2021 Subaru Forester

2021 Subaru Forester Review: A Great Allround Package

The Subaru Forester is one of America's favorite compact crossovers, thanks to a history of good reliability and the security of all-wheel-drive. The compact crossover SUV segment is filled with other choices like the Toyota RAV4 and Mazda CX-5, but Forester vehicles have been outdoing these rivals for some time. The basic recipe of a 2.5-liter naturally aspirated boxer-four with 182 horsepower and 176 lb-ft of torque is unchanged and includes a continuously variable transmission that makes this an easy car to live with in traffic, just as its good ground clearance and all-weather grip make it easy to live with on the trail. But as cars get more and more luxurious and tech-forward, is the Forester still good enough to be the favorite?

Read in this review:

2021 Subaru Forester Changes: 🚙What’s the difference vs 2020 Forester?

For the 2021 model year, Subaru has fitted steering-responsive LED headlights to all models as standard, along with high beam assist. A rear seatbelt reminder is added to the consignment of standard features across the range this year, while the Premium now has keyless access with push-button start and fog lights. Blind-spot detection with lane-change assist and rear cross traffic alert are made standard on the Sport, which was formerly optional. The Limited trim also gets a new seven-speed manual mode for the CVT, but considering the high number of changes for the 2020 model's update, no other differences were deemed necessary.

Pros and Cons

  • Impressive off-road ability
  • Smooth ride
  • Great gas mileage
  • Plenty of standard safety features
  • Spacious seating
  • Generic styling
  • Unimpressive acceleration
  • CVT is boring

Best Deals on Forester

2021 Subaru Forester Trims

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
Base
2.5L Flat 4 Gas
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
All-Wheel Drive
$24,795
Premium
2.5L Flat 4 Gas
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
All-Wheel Drive
$27,795
Sport
2.5L Flat 4 Gas
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
All-Wheel Drive
$29,395
Limited
2.5L Flat 4 Gas
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
All-Wheel Drive
$31,395
Touring
2.5L Flat 4 Gas
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
All-Wheel Drive
$34,895

Forester Exterior

The exterior of the new Subaru Forester is pretty generic, with nothing especially unique compared to other vehicles in this segment. Still, it's not ugly either, with LED headlights on either side of a decently sized grille. 17-inch steel wheels are standard on the base trim while alloys measuring up to 18-inches are standard on higher trims, but you have to step up from the base model to get things like roof rails, LED fog lights, a roof spoiler, and a panoramic sunroof. The Sport model gets a unique grille and orange accents.

2021 Subaru Forester Front View Subaru
2021 Subaru Forester Rear View Subaru
2021 Subaru Forester Front Angle View Subaru
See All 2021 Subaru Forester Exterior Photos

Dimensions

The 2021 Subaru Forester features dimensions of 182.1 inches for its length and 71.5 inches for its width. Height is 68.1 inches with roof rails while the wheelbase measures 105.1 inches. Since this is a Subaru with a little more off-road ability than most competitors, ground clearance is pretty good at 8.7 inches. Curb weight varies depending on the trim but starts at 3,453 pounds and goes up to 3,589 lbs.

  • Length 182.1 in
  • Wheelbase 105.1 in
  • Height 67.5 in
  • Max Width 71.5 in
  • Front Width 61.6 in
  • Rear Width 61.8 in

Exterior Colors

The base Forester gets a choice of six colors, none of which cost anything extra. These are Crystal White Pearl, Jasper Green Metallic, Ice Silver Metallic, Horizon Blue Pearl, Magnetite Gray Metallic, and Crystal Black Silica. Both Magnetite Grey and Ice Silver require adding an optional package upgrade worth $600, which adds alloy wheels. Elsewhere in the range, the Sport model swaps Horizon Blue for Dark Blue Pearl and does not offer Jasper Green, while Limited and Touring variants are the only trims with access to Crimson Red Pearl and Sepia Bronze Metallic. Our picks are the two blue shades, but that Crimson Red is also a very attractive shade.

  • Crystal Black Silica
  • Horizon Blue Pearl
  • Ice Silver Metallic
  • Magnetite Gray Metallic
  • Crystal White Pearl
  • Jasper Green Metallic
  • Crimson Red Pearl
  • Sepia Bronze Metallic
  • Dark Blue Pearl

Forester Crossover SUV Performance

Performance in terms of acceleration and top speed is not the Forester's forte. In fact, this car's combination of a naturally aspirated engine and a CVT make it barely capable of going from 0 to 60 mph in under nine seconds. That's not too much of a big deal, but the 1,500-pound towing capacity isn't all that impressive either. To be fair, the 2.5-liter boxer-four only produces 182 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque, and the goal with this crossover has less to do with on-road performance and more to do with how capable it is off-road and how smooth it is on long journeys. After all, this is a family car with a brilliant all-wheel-drive system. Still, for those that do want a little more fun from the experience, the Sport model's CVT now mimics a seven-speed automatic transmission with a manual mode, although this is still unlikely to truly excite anyone. The Forester is about being reliable, economical, and smooth, and it excels in these endeavors.

2021 Subaru Forester Front View Driving Subaru
2021 Subaru Forester Rear View Driving Subaru
2021 Subaru Forester Engine Subaru

Engine and Transmission

Just one engine and transmission are on offer here, with all trims featuring a 2.5-liter naturally aspirated boxer motor generating 182 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque. This is paired with a Lineartronic continuously variable transmission. No manual or conventional automatic gearbox is on offer, but this pairing is ideal for the school run and city traffic. Sure, the Forester doesn't exactly wow drivers with its acceleration, but it's more than good enough for its target market, with a sense of urgency that is neither hair-raising nor sleep-inducing. The CVT, although generally our least favorite transmission type, makes good use of the engine's output and will help keep you in the powerband, thus making it easy to overtake. That said, timing will be important as you can't expect to just whiz past anything holding you up. Overall, the power plant in the Subaru Forester is inoffensive, smooth, and reliable, and that's all you really need from a family car like this one.

  • Engine
    2.5L Flat 4 Gas
  • Transmission
    Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
  • Drivetrain
    AWD

Handling and Driving Impressions

With permanent symmetrical AWD that is a trademark of Subaru's offerings, the 2021 Forester is a car that handles better than you may expect, especially for a crossover. Thanks to a low center of gravity, there isn't too much body roll and the light but accurate steering contributes to making the Forester feel more agile and nimble than its size would suggest. That light steering also helps in traffic and when parking, making this a great car for those who have a family and live in the city. The suspension is good too, with a perfect balance between stiffness and comfort. Obviously, its Mazda-badged rival is a more adept vehicle when it comes to taking corners, but the Subaru is still one of the best out there. Whether it be a long-distance road trip or a quick run to the mall, the Forester won't give anyone back issues or car sickness. The brakes are good too, proving easy to modulate and powerful. Off-road, that AWD system again shows its worth with this vehicle able to maintain its good reputation even on the slipperiest of surfaces.

Forester Gas Mileage

Another of the Forester's best traits is its gas mileage. According to the EPA's review of the Subaru Forester, it will manage 26/33/29 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles. Thanks to a 16.6-gallon gas tank, you can reasonably expect to achieve around 481 miles of range with mixed driving. By comparison, the Honda CR-V AWD returns 27/32/29 mpg on the same cycles while the Mazda CX-5 AWD competition promises 24/30/26 mpg. Considering that the Subaru is not turbocharged, its figures are especially impressive.

  • Fuel Tank Capacity
    16.6 Gallons
  • Fuel Economy
    City/Hwy: 26/33 mpg
* 2021 Subaru Forester Base CVT

Forester Interior

The interior of the Subaru Forester SUV is an attractive place to be, with good build quality, impressive space, and great materials. The dash is especially attractive with its contours and stitching, but Subaru hasn't forgotten about ergonomics either, with all controls in easy reach of the driver. Large windows mean good visibility too, reinforcing the Forester's attention to detail and commitment to making as safe a crossover as possible. Sure, there are some cheaper materials scattered about and there isn't a massive digital driver display like most cars are starting to offer, but at the price of the Subaru Forester, we're very happy with what is on offer.

2021 Subaru Forester Infotainment System Subaru
2021 Subaru Forester Infotainment System 1 Subaru
2021 Subaru Forester Dashboard Subaru
See All 2021 Subaru Forester Interior Photos

Seating and Interior Space

The Subaru Forester seats five individuals in comfort, with even six-footers able to sit up straight without brushing the roof lining, even in the second row. There's plenty of legroom back there too, and this makes the Forester a great travel companion. Ingress and egress are easy too, thanks to large door openings and step-in pads that can help shorter individuals get into the car with ease. In front, the driver has a great view out in all directions and will easily find a good driving position. The base model, however, misses out on a 10-way power-adjustable driver's seat and heating for the first row.

  • Seating capacity
    5-seater
  • Front Leg Room 43.3 in
  • Front Head Room 41.2 in
  • Rear Leg Room 39.4 in
  • Rear Head Room 39.6 in

Interior Colors and Materials

The base model of the Forester again misses out on a feature as all other variants get a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Fabric upholstery is standard on the base and Premium variants while the other end of the spectrum sees the Limited model get leather upholstery in black or gray while the Touring gets black or Saddle Brown. The Sport model gets fabric in a two-tone gray with orange contrast stitching while the base and Premium variants get gray or black cloth, with a choice between these colors based on the exterior paint.

Subaru Forester Crossover SUV Trunk and Cargo Space

One of the most important aspects of a vehicle like this is how good it is at carrying stuff. Fortunately, the Forester doesn't disappoint with up to 31.1 cubic feet of cargo volume in the back. That drops slightly to 28.9 cubes with the sunroof fitted, but you still have enough volume to carry luggage for all occupants with ease and still have extra space for supplies if you're the adventurous type. If you need more space, the rear seats can be folded in a 60/40 split to open up 76.1 cubic feet or 70.9 cubic feet with the sunroof.

In the front, you get large door pockets with bottle holders, a large center armrest storage bin, a good-sized glovebox, a pair of cupholders in each row, and center console storage for your phone, wallet, or keys.

2021 Subaru Forester Maximum Cargo Space Subaru
2021 Subaru Forester Trunk Space Subaru
2021 Subaru Forester Rear Angle View Subaru

Forester Infotainment and Features

Features

Despite what this review may have led you to believe up until this point, the base Forester is actually pretty nicely specced. You get keyless entry, adaptive LED headlights, a rearview camera, single-zone automatic climate control, a six-way manually-adjustable driver's seat, and the Subaru EyeSight safety suite. This includes adaptive cruise control, sway warning, lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking, and lane keep assist. Further up, higher trims unlock features like a 10-way power-adjustable driver's seat, heated front seats, reclining rear seatbacks, push-button start, a 6.3-inch color driver info display, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power tailgate, a panoramic sunroof, blind-spot monitoring with lane change assist and rear cross-traffic alert, one-touch folding rear seats, reverse automatic braking, and a driver condition monitor. Also available are things like a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, and a power-adjustable passenger seat.

Infotainment

As standard, the Forester comes with a 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment display, a four-speaker sound system, two USB ports, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Pandora, Aha, Magellan navigation, Bluetooth, HD Radio, and SiriusXM satellite radio. Further up the trims, you get an eight-inch touchscreen display, a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, and a six-speaker sound system, but the Touring model boasts a nine-speaker Harman Kardon audio setup. The system works well and is easy to understand, but the bigger screen is all but necessary for displaying clearer images as the 6.5-inch display can be tricky to navigate on the go.

2021 Forester Problems and Reliability

Thus far, both the 2020 and 2021 variants of the Subaru Forester have proven reliable with no recalls thus far.

In terms of warranty coverage, the Forester comes with a basic three-year/36,000-mile warranty and a five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty, but no complimentary scheduled maintenance is offered. However, a Wear Item limited warranty runs for three years or 36,000 miles and will cover items like brake pads and clutch linings.

Warranty

  • Basic:
    3 Years \ 36,000 Miles
  • Drivetrain:
    5 Years \ 60,000 Miles
  • Corrosion:
    5 Years \ Unlimited Miles
  • Roadside Assistance:
    3 Years \ 36,000 Miles

Forester Safety Ratings

Another big selling point of the Subaru Forester is its safety, and the 2021 model does not disappoint with a full five-star rating from the NHTSA. Over at the IIHS, the 2021 model has not yet been rated but the almost identical 2020 variant achieved the highest possible honor with a Top Safety Pick+ award.

US NHTSA crash test result

  • Overall Rating
  • Frontal Barrier Crash Rating
  • Side Crash Rating
  • Rollover Rating

Key Safety Features

What some variants of the Forester lack in convenience features, they all make up for with a long list of standard safety features that include a rearview camera that is obligatory in the USA, seven airbags including a driver knee bag, forward collision alert with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, adaptive LED headlights, lane keep assist, and sway warning. The Sport model adds blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and lane change assist while the Touring builds on this with a driver condition monitor and reverse automatic braking.

Verdict: 🏁Is the 2021 Subaru Forester a good car?

Subaru Forester ratings have always been high. It may not be the most engaging vehicle to drive or have the longest list of standard convenience features, but beyond that, it's a really good car and it's easy to understand why it's one of the most popular vehicles in the US. It comes loaded with safety features and has an economical engine that comes with a pretty good CVT. It also offers plenty of cargo space and has an attractive if generic design. The ride is good too, and you can comfortably seat adults in the front or back on long trips with no complaints. Coupled with its off-road ability, this is a great all-round package that suits various lifestyle types. Sure, there are some competitors that excel at things like driving dynamics or towing capacity, but the Forester combines good ability in all respects for a great package that is affordable, comfortable, and capable. That said, a test drive is always the final deciding factor.

🚘What's the Price of the Subaru Forester?

The base model of the Subaru Forester starts at $24,795 before a $1,050 destination charge. The Forester Premium Starts at $27,795 while the Sport is $29,395. The Limited trim starts at $31,395 while the top Touring variant has a base MSRP of $34,895. If you spec this model with all available accessories, a fully loaded model will approach the $38k mark, which is not too bad considering how much the base model costs.

New Subaru Forester Model Lineup

The Subaru Forester models for 2021 are limited to five trims: Forester, Premium, Sport, Limited, and Touring. All are powered by a 2.5-liter boxer-four that produces 182 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque. Each comes with a CVT automatic and permanent symmetrical all-wheel-drive.

The base model features 17-inch steel wheels, adaptive LED headlights, keyless entry, a six-way manual driver's seat, single-zone automatic climate control, a 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment display, a four-speaker sound system, and Subaru EyeSight driver aids.

Next up is the Premium model, which builds on the base entrant with alloy wheels, a power panoramic sunroof, a roof spoiler, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, reclining rear seats, heated front seats, a ten-way power driver's seat, and a six-speaker sound system.

The Sport adds 18-inch wheels, numerous exterior and interior orange accents, a 6.3-inch driver info display, and paddle shifters that help this version of the CVT simulate a seven-speed automatic.

For a bit more luxury and convenience, the Limited trim gets dual-zone automatic climate control, a power tailgate, and the larger eight-inch touchscreen infotainment interface.

Finally, the top-spec Touring model adds a heated steering wheel, an eight-way power front passenger seat, memory functions for the driver's seat, heated rear outboard seats, one-touch folding rear seats, navigation, a Harman Kardon sound system with nine speakers, and a DriverFocus condition monitor. Reverse automatic braking is also added.

See All 2021 Subaru Forester Trims and Specs

Additional Packages

On the base model, you can delete the unsightly steel wheels and plastic covers by speccing 17-inch alloys and roof rails for $600. The Premium model has access to a power rear tailgate and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert for $1,095. On the Sport trim, you can add reverse automatic braking, the top trim's nine-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, a power rear tailgate, and an eight-inch infotainment display for $1,645. On the Limited variant, you can have the same additions as the Sport along with navigation and a heated steering wheel for $1,695. The top trim only gets access to minor accessories as it is fully loaded in standard form.

🚗What Subaru Forester Model Should I Buy?

Each of the Subaru Forester trims has the same powertrain and capabilities, so the choice will come down to what features you like. Since you already have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard, navigation isn't all that necessary. However, we do think the bigger infotainment screen is a help when driving. As a result, we recommend going for the Sport trim with its optional package that adds a better sound system, the bigger screen, and a power tailgate. This gives you a good mix of features along with a reasonable price of just over $32,000, including the destination charge.

2021 Subaru Forester Comparisons

Subaru Outback CarBuzz
Mazda CX-5 Mazda
CompetitorHorsepowerMPGPrice (MSRP)
Subaru Forester182 hp26/33 mpg$24,795
Subaru Outback 182 hp26/33 mpg$26,645
Mazda CX-5 187 hp25/31 mpg$25,190

2021 Subaru Forester vs Subaru Outback

The Subaru Outback is very similar to the Forester. It's also got a wagon-like design and has the exact same powertrain with the same output but starts at two grand more than the base Forester. However, rather than being a compact, this model is a midsize crossover SUV/wagon. However, unlike the Forester, you can spec a more powerful and more urgent turbocharged engine in models with the XT designation. This 2.4-liter turbo engine produces 260 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque, making it capable of towing up to 3,500 lbs. Even with the regular engine, the Outback can still out-tow the Forester with a rating of 2,700 lbs. There's also a little more space in the Outback, along with the availability of a large 11.6-inch touchscreen display and a Harman Kardon sound system. For these reasons, we recommend the Outback if you can afford it over the cost of the Subaru Forester.

See Subaru Outback Review

2021 Subaru Forester vs Mazda CX-5

The Mazda CX-5 is a little less affordable than the Forester thanks to a base price of $25,270 but it has a lot going for it. Besides great handling and a proper automatic gearbox, the CX-5 has a much more attractive design - in our opinion anyway. Its base 2.5-liter four-pot is a little more powerful too, with 187 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque. Like the Outback, a turbocharged motor is available on this car that makes up to 250 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque. Front-wheel-drive is standard on most models with AWD available as an option, but the top trim with the most powerful engine gets power sent to all four wheels by default. Inside, an attractive and modern cabin is complemented by a 10.25-inch touch display, although this is a little trickier to reach than the one in the Subaru. Nevertheless, the CX-5 gets our vote for multiple drivetrain configurations, the availability of a turbo engine, great handling, a proper gearbox, and much more attractive design inside and out.

See Mazda CX-5 Review

Subaru Forester Popular Comparisons

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