholstery, 17-inch wheels, power features, Bluetooth, and a small-ish 6.5-inch touchscreen for infotainment that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Spend into the mid-$30,000s and the Forester adds an 8.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment, leather upholstery, a panoramic sunroof, and a driver-recognition system. 


2021 Subaru Forester


Did you want that vanilla plain?

Subaru puts styling far down on its list of priorities, and though it’s grown a little more adventuresome, there’s very little to get excited about with the 2021 Forester. We give it an extra point for a nicely rendered interior, to put it at 6 here.

The Forester has nothing to hide: It’s a medium-size, two-box crossover, and it leans into function as form. It has a tall cabin with big windows for excellent outward vision; if it were more stylish, the windows would be smaller, the shoulders more exaggerated. It could have radical lighting and an arrow-sleek nose—but instead, its LED headlights sweep back just as much as they need to into the fenders, and the air intakes are just a little bigger. The body kicks up at the tail, but not too much. The taillights sit high, square, and ready to inform. It’s less controversial than naming the best Girl Scout cookie, which is obviously Tagalongs.

We sort of give the Forester interior the point above average here, but it’s more a half point for exterior and interior. Slip inside the Forester and you’ll be immediately familiar and reassured by its hard-wearing cloth seats and vinyl bolsters, the Toughskins of the crossover realm. Some versions wear orange and black trim, others leather, but only when you spend more than you should, does the Forester peek through the luxury curtains. It’s as functional and ready to get dirty as a hiking boot, but we’d still wear it to fancy places, too.

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2021 Subaru Forester


Like the bigger Outback, the Subaru Forester can tackle almost any road.

Subaru outfits the Forester with the right hardware for substantial all-weather traction, but it’s improved the ride in this latest version, and that continues to impress us. The powertrain’s a snooze, but the handling earns an extra point, which brings us to 6.

The 182-hp 2.5-liter flat-4 found in every 2021 Forester issues its power to all four wheels through a CVT. It’s not what you’d call the most exciting drivetrain, not even in the Subaru lineup, but it’s amenable to hard work. The Forester’s not too heavy, at about 3,500 pounds, and that makes the powertrain work less hard that it might have to otherwise. It’s a bit noisy at full throttle, and acceleration’s just OK, but the Forester will do it, if you ask. 

It’s a brighter story in the ride and handling department, where the Forester’s confident and attentive road manners give it a friendly feel, no matter what the surface. If there’s no pavement, fine: The Forester has 8.7 inches of ground clearance, decent tires, and on most models, an off-road traction mode that alters shift, throttle, and hill-descent systems to better negotiate available traction.

It’s beyond livable on the road. The Forester’s collected and calm demeanor suits the job it’s tasked with: safe and predictable transportation. It employs some semi-exotic hardware, like torque-vectoring that uses brake application to tighten cornering lines, but never gets confused or irritable from behind the wheel. It maintains its even keel as it leans gently into corners and pushes off rougher roads with its absorbent ride quality. 

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2021 Subaru Forester

Comfort & Quality

The Forester crams more room into a smaller space than you’d imagine.

Efficient packaging, good front seats, and a cargo bin that’s bonus-room size vault the Forester to a score of 8 here.

We like the Forester’s plainly bolstered front seats. They’re shaped with a wide range of bodies and mind, and the Forester’s tall and wide doors make it easy to get in and find a good driving position. Some versions have manual seats, but most have power adjustment that make the most of the Forester’s plentiful knee and head room. It’s so tall, 6-footers have at least a few inches under the sunroof, a remarkable feat even for some crossover SUVs. The only constricted space comes at the hip, where it meets the wide center console.

The Forester’s rear seat has almost 40 inches of leg room. The bench itself is wide enough to accommodate three people, though it doesn’t slide like the bench on some of its rivals.

It does fold down, to open up the Forester’s 35.4 cubic feet of cargo space into an immense 76.1 cubic feet. Practical? It’s beyond that for its size, big enough to load in bulky objects from flat-screen TVs to multiple BMXs.

Subaru keeps the cabin pragmatic, with wash-and-wear cloth upholstery on base trims. Limited and Touring versions wear leather upholstery that’s on the sturdy, not the soft, side.

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2021 Subaru Forester


The Forester makes safety second nature.

Subaru outfits the Forester with all but one of the safety features we expect in family vehicles, and the wagon’s crash-test record is blemish-free. It’s a 9 here.

The NHTSA gives the Forester a five-star rating overall, with a single four-star rating for rollover resistance. The IIHS dubbed it a Top Safety Pick+ thanks to “Good” crash-test results across the board and LED headlights that track with steering input.

Automatic emergency braking comes on every Forester, with adaptive cruise control and active lane control. Blind-spot monitors cost extra, but not much. We’d buy them, but the Forester has thinner roof pillars and more glass than some rivals, so outward vision is excellent.


2021 Subaru Forester


Subaru’s known for value, and the Forester’s one of the biggest reasons why.

The Forester serves up a host of standard features, safety and otherwise; it’s priced low with all the basics, too. The warranty’s average, the base infotainment screen’s small, and options are thin—but it’s still one of our most often recommended crossover SUVs. It’s a 7 for features.

The Forester returns in base, Premium, Sport, Limited, and Touring versions. The base $25,845 Forester has 17-inch wheels, automatic climate control, cloth upholstery, a split-folding rear seat, adaptive LED headlights, and a 6.5-inch infotainment touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. 

We recommend the $28,845 Forester Premium. The extra $3,000 brings a power-adjustable driver’s seat, a panoramic sunroof, off-road drive mode, and heated front seats. Options include keyless start, a power tailgate, and blind-spot monitors.

The $35,945 Forester Touring goes all the way in with paddle shifters, heated and cooled power front seats, leather upholstery, heated rear seats, 18-inch wheels, and an 8.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment, with Harmon Kardon premium audio.

Subaru’s infotainment system, dubbed Starlink, has the usual pinch-and-swipe operation, and it gains navigation in Touring trim. We still revert to phone-based navigation in almost every instance. For a truly cutting-edge system, you’d have to buy an Outback, with its portrait-style 11.6-inch touchscreen.

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2021 Subaru Forester

Fuel Economy

The Forester’s gas mileage is good, given its standard all-wheel drive.

With the Forester, Subaru trades off the highest fuel economy ratings for the traction of all-wheel drive. It’s still a 5 here.

The EPA scores the 2020 Forester at 26 mpg city, 33 highway, 29 combined. That’s just about the same as all-wheel-drive versions of the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, which check in at 28 and 29 mpg combined, respectively. However, both of those crossovers can come with hybrid power, with EPA combined ratings in the 40-mpg range.

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Styling 6
Performance 6
Comfort & Quality 8
Safety 9
Features 7
Fuel Economy 5
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