2021 Subaru Forester

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$24,795

starting MSRP

2021 Subaru Forester
2021 Subaru Forester

Key specs

Base trim shown

Overview

The good:

  • Exceptional outward visibility
  • Ride and handling
  • Unobtrusive continuously variable transmission
  • Roomy interior
  • Comfortable front and rear seats
  • Crash-test ratings

The bad:

  • Modest high-speed passing power
  • Wind, road noise on highway
  • Minimal cabin storage
  • Some poorly arranged controls
  • Dated screen graphics
  • Plastic wheel covers on base trim

5 trims

Starting msrp listed lowest to highest price

Wondering which trim is right for you?

Our 2021 Subaru Forester trim comparison will help you decide.

Notable features

  • Steering-responsive headlights, high-beam assist now standard
  • Five-seat compact SUV
  • 182-hp, horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine
  • All-wheel drive standard
  • 8.7-inch ground clearance
  • Lane-centering steering feature standard

2021 Subaru Forester review: Our expert's take

By Mike Hanley

The verdict: The 2021 Subaru Forester compact SUV still impresses with a blend of comfort, utility and practicality — once you get accustomed to its interior controls. 

Versus the competition: The Forester’s impressive outward visibility is unmatched in its class, and its ride comfort is among the best. The SUV’s standard advanced safety features are compelling, but its multimedia technology looks dated. 

When we last tested the Subaru Forester, we compared it to six of its rivals in our 2019 Compact SUV Challenge, where it earned a strong second-place finish. That model had just been redesigned, and since then it’s added more standard safety features, including lane-centering steering for 2020 and adaptive LED headlights with high-beam assist for 2021.

The 2021 Forester starts at $25,845 (including a $1,050 destination charge), but our test vehicle was a mid-level Sport trim with a starting price of $30,445. A $1,645 package that added an 8-inch touchscreen multimedia system, a Harman Kardon premium stereo, a power liftgate and reverse automatic braking increased the as-tested price to $32,090.

Pleasant to Drive

In a class that on the whole offers relatively firm ride quality, the Forester’s comfort-oriented suspension tuning is a welcome change. On rougher roads where I’ve experienced a bumpy ride in other small SUVs, the Forester was remarkably smooth by comparison; the impacts I did feel weren’t harsh in the slightest. Despite its name, the Sport trim doesn’t have firmer suspension tuning than other Foresters, but it does come with 18-inch wheels and lower-profile tires (17-inch wheels and tires are standard).

The Forester has standard all-wheel drive and is powered by a 182-horsepower, 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine that works with a continuously variable automatic transmission. It’s a well-tuned drivetrain that doesn’t suffer from excessive engine droning, like some CVT-equipped vehicles do, and acceleration from a stop is smooth and predictable. On the highway, the CVT responds quickly when you floor the gas pedal, but resulting acceleration is modest. There’s also noticeable wind and road noise at highway speeds. 

EPA-estimated gas mileage for all Forester trim levels is 26/33/29 mpg city/highway/combined. Among all-wheel-drive competitors, the 2021 Nissan Rogue and 2021 Honda CR-V are also rated 29 mpg combined, while the 2021 Toyota RAV4 is rated up to 30 mpg combined. The 2021 Volkswagen Tiguan’s 24 mpg combined rating trails the group. 

The Forester’s 8.7 inches of ground clearance is nearly as much as some off-road-oriented SUVs — like the Toyota 4Runner, which has 9.6 inches of clearance in four-wheel-drive form — but the Forester handles more like a low-slung car than an SUV. It feels planted and stable in sweeping turns, and there isn’t excessive body roll. Steering precision is good, but feedback is nonexistent. 

Comfortable, Airy Interior

The Forester’s combination of thin roof pillars, large windows and upright profile result in class-leading outward visibility. It’s all the more refreshing because natural visibility has mostly gotten worse in new cars in recent years. Besides making it easy to see what’s around you, the Forester’s design — and the single-pane panoramic moonroof that’s standard in all trims but the base model — makes the cabin feel airy. One unusual aspect of the cabin, however, is the way the driver-side front roof pillar reflects painted road markings, like the dotted lines on a highway. It’s a little distracting once you notice it. 

The Forester’s front bucket seats are comfortable, and the side bolsters are big enough to hold you in place in corners. Premium and Sport trim levels have fabric upholstery and heated front seats, while the Limited trim adds leather-trimmed seats. Top-of-the-line Touring models have heated rear seats, too.

The 60/40-split rear bench seat is equally comfortable, with plenty of legroom for taller adults. The seat doesn’t slide, but Premium and higher trims have a reclining backrest.

While the Forester’s cabin is roomy and comfortable, it doesn’t have a lot of space for odds and ends: The storage bin under the front center armrest is small, and there’s just a small cubby at the base of the dashboard. The cubby also holds USB ports, but the space isn’t big enough for some smartphones.

Multimedia Tech a Step Behind

The kind of large information screens first seen in luxury cars are now available in mainstream compact SUVs like the Tiguan and Rogue, but the Forester’s screens look dated in comparison. The Subaru doesn’t offer a digital instrument panel, either, as those SUVs do. The Forester does, however, have expected connectivity features, like standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity.

There are a lot of controls for drivers to decipher, and it’s not immediately apparent which buttons control which systems. The information screen atop the dashboard, for instance, is controlled by buttons on the steering wheel. While the presence of actual buttons and switches, not touch-sensitive controls, is welcome, they could be better arranged.

Crash Tests and Advanced Safety Features

The 2021 Subaru Forester received top marks in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash-testing, scoring good ratings in all tests. The standard forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking systems — part of the Forester’s EyeSight driver-assist technology bundle — were deemed superior, the highest rating possible, while the newly standard LED headlights also earned a good rating.

The Forester’s standard adaptive cruise control and lane-centering steering systems work well. Its lane-centering feature, however, seemed to favor the right side of the lane, which would put the SUV closer to traffic when not in the rightmost lane. The lights on the side mirrors for the optional blind spot warning system are easy to see in your peripheral vision.

Cargo Space

The Forester’s backseat folds flat with the cargo floor when more luggage space is needed, and the Touring trim adds a one-touch folding feature. According to Cars.com cargo area measurements, there’s 18.17 cubic feet of cargo space behind the backseat. That’s more than the 2021 Mazda CX-5 (17.91 cubic feet), 2021 Rogue (17.12) and 2021 Ford Bronco Sport (13.9), but less than hybrid versions of the 2021 RAV4 (20.69) and 2021 CR-V (19.61) we’ve measured.

Value in Its Class

The compact SUV class is extremely competitive, with new models arriving on a regular basis. Since our last comparison test, the Rogue has been redesigned for 2021, the 2022 Hyundai Tucson is redesigned, and an updated 2022 Tiguan will arrive later in the year. 

While the Forester isn’t the newest SUV in the class, its many standard active safety features and standard all-wheel drive make it a value-packed option that’s worth consideration if you’re shopping for a small SUV.

Cars.com’s Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with Cars.com’s long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don’t accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of Cars.com’s advertising, sales and sponsored content departments.

Photo of Mike Hanley
Senior Editor Mike Hanley is a father of three boys; he reviews new cars, admires classic cars and has embraced the minivan lifestyle. Email Mike Hanley

Consumer reviews

Rating breakdown (out of 5):
  • Comfort 4.9
  • Interior design 4.9
  • Performance 4.9
  • Value for the money 4.8
  • Exterior styling 4.8
  • Reliability 5.0

Most recent consumer reviews

5.0

Absolutely impressed!

I have only been leasing this car for a few weeks but I am in love! The handling, safety features, styling, and technology are all on point.

4.6

First Time Subaru Owner

Did not answer Reliability as I just got it but the reviews are good. So far I really - really like it! The more i drive it the more it seems to fit me better. Not a fan of a CVT but this has pep without using the sport drive. Lots of nice soft surfaces in this vehicle which is really nice. Great stereo system. Handles really great! Gas mileage is really good for AWD.

4.6

Practical at our age!

We looked at Lexus, BMW, Volvo, and Mercedes SUV’s. This Forrester Touring has similar comfort but greater practicality and visibility. The other luxury cars are clearly more comfortable and refined but not for $25K-$40K more. We are in our mid 70’s and wanted safety and confidence in adverse weather situations. We believe this was a more intelligent choice. It also is attractive and rides quietly and nice.

See all 106 consumer reviews

Warranty

New car and Certified Pre-Owned programs by Subaru
Certified Pre-Owned program benefits
Maximum age/mileage
5 years/80,000 miles
Basic warranty terms
Coverage available for purchase
Powertrain
7 years/100,000
Dealer certification required
152-point inspection
Roadside assistance
Yes
View all cpo program details

Compare the competitors

2021

Honda Passport

$32,790

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2020

Honda CR-V

$25,150

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2021

Honda CR-V Hybrid

$30,560

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