It’s not easy for a compact SUV to stand out in what continues to be a white-hot class with buyers, but the 2021 Subaru Forester has the goods to make it worth a long look.
A 2019 redesign brought significant improvements, making the Forester one of our top contenders in the category and besting such stalwarts as the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 in a seven-SUV comparison test. The Forester has since been updated with more safety features that only serve to increase its appeal.
The Forester offers a compelling combination of room, comfort, utility and value, making it a good choice for a wide variety of buyers. It may not be the sportiest to drive or sexiest choice in the class, though that may or may not be important to you.
We recently tested a 2021 Subaru Forester Sport with an as-tested price of $32,090. Here are six things we like and four that we would like to see improved.
For Cars.com’s complete evaluation of the 2021 Subaru Forester, tap the link above to read Cars.com editor Mike Hanley’s complete review. For a quick look at what works and what doesn’t, read on.
Things We Like
1. Room With a View
In an age when high belt lines and shrinking windows make a backup camera essential for survival, the Subaru Forester stands out with excellent visibility. Thin roof pillars, a large glass area and an upright profile add up to class-leading visibility, and contribute an open, airy feel to a cabin that’s aided by a standard panoramic moonroof on all but the base trim level. There is, of course, a backup camera, but you might not need to rely on it. The interior is finished with quality materials, and there’s more than adequate front and rear room. Cargo space is competitive, and the large and upright tailgate helps with access.
2. Comfortable Ride
Lots of compact SUVs have sporty aspirations, whether they can deliver on the promise or not. The result is that many Forester competitors serve up a relatively firm ride that can result in a fair bit of jostling on bumpy roads. Not so the Forester. With a suspension tuned more for comfort than sportiness, the Subaru soaks up the bumps in fine fashion with a relaxed and comfortable demeanor. Opting for the Sport trim doesn’t change that, as it uses the same suspension setup. It does, however, get you larger 18-inch wheels and lower profile tires, and our Forester felt planted and stable in turns.
3. Safety Is Good
Every 2021 Forester comes standard with the Subaru EyeSight suite of safety features, which includes adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking and lane keep assist. The Sport trim adds blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert, and our test car had optional reverse automatic braking. The 2021 Forester aced the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s crash tests, scoring a good rating in all tests.
4. Modest Off-Road Capability
With standard all-wheel drive and an off-road friendly 8.7 inches of ground clearance, the Forester lets the fun continue when the pavement ends — up to a point. Odds are you won’t be driving the Rubicon Trail, but the Forester won’t embarrass itself in light off-road driving. Best of all, the same virtues make it an excellent choice for muddy dirt roads and areas where deep snow is likely.
The 2021 Forester’s $25,845 starting price includes standard all-wheel drive and an impressive list of safety features. Our mid-trim Sport test car came with a power driver’s seat, panoramic moonroof, keyless entry with push-button start, 18-inch black alloy wheels, heated front seats and more. A $1,645 option package added an 8-inch touchscreen, a Harman Kardon premium audio system, a power liftgate and reverse automatic braking, which increased our test vehicle’s overall price to $32,090 (prices include a destination fee).
6. Agreeable Powertrain
Powered by a 182-horsepower, 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine paired with a continuously variable automatic transmission, the Forester responds well when you press the gas pedal, with smooth if not overly punchy acceleration. There’s none of the droning found with some CVT-equipped vehicles, and the Forester gets the same EPA-estimated 29 mpg combined as all-wheel-drive versions of the 2021 Honda CR-V and Nissan Rogue.
Things We Don’t Like
1. Old School Multimedia System
Mainstream vehicles now offer sophisticated information systems with large screens, including some compact SUVs like the Nissan Rogue and Volkswagen Tiguan. The Subaru Forester has a touchscreen multimedia system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, but its screen graphics are dated. The Forester does get bonus points for including physical volume and tuning knobs below the screen, but some of its other controls are scattered about the cabin, and the layout takes a bit of time to master.
2. More Utility Than Sport
As much as we appreciate the Forester’s comfy ride, look elsewhere if a sporty driving experience is what you’re after. The steering is accurate but lacks feedback, and while the Forester handles well enough there are sportier choices. Acceleration is adequate at best, and the engine can get noisy at higher rpms.
3. Not Many Nooks for Knickknacks
In spite of having a roomy and comfortable cabin, the Forester lacks some of the clever storage compartments and bins found in other family SUVs. There’s a small compartment under the front center armrest, and a small console cubby at the base of the dashboard. The cubby includes USB ports, but it’s not large enough for some smartphones.
4. Highway Noise
While the Forester’s cabin can be a pleasant and spacious place to rack up road-trip miles, road and wind noise intrudes at highway speeds. Add engine noise under acceleration, and the Forester can be louder than some of its competitors.
Related Video: 2021 Subaru Forester Review
More From Cars.com:
- Subaru Forester: Which Should You Buy, 2020 or 2021?
- How Do Car Seats Fit in a 2021 Subaru Forester?
- Subaru Issues Big Recalls for Crosstrek, Impreza, Forester
- 2020 Subaru Forester: Bolstered EyeSight, Bumped-Up Prices
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