Subaru’s Three Crossovers: Siblings Not Triplets

Subarus are very popular in New England. So how do three crossovers – the Outback, Crosstrek, and Forester – stack up against each other?

XV CROSSTREK: It has edgier styling, distinctive wheels, and is the smallest of the trio.
XV CROSSTREK: It has edgier styling, distinctive wheels, and is the smallest of the trio. –SUBARU

If you’re in the market for a smallish SUV or crossover (those terms have become pretty much interchangeable these days), choosing which brands to compare is one challenge.

But what if you’ve already picked your brand? We have. Today’s column explains the differences among Subaru’s three crossover offerings.

Why Subaru? Because it’s the ultimate New England fallback for the region’s winter climate.

Most folks reading this know a bit about Subarus; namely, that they: 1) are a popular vehicle in New England; 2) last a long time; 3) have a time-tested all-wheel-drive system; 4) and all look somewhat alike.


But ask those same folks to describe the differences among the Outback, Forester, and XV CrossTtrek, and you’re liable to get a blank stare.

Mo¬st of us recognize the models, but are hard-pressed to single out what’s distinctive about each one.

The differences are real. The Outback is longer, the Forester is higher and has a higher cargo area, especially important if you’ve got a good-sized dog, and the XV CrossTrek definitely has an edgy, more aggressive look, in large part because of its fancy wheels. It’s also the only one that comes in tangerine orange, a color that definitely goes outside the Subaru mainstream.

Here’s a capsule look at each vehicle, replete with random tangential thoughts. We’re comparing the three, each in mid-range premium trim with the CVT transmission.

The Outback

Subaru’s Outback is the No. 1 seller among the three cars. It has a longer wheelbase and more European-like handling. —SUBARU

Frankly, because it looks like a second cousin to a Volvo SUV, we thought the Outback was the smallest member of the family. Actually, it happens to be the longest, fitting into the midsize crossover category. It’s got a longer wheelbase (by 4-plus inches) than the other two and is significantly longer overall (189.6 inches compared to 180.9 for the Forester and 175.2 for the XV Crosstrek). It’s also wider than the others (72.4 inches compared to 70.7 for the Forester and 70.1 for the XV Crosstrek).


The Outback also happens to be Subaru’s No. 1 seller. In our comparison trim, it has a price of $27,845.

Even though it has a more aerodynamic appearance, the Outback has the most cubic feet of cargo space with 73.3 compared to 68.5 for the Forester and 51.9 for the Crosstrek.

The Outback isn’t available with a manual transmission, but it is the only one of the three you can get with a six-cylinder engine—the 3.6-liter optional offering.

For techies, the new Outback is available with (meaning at extra cost) the second-generation of Subaru’s award-winning (top Safety pick+) Eyesight system with adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, pre-collision braking, rear cross-traffic alert, and blind spot warning. Drive with this system for a week and there’s no going back.

The basic Outback shares the same 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine with the Forester but, for some reason, gets 175 horsepower compared to the Forester’s 170.

The Forester

The Forester sits up higher and has a square shape that allows for a higher cargo area. —SUBARU

The Forester and XV Crosstrek are built on the same platform. They have basically the same 103-inch wheelbase and share the same car-based platform. However, the Crosstrek is more than 5 inches shorter overall.

Both fit into the compact crossover category; however, the Forester has a maximum cargo space (with rear seats folded) of 68.5 cubic feet compared to the Crosstrek’s 51.9 cubic feet.

Also, while they both have Subaru’s CVT transmission, the Forester has a bigger 2.5-liter engine with 170 horsepower compared to the XV Crosstrek’s 2.0-liter with 148 hp.

Subaru people say the Forester is more of a family car (for a small family) and the most dog-friendly (a big Subaru talking point) because its higher roofline lets larger dogs sit upright.


In our mid-range configuration, the Forester has an MSRP of $25,945. That’s almost $2,000 less than the Outback, which does have more standard features.

The Forester also offers a massive optional moonroof. Visibility for the driver arguably is as good as any vehicle on the market.

For those who haven’t given in and conceded that CVTs offer better fuel economy than manual transmissions, the Forester still can be had with a manual.

The XV Crosstrek

It’s cool. It’s sporty. It’s more aggressively styled. It’s less expensive.

While the Forester might be a better choice for a family, the Crosstrek is a great choice for a single person or a couple.

For a crossover, it has impressive fuel economy figures of 26 city and 34 highway.

Its shorter length makes it easier to park.

Like all three of our Subarus, it has 8.7 inches of ground clearance. In a year when we’ve had more than 100 inches of snow, it’s nice to know that if this 3,000-plus pound car can pack the snow down to 9 inches, it can go most anyplace.

In fact, Planet Subaru owner Jeff Morrill says, “Having AWD on all our models except the BRZ was a big help in moving vehicles so we could plow the lot almost on a daily basis during the worst of the storms.’’

The XV Crosstrek’s price is $24,145 in a similar premium configuration, making it a good choice if you don’t need the size of the Outback or the squarer configuration of the Forester.

So what’s the bottom line? Simple. You can’t go wrong with any of these Subarus, but this comparison may help you decide which best fits your lifestyle.

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