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2021 Subaru Forester Review

The 2021 Subaru Forester is one of our favorite compact crossovers. Where rivals offer all-wheel drive as an option, the Forester makes this reassuring feature part of its standard equipment. Although the hardware adds weight, putting an extra burden on the engine, the Forester still achieves some of the best fuel economy numbers in its class.

Another feature that’s optional in some competitors but standard in the Forester is a comprehensive array of driver assistance features. They’re all bundled into Subaru’s excellent EyeSight collision avoidance system.

Forester buyers also enjoy ample passenger and cargo space, a class-leading cargo door opening, a strong and quiet platform, unbeatable safety ratings, and excellent resale values.

The 2021 Forester’s pricing is the final ingredient to its success. It’s about the same as the Honda CR-V and the Mazda CX-5, but they have front-wheel drive as standard. It starts out less expensive than entry-level models of the Toyota RAV4 and Jeep Cherokee.

What’s New for 2021?

Steering-responsive LED headlights (previously found only in the top trim) are now standard throughout the range, along with automatic high beams and a rear seat belt reminder.

Premium trim gains keyless entry/ignition and fog lights as standard. Blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert migrates from Sport trim’s options list to its inventory of standard equipment. And Limited trim joins Sport and Touring versions by including a simulated 7-speed manual mode with paddle shifters for the continuously variable transmission (CVT). See the 2021 Subaru Forester models for sale near you

What We Like

  • Standard EyeSight driver assistance technology
  • Roomy and quiet interior
  • Excellent all-wheel-drive system
  • Good fuel economy
  • Robust resale values

What We Don’t

  • No turbocharged option
  • Leisurely acceleration
  • Not many interior color choices

How Much?

$25,845-$35,945

Fuel Economy

A 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine propels the 2021 Forester. Instead of the common four-cylinders-in-a-line layout, Subaru favors two horizontally opposed pairs of cylinders, also known as a “boxer” configuration. It helps to keep the center of gravity low and so enhance feelings of stability.

Output is 182 horsepower and 176 lb-ft of torque. Drive goes to all four wheels through a continuously variable transmission.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates fuel consumption at 26 miles per gallon in city driving, 33 mpg on the highway, and 29 mpg in combined driving.

Standard Features and Options

The 2021 Subaru Forester comes in base, Premium, Sport, Limited, and Touring trim levels.

The entry-level Forester ($25,845) has 17-in steel wheels, steering-responsive LED headlights with automatic high beams, active grille shutters, automatic climate control, electronic parking brake, active torque vectoring, EyeSight driver assistance features, power windows/locks, outside temperature display, hill-hold assistance, rear seat belt reminder, tire-pressure monitoring with a display for each tire, rearview camera washer, trailer-stability assistance, three 12-volt outlets, Starlink infotainment system with 6.5-in touchscreen, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration, two USB ports, satellite/HD radio, CD player, auxiliary audio input, Bluetooth connectivity, and a 4-speaker audio system. For the length of the original new-car warranty, 24-hour roadside assistance is also included.

This trim is eligible for 17-in alloy wheels and roof rails.

Premium ($28,845) includes those 17-in alloy wheels and roof rails, adding an upgraded all-wheel drive system with an X-mode (for deep snow and mud) and hill descent control, along with a powered panoramic moonroof, keyless entry/ignition, fog lights, 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats/side mirrors, windshield de-icer, leather-wrapped steering wheel, reclining rear seats, cargo cover, and a 6-speaker audio setup.

Blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and a powered, self-closing rear hatch with height memory are the options that apply to this trim level.

Sport ($30,445) has 18-in alloy wheels, larger front brake discs, manual-shift transmission mode, paddle shifters, integrated side mirror turn signals, upgraded multifunction display, two rear USB ports, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, orange contrasting stitching on the steering wheel and dashboard, plus black/orange exterior accents.

Options include a 9-speaker/576-watt Harman Kardon audio system,   powered rear hatch, and an upgraded infotainment system with an 8-in touchscreen and voice activation.

Limited ($32,445) includes that swisher infotainment system with the 8-in touchscreen, then adds a voice-controlled dual-zone auto climate system, integrated outboard mirror turn signals, self-leveling headlights, leather-wrapped shifter, leather upholstery, and a powered rear hatch.

Options include a heated steering wheel, reverse automatic braking, navigation, and the 9-speaker Harman Kardon audio system.

Touring trim ($35,945) has virtually everything mentioned so far, plus a choice of black or saddle-brown perforated leather upholstery, 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with memory settings (including for the side mirrors), 8-way power-adjustable front passenger seat, heated rear seats, navigation, DriverFocus anti-distraction technology, LED fog lights, and metallic silver finish exterior accents. 

Wi-fi is offered in the top four trims with an AT&T subscription plan.

Safety

The Forester has the usual complement of safety equipment, such as stability control, traction control, and anti-lock brakes. Among the seven airbags is one for the driver’s knees.

Every Forester comes with Subaru’s EyeSight driver assistance technologies, including adaptive cruise control with stop/go, pre-collision braking, pre-collision throttle management, lane-departure warning/lane-keeping assistance, lane centering, and lead vehicle start alert notifying an inattentive driver that traffic ahead is moving again.

Blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert is optional in Premium trim, standard in Sport and above. Reverse automatic braking is standard on the Touring trim and optional on the Premium and the Limited trims. DriverFocus safety technology with face recognition is standard on the Touring trim.

In crash tests carried out by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the 2021 Subaru Forester earned a maximum 5-star rating overall, with top marks in all but the rollover test, in which it earned  four stars. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awarded the Forester its highest marks in every major category and made it a Top Safety Pick+.

Behind the Wheel

Along with the Ascent, the Impreza and the Outback, the 2021 Forester rides on Subaru’s Global Platform. It provides a rigid foundation that benefits from a generous amount of high-strength steel.

The 2021 Forester feels planted and stable. Subaru calibrated the suspension and reduced body roll by as much as 50 percent compared with the previous generation. Steering response is also quicker.

More engine muscle wouldn’t go amiss, however. Under most circumstances, the Forester holds its own, but passing or merging into fast-flowing highway traffic are reminders that 187 horsepower is merely average for the compact crossover class.

For Subaru loyalists, though, happiness comes from 8.7 inches of ground clearance and an all-wheel drive system that always turns in a reliable performance when conditions include snow, slush and mud. The X-Mode system works well, particularly the hill descent control. Sport trim gets a more aggressive Dual X-Mode that’s really effective in wet, slushy snow.

The Forester’s 5-seater cabin is comfortable and quiet. Throw a couple of kayaks or bicycles on the roof rack, and a weekend adventure beckons.

Anyone hauling stuff in the back will appreciate the widest rear hatch opening of the class, which outdoes some rivals by more than eight inches. It opens to 35.4 cubic feet of luggage space behind the rear seats. Once they’re folded down, maximum cargo volume is 76.1 cubic feet.

Other Cars to Consider

2021 Chevrolet Equinox — Although it has less cargo-carrying capacity than the Forester, this Chevy enjoys a choice of two engines, one being a turbo.

2021 Honda CR-V — Offering copious cargo space, solid fuel economy and a turbocharged engine, Honda’s CR-V is a wonderfully comfortable and refined ride.

2021 Toyota RAV4 — The other big player in compact crossovers, along with the HR-V. A new generation debuted for 2019 with lots of space and technology. The range also includes a hybrid.

2021 Mazda CX-5 — Not the most spacious compact crossover, but looks, feels, and drives like something much more expensive. A turbo engine is also available.

2021 Nissan Rogue — An all-new generation comes along for 2021. Among the features on offer will be a partially self-driving system. Blind-spot monitoring is expected to be standard.

Used Subaru Forester XT — A 2014-2018 Forester XT will have roughly the same interior dimensions and off-road capability as a new Forester, as well as much of the same basic safety equipment. But the 250-hp turbocharged engine delivers impressive performance without a significant drop in fuel economy.

Questions You May Ask

Does the 2021 Subaru Forester come with a turbo option?

No. Despite Subaru making some delicious turbocharged engines, the 2021 Forester sticks with natural aspiration. It’s obviously acceptable for most buyers since the Forester is a big seller.

Which generation of Forester is this 2021 model?

We’re now into the Forester’s fifth generation, which made its debut as recently as 2019.

Where is the 2021 Subaru Forester built?

Although Subaru has a factory in Indiana (that produces several of the company’s current vehicles), the Forester is built in Japan.

Autotrader’s Advice

Be lavish with Limited or Touring trim levels if you want. But since there’s no alternative of a more powerful engine, we think Premium trim with the optional blind-spot monitoring and powered hatch is the way to go. It’s the right balance of cost and equipment. Find a Subaru Forester for sale

Colin Ryan
Colin Ryan specializes in writing about new cars. But he has also covered trucks, vans, 3-wheelers, even the occasional motorbike. That’s the kind of thing that happens while contributing to the Los Angeles Times, Autotrader, Kelley Blue Book, Popular Mechanics, Variety, Mazda and Lexus customer magazines, as well as many enthusiast sites and publications. He was also a staff writer at BBC Top... Read More

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