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2021 VW Tiguan vs. 2021 Subaru Forester: Which Is Better?


With three rows of seating, the 2021 Volkswagen Tiguan goes up against the all-wheel-drive 2021 Subaru Forester. Both have a lot of good qualities, but which is better?

Quick Facts

  • Tiguan offers three rows for seven-passenger seating.
  • 2021 Subaru Forester comes standard with all-wheel drive.
  • Both have a maximum 1,500-pound towing capacity.

2021 Volkswagen Tiguan

2021 Volkswagen TiguanBase price: $26,440 / Read our 2021 Volkswagen Tiguan review

What we like: Seven-passenger seating and huge cargo space; ride and handling; luxury touches

What we would change: Offer another engine/transmission choice or even a hybrid option; make the styling less conservative

Overview: A rare three-row compact crossover, the 2021 Volkswagen Tiguan offers what one might expect from VW, including a comfortable ride, sporty performance, and plenty of luxury touches throughout, including numerous safety features. Given its size, however, we would prefer an optional upgrade engine, and resale values lag some of its Japanese competitors.

What’s new for 2021: Changes are mostly subtle and cosmetic for 2021. S and SE trims offer new 17-inch wheels and the SE trim gets active cruise control and the MIB 3 infotainment system. The SEL Premium R-line trim gets a power front passenger seat.

Features and technology: One of the most important distinctions about the 2021 VW Tiguan is its three rows of seating for seven passengers in front-wheel-drive models. Tiguans optioned with 4Motion all-wheel drive get two rows with an optional smaller third row.

There are five trims of Tiguan, ranging from the S up to the SEL R-Line. Base models are handsomely equipped, with VW’s Car-Net App-Connect package including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Other tech includes a 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system, a Wi-Fi hotspot, Bluetooth and USB smartphone connectivity, and a rearview camera. Safety features include forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, a blind-spot monitor, and rear cross-traffic alert. Many of the items available on upper trims are also available as options.

The next trim up, the SE includes adaptive cruise control, the latest MIB 3 infotainment system with an 8-inch touchscreen, automatic climate control, heated front seats, wireless charging, keyless access, and push-button start.

Moving up to the SE R-Line black adds 20-inch wheels, a panoramic sunroof, foglights with cornering functionality, and some styling tweaks. The SEL includes 19-inch wheels, rain-sensing wipers and a navigation system. The top-line SEL R-Line includes a 480-watt Fender audio system and a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel.

What does the future hold: In 2021, VW is bringing an even smaller crossover to the U.S., based on the Audi Q3. We also expect VW to offer a hybrid or possibly diesel option. Find a 2021 Volkswagen Tiguan for sale

2021 Subaru Forester

2021 Subaru ForesterBase price: $25,845 / Read our 2021 Subaru Forester review

What we like: Standard all-wheel drive; lots of space for passengers and cargo; 33 mpg highway; excellent safety scores; good resale value

What we would change: Boring styling; single engine choice; continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) can drone; some driver assistance features are too sensitive

Overview: Despite its modest appearance, the 2021 Subaru Forester is actually quite roomy inside, with space enough for six-footers in both front and back and 76.1 cubic feet of maximum cargo space. A Subaru trademark, all-wheel drive comes standard on the 2021 Forester, and that combined with nine inches of ground clearance gives it sure-footedness in any sort of weather condition. The single engine choice is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder, and while it’s ample to move the Forester around, we don’t love the CVT, as it can drone when pushed. However, the Forester handles reasonably well considering its size and height. Inside, the Forester is perfectly pleasant, although not terribly exciting, but thin pillars and lots of glass provide for excellent visibility all around. All models come with Subaru’s EyeSight suite of safety features, and infotainment comes from a 6.5-inch touchscreen that includes both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.  Resale values have been good in prior years.

What’s new for 2021: Changes for the 2021 Forester are fairly light, and include mostly safety features. Steering-responsive LED headlights become standard as well as automatic high beams. The Premium trim adds foglights as well as keyless ignition and entry, while the Sport trim includes blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. At the top, the Limited trim gains a simulated 7-speed manual mode for the CVT.

Features and technology: With a single engine choice and standard all-wheel drive, the 2021 Subaru Forester comes in five trim levels. The base model is well equipped, with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto integration and a 6.5-inch infotainment display that includes satellite radio, a CD player, and two USB ports. Other features include automatic climate control, adaptive LED headlights, different driving modes, active grille shutters for fuel efficiency, 60/40 split-folding rear seats, and a washer for the rearview camera. All Foresters also include EyeSight, Subaru’s suite of driver assistance and safety features, but as we mentioned, some of those can be a bit too sensitive at times.

The next trim up is the Premium, which includes alloy wheels, a 10-way power-adjustable driver seat and foglights, keyless ignition and entry, and a panoramic moonroof. Sport trim adds 18-inch alloy wheels, larger front brake discs, paddle shifters, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and two rear USB ports.

The second-highest Limited trim includes an 8-inch infotainment screen, leather upholstery, and voice-activated dual-zone automatic climate control. The top Touring trim adds navigation to the 8-inch infotainment system, plus a Harman Kardon 9-speaker/576-watt audio system. The front passenger seat gets 8-way power adjustment, and the rear seats are heated. It also includes reverse automatic braking and DriverFocus, yet another safety feature that uses facial recognition and infrared sensors to detect driver distraction and respond by sounding an alert or even slowing the vehicle down.

What does the future hold:  As the Forester is already pretty well equipped, we expect only modest upgrades. We would like to see a somewhat less drone-y CVT and another engine option as well, possibly a hybrid. Find a 2021 Subaru Forester for sale

Tiguan vs. Forester: Strengths comparison

VW Tiguan benefits: More fun to drive; nicer interior; three-row/seven-passenger capacity

Subaru Forester benefits: Fuel economy; cargo space; resale values; head- and legroom

2021 Volkswagen Tiguan vs. 2021 Subaru Forester: Which is better?

If you need three rows of seats for your kids, then the 2021 VW Tiguan is the obvious choice here, but beyond that, the waters get a little murky. If you need the bigger cargo space and you tend to carry larger passengers, then the Forester is the way to go, and probably the smarter, more conservative choice. But if you just want a comfortable, pleasant, nice-driving compact crossover, we say choose the Tiguan. Find a 2021 Volkswagen Tiguan for sale near you or Find a 2021 Subaru Forester for sale near you 

2021 Volkswagen Tiguan 2021 Subaru Forester
Popular Powertrains
Engine 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 2.5-liter flat-4
Horsepower 184 hp @ 4400 rpm 182 hp @ 5,800 rpm
Torque 221 lb-ft @ 1600 rpm 176 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
Transmission 8-spd automatic Continuously variable
Fuel Economy 25 mpg (22 city/29 highway) 29 mpg (26 city/33 highway)
Also Available n/a n/a
Specs
Basic warranty 4 years/50,000 miles 3 years/36,000 miles
Powertrain warranty 4 years/50,000 miles 5 years/60,000 miles
NHTSA Overall Safety Rating not rated 5 Stars
Max Seating Capacity 7 5
Wheelbase 109.8 inches 105.1 inches
Overall Length 185.1 inches 182.1 inches
Width 72.4 inches 71.5 inches
Height 66.3 inches 68.1 inches
Turning Diameter 37.7 feet 36.0 feet
Headroom, Front 39.6 inches 41.2 inches
Headroom, Rear 39.1 inches 39.6 inches
Legroom, Front 40.2 inches 43.3 inches
Legroom, Rear 36.6 inches 39.4 inches
Shoulder Room, Front 57.0 inches 58.2 inches
Shoulder Room, Rear 55.9 inches 57.2 inches
EPA Passenger Volume 123.9 cubic feet 111.9 cubic feet
EPA Cargo Volume 65.7 cubic feet 76.1 cubic feet

Doug Lloyd
Doug Lloyd is an author specializing in comparison tests. A veteran of the automotive press world, Doug started at Sports Car International and Vintage Motorsport magazines and has worked at both Porsche Panorama magazine and Edmunds.com. Doug is also a jazz piano player and a composer for television.

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