In this crowded field, the Forester faces a lot of competition -- including one rival within its own showroom. The Subaru Outback's redesign saw it morph from an all-wheel-drive station wagon into more of a crossover/SUV-type vehicle, like the Forester. Compared to the Forester, the Outback is larger outside, but doesn't have that much more space inside. Both have a very roomy back seat. Neither offers an optional third-row seat. Both have a generous cargo area; the Outback's is slightly bigger, but the Forester's is already near the top of its class.
Equipped with its standard four-cylinder, the larger Outback actually gets better gas mileage (22/29 mpg) than the Forester. With its optional six, the Outback's 18/25 mpg is about on a par with the Forester turbo. Both cars drive similarly, with decent (hydraulically assisted) power steering, and both ride well over bad pavement but could use firmer damping.
The Forester 2.5XT Touring is only about $1500 less than the top-of-the-line Outback, which has a six-cylinder engine and a five-speed automatic. The less-expensive Forester has the aforementioned monster sunroof, which is an extra-cost option for the Outback, so the price gap between the two is actually a bit wider.
Despite the in-house competition, the Forester remains a compelling choice among compact crossovers because it is sensibly sized, very roomy, easy to drive, and well priced. We only wish Subaru would give it a more efficient transmission to boost its fuel economy.