The 2021 Subaru Forester starts at $24,795 in the United States and at $28,995 in Canada, freight and delivery charges not included.
Spacious cabin, sure-footedness in winter, low fuel consumption.
Generic design, some popular features limited to uplevel trims, lacks a little driving excitement.
In the compact crossover segment, there are so many models to choose from, with similar designs, powertrains and features. However, there’s also the 2021 Subaru Forester which, like most of the brand’s products, offers something its competitors doesn’t.
First launched way back in 1997, the Forester has grown in size while becoming more and more refined over time, and slowly shed its tall-wagon look for a more conventional crossover design. The fifth generation arrived for the 2019 model year, and for 2021, the Forester receives some equipment changes as it’s still relatively new.
Among those changes is a rear seat belt reminder, which invites passengers sitting back there to buckle up before the vehicle drives away, and there’s also a visual warning in the driver instrument cluster. In addition, steering responsive LED headlights and automatic high beams are now standard across the board—which were previously reserved for uplevel trims. In the U.S., the Premium trim level now features an intelligent key and fog lights, and the Sport gets standard blind-spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and lane change assist. Meanwhile in Canada, a heated steering wheel is now available from the Touring trim onwards.
The U.S.-spec 2021 Subaru Forester is offered in base, Premium, Sport, Limited and Touring grades, while the Canadian equivalent is available in base, Convenience, Touring, Sport, Limited and Premier trims. It competes with extremely popular compact crossovers such as the Toyota RAV4, the Honda CR-V, the Hyundai Tucson, the Kia Sportage, the Ford Escape and the Nissan Rogue, among others.
A horizontally opposed, 2.5L four-cylinder engine equips every trim level of the 2021 Subaru Forester, which develops 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque. It’s connected to a continuously variable automatic transmission as well as a full-time all-wheel drivetrain—a unique feature in its segment. Towing capacity is rated at 1,500 pounds or 680 kilograms.
The Forester’s AWD setup dishes out power in a 60/40 front/rear split, but can vary that distribution to an even 50/50 when wheel slippage occurs. One advantage of a full-time system over a reactive, on-demand AWD is that there’s no delay in shifting power to the wheels with more traction—even if said delay is a fraction of a second. Fuel economy in the United States is rated at 26/33/29 mpg (city/highway/combined), while in Canada, the Forester gets figures of 9.0/7.2/8.2 L/100 km.
A 6.5-inch infotainment touchscreen is standard in the more affordable trim levels, along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, SiriusXM compatibility and STARLINK apps. The better-equipped variants benefit from an eight-inch screen, more USB ports and an embedded navigation system.
Pricing for the 2021 Subaru Forester ranges from $24,795 to $34,895 in the U.S., and from $28,995 to $40,095 in Canada, freight and delivery charges excluded in both cases.
What the 2021 Subaru Forester Does Well
- Obviously, the Forester is a very capable performer during the snowy season, thanks to its full-time AWD. It’s no wonder why Subaru vehicles are so popular in colder states like Vermont, and in the province of Quebec, for example. The crossover’s 8.7-inch (220-mm) ground clearance is second only to the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk’s by a hair (221 mm).
- The 2021 Subaru Forester is also one of the most spacious crossovers in its class, topping its rivals in headroom and shoulder room, while ranking among the best regarding front-seat legroom. The large window surface provides good visibility all around. It also boasts the roomiest cargo area with a volume of up to 31.1 cubic feet (881 litres) with the rear seats in place, and up to 76.1 cubic feet (2,155 litres) with the seatbacks folded down.
- The Forester is priced right. In the U.S., it undercuts all popular compact AWD crossovers, while in Canada, only the Tucson and the Sportage have lower base prices. The Forester is ready for winter with standard heated front seats in Canada, which are included one trim level up in the U.S., along with heated exterior mirrors and a windshield wiper de-icer in all but the base trim.
- Despite the full-time all-wheel drivetrain, the Forester is one of the most fuel-efficient crossovers in its category, hybrid models excluded. In fact, it’s surpassed only by the CR-V and the RAV4, though not by much.
What The 2021 Subaru Forester Doesn’t Do Well
- Some interesting features, like the nine-speaker Harman/Kardon sound system, the power-adjustable front passenger seat, the heated rear seats and the heated steering wheel, are only available in the costliest trim levels. Naturally, there’s a reason why higher-end trims cost more, but many of these items can be fetched in rival models for less coin.
- The Sport trim level isn’t really sporty. Actually, besides some unique styling elements and orange pinstriping, no performance or serious off-road upgrades can be found here.
- The 2021 Subaru Forester’s styling is rather generic, and fails to stand out in its crowded segment. What used to be a uniquely styled tall wagon has become a mainstream utility vehicle. Sales have been stable though, so maybe that’s what consumers really want.
- While far from being a chore to drive, it’s not the most engaging compact crossover either. Not that this should be a big concern from typical crossover buyers, but Subaru loyalists are probably longing for an eventual return of a turbocharged engine in the Forester.
What We Tell Our Friends
The 2021 Subaru Forester should be mechanically trouble-free, though owners have complained about electronic and infotainment system glitches over the last couple of years. Nevertheless, the Forester is a spacious, fuel-efficient and winter-capable compact crossover. It might not be the most attractive model in its segment, but it offers good value and an affordable price tag.