Americans brought home more crossover SUVs last month than any other type of vehicle, and the Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester are two of the most appealing choices in this booming segment. Both compact SUVs excel in terms of practicality and utility, offering good gas mileage, a spacious cargo area, and roomy seating for the class.
The CR-V was last redesigned in 2012, while the Forester’s most recent makeover came in 2014. Over the last couple years, the CR-V and Forester have received more modest updates to stay fresh in terms of technology and styling. While they have similar strengths, there are some key differences between the two that may influence your buying decision, so read on to find out which SUV is better for you.
The Subaru Forester’s starting price of $22,395 undercuts the CR-V’s $23,745 base price. Both SUVs come standard with convenience features like a USB port, Bluetooth, and a rearview camera. With the Forester, you’ll also get a standard touch-screen infotainment system and HD Radio, both of which will cost you extra with the CR-V.
Under the hood, both the CR-V and Forester have a four-cylinder engine. An automatic transmission is standard with the CR-V, while the Forester comes with a manual. Opting for an automatic transmission in the Forester bumps up the price to $23,395, which is still $400 less than the CR-V’s base price.
The Forester comes standard with all-wheel drive (AWD), so if you want that added traction in bad weather, Subaru’s SUV is the better value. An AWD-equipped CR-V raises the price to $25,045.
Inside, both SUVs are available with a wide range of convenience and tech features including dual-zone automatic climate control, an upgraded audio system, navigation, and plenty of driver-assistance features.
Top-of-the-line pricing is similar at $33,395 for the CR-V AWD Touring and $33,795 for the Forester 2.0XT Touring, but you’ll get a more potent turbocharged engine with the Forester.
Regardless of whether you choose the CR-V or Forester, you’ll have a very safe vehicle. Based on crash test results from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the CR-V receives an excellent safety score of 9.7 out of 10. The Forester’s is just a little lower at 9.3
Both SUVs received “Good” ratings (the best possible) in all of IIHS’s crash tests. In NHTSA’s tests, the CR-V and Forester earned perfect 5-star ratings in side crash protection and 4-stars in rollover protection. In front crash tests, however, the CR-V received 5-stars while the Forester earned a 4-star rating.
In terms of driver-assistance technologies, both the CR-V and Forester are available with lane departure warning, pre-collision automatic braking, and adaptive cruise control. The CR-V can also be equipped with the Honda LaneWatch blind spot camera.
Over the long haul, the more reliable CR-V will likely save you money in maintenance and repairs relative to the Forester. These ratings do have some backing, as Honda scores better than most as a brand in J.D. Power’s most recent dependability study, while Subaru scores about average.
The base CR-V with an automatic transmission returns an EPA-estimated 26/33 mpg city/highway, which is very good for a compact SUV. An automatic transmission-equipped Forester makes 24/32 mpg city/highway, which is closer to the class average.
Keep in mind, the Forester comes standard with all-wheel drive (AWD), which generally hurts fuel economy. The Forester’s 27 mpg combined city/highway is good for an all-wheel drive SUV though. If you opt for a CR-V with all-wheel drive, gas mileage is similar to the AWD Forester at 25/31 mpg city/highway, or 27 mpg combined.
Under the hood, the CR-V and Forester each have four-cylinder engines that produce 185 and 170 horsepower, respectively. That’s adequate muscle for daily driving in both SUVs, but some rivals like the Volkswagen Tiguan and Kia Sportage offer more spirited acceleration.
If you want a livelier engine, you can upgrade to the Forester’s turbocharged 250-horsepower four-cylinder ($29,195), which has more than enough strength to make easy passes on the highway and climb hills. The CR-V isn’t available with a larger engine.
On winding roads, the CR-V and Forester have composed handling and precise steering, but rivals like the Ford Escape and Mazda CX-5 are better choices for sporty dynamics. On rougher roads, both the CR-V and Forester deliver a smooth and comfortable ride.
If traction in inclement weather is a top priority, the Forester is a better value. Its all-wheel drive system provides stability in tough conditions and you can get it with an automatic transmission for about $1,600 less than you can with the CR-V. The Forester’s more powerful engine option also pushes the scales toward Subaru when it comes to performance.
You can’t go wrong with either SUV when it comes to comfortable and spacious seating. Both the front and back rows in the CR-V and Forester are very accommodating, even for adults, and not much road or wind noise penetrates either cabin. Rear-seat headroom is slightly better in the Forester, while there’s a little more generous legroom in the CR-V.
Both SUVs are available with heated front seats, leather upholstery and a power-adjustable driver’s seat. With similar comfort, space, and features, there’s no clear winner in this category. What is clear is that you and your passengers will be comfortable in both the CR-V and Forester.
The Forester and CR-V are both standouts in terms of cargo space. With the rear seats folded down, the Forester boasts 74.7 cubic feet of space, which is one of the best figures of any compact SUV. Keep in mind, if you opt for the Forester’s panoramic moonroof, available luggage space drops to 68.5 cubic feet. The CR-V’s maximum storage space measures 70.9 cubic feet for all trim levels.
Both SUVs are available with a power liftgate, while the CR-V’s low cargo loading floor makes lifting in luggage a little easier. Up front, the Forester has a large glove box that helps with stowing smaller items.
A 6.2-inch touch-screen infotainment system comes standard with the Forester, while a larger 7-inch touch screen is available. The CR-V doesn’t come standard with one, but a 7-inch touch screen is optional. Features like dual-zone automatic climate control, an upgraded audio system, satellite radio, push-button start, a power moonroof, and navigation are available with both vehicles.
In terms of usability, the CR-V does well, as all the climate and audio controls are intuitively located and easy to use. The Forester’s standard touch screen is a little small and can be difficult to read on a sunny day, but the larger screen has better graphics and can be operated using pinching and swipe gestures like a smartphone. Plus, all the Forester’s climate and audio controls are easy to use, and both iPhone and Android devices can be paired with the available Harman Kardon audio system.
With similar standard and available features and easy-to-use controls, the CR-V and Forester are in a dead heat on the technology front. You’ll likely be more than satisfied with either SUV.
Winner: 2016 Honda CR-V
As you can see from this tight head-to-head showdown, the CR-V and Forester have a lot in common and are both strong choices for your next compact SUV. Ultimately, the CR-V comes out on top largely due to its superior safety and reliability ratings.
In fact, the CR-V is currently the top-ranked compact SUV, and we named it the 2016 Best Compact SUV for Families thanks to its family-friendly space and features, great safety and reliability ratings, and excellent expert reviews. It was also a finalist for the 2016 Best Compact SUV for the Money award due to its combination of quality and value.
The Subaru Forester isn’t an award winner and it currently sits in tenth in our compact SUV rankings. While its standard all-wheel drive, spacious interior, and long list of tech features are appealing, its poor reliability rating ultimately holds it back. Until that improves, the CR-V is the better choice for a practical, comfortable, and durable compact SUV.