The 2021 Forester offers standard AWD and other traditional Subaru attributes in a spacious, comfortable, compact crossover utility vehicle.
Adaptive LED headlamps and automatic high beams are now standard across the 2021 Subaru Forester lineup. The Limited model now features a seven-speed manual mode for the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). A new rear center-console storage tray has been added to all trims except the base model.
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The Forester is practical to the extreme
Interior is roomy and comfortable
Ample cargo capacity
Amongst the slowest in its category
Unremarkable exterior styling
Lowest trim level is shy on content
All 2021 Subaru Forester models are powered by the same 182 horsepower 2.5L 4-cylinder engine, driving through a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) and out to Subaru‘s well-regarded all-wheel-drive system. It takes the Forester 8.5 seconds to reach 60 mph, significantly slower than many competitors. The Forester would definitely benefit from Subaru’s 2.4 L turbocharged engine that’s available in the Outback and Ascent.
The Subaru Forester ride quality provides comfort balanced by enough control to keep the Forester from leaning too much on twisty roads or freeway off-ramps. That’s impressive, given the almost nine inches of ground clearance. In fact, dirt roads and rough weather offer little challenge to the Forester driver, between its high ground clearance and permanent all-wheel drive. In fact, the 2021 Subaru Forester is the only non-luxury compact SUV to feature standard all-wheel drive.
Cornering is enhanced by Subaru’s X-Mode torque-vectoring system that adjusts individual wheel speeds to optimize stability. The electrically assisted steering seems a little heavy at first, though it takes just a few miles to adjust. The typically squishy continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) is not known for its responsiveness. However, the Lineartronic CVT in the new Forester is better than most as it shifts up and down fairly quickly in response to the driver’s right foot. Subaru’s EyeSight suite of driver aids is standard in the Forester. It includes features like lane-keeping assist, pre-collision braking and adaptive cruise control.
Two items we’d like to see Subaru address are the lane-keeping assistance and the engine stop/start function. The lane-keeping assistance feature triggers with only slight movements of the steering wheel, though its function can be disabled by a switch located near the rearview mirror. The fuel-saving engine stop/start function (designed to save full when at a stop light by switching the engine off, and then on again when the accelerator is depressed) is not as smooth functioning as many, though it too can be defeated.
All models of the 2021 Subaru Forester compact crossover SUV register the same fuel economy ratings as they’re all powered by the same engine, transmission, and all-wheel drive system. Those ratings are 26 mpg City, 33 mpg Highway, and 29 mpg Combined.
The 2021 Subaru Forester offers high-quality, soft-touch materials and contrast stitching inside its stylish, comfortable cabin. There’s plenty of room for everyone too, with up to 111.9 cubic feet of passenger volume. That’s more interior passenger room than the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, or Ford Escape.
The back seat is capacious and even adults should find the bench seat comfortable for road trips. Like most of its competitors, the Forester does not offer a third-row seat. In fact, both front and rear seating are among the most comfortable in the Forester’s class.
There’s also plenty of storage space inside the Forester. Behind the second-row seats is an impressive 35.4 cubic feet of storage space. Fold down the second-row seat back and it opens up to 76.1 cubic feet, more than in many competing compact crossover utility vehicles.
All 2021 Subaru Forester models come standard with a touchscreen infotainment system equipped with Subaru’s latest Starlink Multimedia interface, though screen sizes differ. Base, Premium, and Sport models come standard with a 6.5-inch display, though a larger 8.0-inch unit is optional on the Sport trim and standard on the Limited and Touring models. Two USB ports are available for front-seat passengers, with optional outlets at back of the center console so everyone can share in the charging experience.
A navigation system is available only on Limited and Touring trims, though with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility standard turn-by-turn directions can be displayed through the driver’s smartphone. Onboard Wi-Fi via a 4G LTE data connection is standard on all trims except the base Forester.
The 2021 Subaru Forester earned a five-star crash rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and a Top Safety Pick designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. All models come standard with Subaru’s EyeSight suite of camera-based driver-assistance feature that monitors traffic movement, optimizes cruise control, and warns the driver when the Forester is straying outside the lane.
The Automatic Pre-Collision Braking feature can apply full braking force and bring you to a complete stop in emergency situations. Advanced Adaptive Cruise Control with Lane Centering can take some of the stress out of driving by helping with steering, braking, and throttle control – both in daily traffic and on long road trips.
The Touring model offers the option of the DriverFocus system, which provides a helpful alert if the driver should become distracted or drowsy. DriverFocus can also recognize up to five different drivers and recall their preferences, including seat position, climate settings, and outside mirror position. Also available on the Touring model is Reverse Automatic Braking, which utilizes the Rear Cross-Traffic Alert (standard on all models) to stop itself to help avoid objects behind you when backing up.
The 2021 Subaru Forester Base is priced at $24,795 and features a long list of standard features including power windows, door locks, and side mirrors. It also comes equipped with dual USB ports in the front center console, a multi-function display, and remote keyless entry.
Also standard on Forester Base is a 6.5-inch Multimedia Plus system with high-resolution touchscreen, smartphone integration with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio streaming connectivity as well as available SiriusXM.
The 2021 Subaru Forester Premium adds a considerable upgrade over the Base in comfort, convenience, and available tech. The Forester Premium comes standard with an All-Weather Package that includes heated front seats, heated exterior mirrors, and windshield wiper de-icer. The Premium also adds a 10-way power driver’s seat with power lumbar support, 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels in black with machine finish, roof rails, dark tint privacy glass, and a panoramic power moonroof.
The 2021 Subaru Forester Sport adds Blind-Spot Detection with Lane Change Assist and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert to its standard equipment list (now standard, was an option in 2020). The exterior of the Sport trim features attractive gloss black trim as well as black-finish 18-inch wheels and a black rear roof spoiler, along with orange accents on the side and front lower valances and roof rail mounts with an orange SPORT badge on the rear of the vehicle. The exclusive Sport interior features a unique dark gray material with orange stitching and accents that match the exterior throughout the cabin.
The well-equipped 2021 Subaru Forester Limited comes standard with Blind-Spot Detection with Lane Change Assist and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert (optional on lesser models). Its roster of added amenities includes an 8-inch Multimedia Plus screen, perforated leather-trimmed upholstery, and leather-wrapped accesories. Also included is a dual-zone automatic climate control with voice-activated controls, dual USB ports in the rear center console, and a power rear gate with auto close and height memory.
The Limited exterior features 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels in black with machine finish, exterior mirrors in matching body color with integrated turn signals, and chrome accent trim for the fog lights. By the way, everything standard on the Sport comes on the Limited as well (except the orange trim).
The 2021 Subaru Forester Touring continues at the top of the line. The Touring includes the full list of standard and optional features from the Limited. Added is the innovative DriverFocus Distraction Mitigation System that utilizes infrared sensors and facial recognition to spot driver distraction or fatigue.
The exterior of the Touring is distinguished by unique-to-the-Touring 18-inch alloy wheels in black with machine finish. The exterior gains more chrome trim, including turn signal, fog light, outside rearview mirror bezels, chromed badges, and a brushed silver trim on the roof rack.
Buyers have a choice of Black or Saddle Brown perforated leather trimmed upholstery. Other features include a 10-way power driver’s seat with two-position memory, eight-way power front passenger seat, and heated rear seats.
The Forester’s warranty is on the light side, especially when compared to competitors. For example, the Kia Sportage and the Hyundai Tucson offer a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, while the Toyota RAV4 comes with two years of complimentary scheduled maintenance. The 2021 Subaru Forester comes with a limited warranty covering 3 years or 36,000 miles, a powertrain warranty covering 5 years or 60,000 miles, and no complimentary scheduled maintenance is included.
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Likely not a surprise to anyone reading this, but it must be said nonetheless: the 2021 Subaru Forester is not the most dynamic compact SUV to drive nor does it come packed with a long list of standard convenience features. However, its numbers speak for themselves, and it remains one of the most popular models in its category.
It comes loaded with safety features, even at lower trim levels (which many competitors hold back until you reach their premium models). The flat-four engine is willing, though it’s sometimes hampered by the CVT transmission’s lack of response. And, unlike several competitors, it offers no upgrade engine option.
It won’t win any beauty contests either, with a somewhat awkward exterior styling, although loyal Subie fans will deny it. On the plus side, there’s plenty of interior space, including the rear seat that’s comfortable for adults even on longish trips.
Many of its competitors offer their compact SUVs with an optional so-so AWD system. The Outback is fitted with the real deal and highly capable of off-road travel up to its clearance limitations. While some of its flashier competitors may offer a more stylish exterior, more powerful engine, and more optional features, the Forester offers a well-rounded set of capabilities that make for an affordable, comfortable, and capable package.