2021 Subaru Forester Review
The fifth-generation Subaru Forester debuted just a couple of years ago, so it carries on into 2021 with relatively few changes. We're pretty fond of it, even if it isn't our top-rated small SUV. The ever-popular Forester slots between the smaller Subaru Crosstrek and the larger three-row Ascent. It's loaded with tons of standard driver aids and tech, and — thanks to standard all-wheel drive and decent ground clearance — it's better than most of the competition off-road.
There's a plethora of great choices for a small SUV, with just about every mainstream automaker offering a similarly sized and equipped model. Our favorite remains the well-rounded Honda CR-V, though you might also want to check out the Jeep Cherokee, which has similar off-road abilities as the Forester. Is this small Subaru for you? Check out our Expert Rating to read our in-depth take on the 2021 Forester's advantages and disadvantages.
Aside from lackluster acceleration, there isn't much to dislike about the Subaru Forester. This crossover SUV delivers the feel and rugged attitude that buyers want, along with a comfortable cabin and plenty of features for the price.
How does the Forester drive?
A largely gutless engine holds the Forester back. The four-cylinder engine and CVT automatic take their time getting up to speed. The Forester accelerated from 0 to 60 mph in a slow 9.3 seconds during Edmunds testing. Its steering, handling and braking, on the other hand, are more respectable. While the Forester isn't sporty, especially not compared to top rivals, it feels planted and changes direction with speed and confidence.
The Forester shines off-road thanks to 8.7 inches of ground clearance and an X-Mode drive setting that includes trail capability and hill descent control. There's much more off-road prowess here than you get in a typical small crossover SUV.
How comfortable is the Forester?
Whether you've got a long daily commute or a refreshing retreat on the horizon, the Forester will keep you riding in comfort. The front seats are well padded and have good bolstering and lumbar support, and the suspension easily smooths out bumps and ruts in the road.
Road noise is kept to a minimum. The Forester's tall profile does produce some wind noise, but it's a small price to pay for the commanding seat position and great visibility. Climate control knobs are right where they should be and easy to find without taking your eyes off the road. The available automatic climate control works well, and most Foresters come standard with heated seats.
How’s the interior?
All controls inside the Forester are clearly labeled and easy to reach. There's no fussing around or overdoing things. The available 8-inch center touchscreen is crisp and simple to navigate. Everything about the Forester seems to have been designed right. Getting in and out is aided by tall doors and an SUV-style ride height. There's enough room for four, and possibly five, seated adults. The driver's seat offers a wide range of adjustments, and the steering wheel has plenty of telescoping range.
How’s the tech?
Subaru provides infotainment features that any owner, tech-savvy or not, can appreciate. The dual-screen center layout is attractive and easy to use. The navigation system is clear and even takes voice commands well. If Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are more your flavor, Subaru has you covered by making them standard equipment. Multiple USB ports are in both the front and rear.
We're especially fans of the driving aids included with Subaru EyeSight. The adaptive cruise control system works well and lane keeping assist, now with lane centering, prevents the Forester from drifting out of its lane. Forward collision mitigation is also included and never activated when it wasn't needed in our test.
How’s the storage?
The Forester is slightly lower in total storage capacity compared with competitors such as the Honda CR-V, but a high roof and clever cargo layout make the space usable for large items. Parents will find the Forester a little disappointing when it comes to installing child safety seats, however. The car seat anchors are buried deep in the rear seats, and fitting large rear-facing seats will be a squeeze.
With just 1,500 pounds of maximum towing capacity, towing is not the Forester's strong suit. It's better to look elsewhere if you're pulling anything substantial.
How economical is the Forester?
The EPA rates the Forester at 29 mpg combined (26 city/33 highway), which is near the top of the class. In testing, however, we found that the weak engine had us pinning the throttle more, which can make real-world fuel economy suffer a bit.
Is the Forester a good value?
The Forester gives buyers a lot of options depending on how much they want to spend and how fancy they like their cars. Interior build quality is high, and in general you'll feel like you got your money's worth. Subaru offers an average warranty for the class.
Acceleration is the Forester's only notable weak point. While it's a big one, it's certainly not enough to detract from all of the vehicle's standout areas. Everything else, from comfort to technology to driver aids to storage capacity to outdoor adventure credentials, is top-notch. Its upright style and rugged components lend the Forester a unique personality, and standard all-wheel drive with a strong ride height backs it up.
Which Forester does Edmunds recommend?
While the base Forester comes with a decent list of standard equipment, including a full complement of advanced driver safety aids, we suggest stepping up to the Forester Premium trim. It adds features including a panoramic sunroof and alloy wheels that aren't available on the base model.
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Subaru Forester models
The 2021 Subaru Forester is available in five trim levels: base, Premium, Sport, Limited and Touring. As with nearly all Subarus, all-wheel drive is standard on all trims. Feature highlights include: