Mitsubishi Outlander 2020 exceed 7 seat (awd), Subaru Forester 2020 2.5i-s (awd)

2020 Mitsubishi Outlander v Subaru Forester comparison

Two sensible Japanese medium SUVs duke it out

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What phrase best describes a comparison of the Mitsubishi Outlander and Subaru Forester? Sortie of the sensible? Battle of the beige?

Let’s not get off on the wrong foot. This pair of compact SUVs are two of the most popular in a crowded market, because they deliver reliable and practical motoring at reasonable prices.

The Subaru is actually better than that, since it took a top three finish in our most recent whole-of-segment mega test. The Outlander didn’t compete in that since an update was then on the way, in the form of the 2020 vehicle tested here.


Pricing and Spec

We’re testing this pair in high specification levels. The Outlander Exceed’s list price is $43,690 before on-road costs (on offer for $46,190 drive-away at the time of writing), and the Forester 2.5i-S’s is $42,990 (With no national price offer, but expect $47,300-$47,900 drive-away depending on your location).

There's not much difference in the level of features. Both have heated (front) leather seats, climate control with two-row vents, privacy glass, auto wipers, LED headlights, 18-inch wheels, a proximity key fob, sunroofs, auto-folding side mirrors, seven airbags, 8.0-inch screens, satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, and eight-speaker audio.

There are some differences, mostly in the realm of active and passive safety features, as will be detailed.

Mitsubishi OutlanderSubaru Forester
Wheels 18-inch18-inch
Sunroof YesYes
Mirrors Power-foldingPower-folding
Proximity key YesYes
Tailgate PoweredPowered
Auto headlights LEDLED
Privacy glass YesYes
Airbags 77
ISOFIX/top tethers 2/32/3
Rain-sensing wipers YesYes
Air conditioning Climate controlClimate control
SeatsLeather, heated Leather, heated, memory
Storage
  • Cup holders
  • Bottle holders
  • Door bins
  • Centre console
  • Glovebox
  • Cargo hooks
  • Seat-back pockets
  • Retractable cargo cover
  • Cup holders
  • Bottle holders
  • Door bins
  • Centre console
  • Glovebox
  • Sunglasses box
  • Cargo hooks
  • Seat-back pockets
  • Retractable cargo cover

Tech and Infotainment

Both cars have 8.0-inch touchscreens displaying satellite-navigation, DAB+ digital radio, and Bluetooth streaming. Both also have ‘premium’ sound systems not found on entry variants, with eight speakers. The Subaru has one more USB point (4 versus 3) and a CD player.

Each also offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which let you mirror your phone to the car’s screen and display your podcast, Spotify playlists, and tap into mapping from Google (including Waze) and Apple. It also leverages their sophisticated voice-recognition systems.

The Outlander’s system is a co-creation of the Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, and while the integration of the screen hardware into the car’s aged fascia looks a little ad-hoc, it all works fine thanks to a simple tiled home screen and shortcut touchpoints on the bottom section. No volume dial though.

The sat-nav is supplied by TomTom and notably displays your speed digitally which helps in places with stringent limit regulations. Another good feature is a surround-view camera (Multi Around View Monitor), which doesn’t have the best resolution but which nevertheless is helpful.

Subaru’s system is similarly easy to figure out, even though the overall interior at first presents a kind of information overload (two central screens, 17 steering wheel shortcut buttons). There’s a particularly high-resolution screen controlled by touch, helped by various shortcut buttons and dials.

Above this primary screen is the smaller one atop the dash that displays a neat kerbside camera to stop you kerb rashing - and which augments the main screen’s reverse-view camera - alongside myriad information such as vehicle pitch and torque flow.

One final point is Subaru’s Driver Monitoring System, which uses a facial-recognition camera mounted above the upper screen. When you hop behind the wheel, it’ll recognise your mug and put the cabin temperature, memory seat position and exterior mirror height to your matched presets automatically.

Mitsubishi OutlanderSubaru Forester
Touchscreen 8.0-inch8.0-inch
Sat-nav YesYes
Digital radio YesYes
USB points 34
Bluetooth YesYes
Apple CarPlayYes Yes
Android Auto YesYes
Camera view Overhead viewRear, and kerb-side
Speakers 88

Cabins

The Outlander’s interior has some unrefined detailing - the plethora of 'blanks' where buttons ought to be, cheap-feeling climate control knobs, the shiny black plastic on the steering wheel - but is ergonomically sound with ample seat and wheel adjustment (ditto the Subaru) and typically well made.

The second seating row has ample legroom, shoulder-room, and knee-room for two adults or three kids/teenagers. I'm 194cm and fit comfortably behind my driving position, while the extended outer-seat bases give you support. The middle seating row can slide on rails, and the backs recline and fold 60:40.

Amenities include a flip-down centre armrest, behind-seat map pockets, dedicated air vents, and two USB points. There are also two ISOFIX anchors and three top-tether points in the second row, as there are in the Subaru.

At 4.7 metres, the Outlander is longer than most competitors in the class, and while much of that is in the overhangs, the cabin is sufficiently large to offer a third seating row in a segment dominated by five-seaters - including the Forester.

If you regularly carry six or seven occupants I can't recommend the Outlander, and would instead suggest something the next size up, like a Toyota Kluger. However, for occasional use such as taking a few of your kids' friends to footy training, they're a handy addition.

Unfortunately, the Exceed misses out on a full-size spare wheel unlike lower grades, making do with a space-saver unit instead. Even Mitsubishi Australia doesn't have a clear reason for why this might be, it's simply the way they come from the Japan factory.

The materials inside the Forester include soft dimpled padding for your knees and hands, and good quality perforated leather seats. The silver and glossy black plastics, and alloy pedals, add sheen. More than one person looking through the cars felt the interior presented particularly well.

I also really like the Subaru's extendable sun visors.

One selling point in both the front and back rows is the outward visibility, with those huge side windows and narrow pillars giving you a big glasshouse. It creates a welcoming and airy ambience. The back two doors open almost 90 degrees and welcome you into a spacious back seat row with enough headroom and legroom for 1.9m-tall occupants in the outboard seats.

Amenities in the second row include air vents, two 2.1A USB points, and ample storage including dual seat-back pockets for your paraphernalia. It’s worth noting that the sunroof doesn’t open as far as some rivals’ sunroofs (but more than a match for the Mitsu), and the back windows don’t go all the way down.

Thus the second row seats are more impressive and comfortable than the Outlander’s, but it doesn’t offer that occasional-use third row either…

Unlike the old Forester, the new one’s boot is big without a raised loading floor. You can drop the back seats flat via levers in the boot walls, and you get a proper full-size spare wheel. Subaru has also fitted a particularly quick-to-operate electric tailgate that’s faster than the Outlander’s.

Overall, the Forester’s interior might be a bit of a mishmash of buttons and screens on first impression, but you adjust to all this quickly, I found. Both of these cars are well-made inside and ergonomically fine, but the Subaru uses more premium materials and has better outboard visibility, particularly in that fantastic middle-seat area.

The only area where the Outlander rightly claims cabin superiority is its third seating row, no doubt a selling point for some. Other models in this segment with two small third-row seats include the Nissan X-Trail and Honda CR-V.

Mitsubishi OutlanderSubaru Forester
Length 4695mm4625mm
Width (folded mirrors)1810mm1815mm
Height 1710mm1730mm
Cargo space*477L498L
Cargo area length1048mm 900mm
Cargo area width**974mm1100mm
Spare wheel Space saverFull size

* VDA measure behind second seating row
** Between the wheel arch humps


Drivelines

In a world of small-capacity turbos, mild-hybrids and battery EVs, the engines in this pair are as simple as things get.

The Outlander uses a 2.4-litre naturally aspirated petrol four-cylinder with multi-point injection, and the Forester a 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder with direct injection, and of the horizontally opposed (flat) Boxer variety. Both also use CVTs with stepped ratios dialled in.

The Outlander’s unit makes 124kW at 6000rpm and 220Nm at 4200rpm, giving it a power-to-weight ratio of about 81kW per tonne to haul. The Forester’s makes 136kW at 5800rpm and 239Nm at 4400rpm, and therefore a ratio of 86.3kW per tonne.

Both run on 91 RON petrol, with the Outlander’s economy claim of 7.2L/100km undercutting the Forester’s 7.4L/100km. In the real world I comfortably averaged around the 8.5L/100km mark, with the Subaru usually just ahead. The Mitsubishi has a 60L tank and the Forester 63L.

The Mitsubishi's engine is merely adequate, particularly if you're just driving the family around. The CVT automatic is fairly refined and unobtrusive as far as these transmissions go, making a passable approximation of stepped ratios and engine speeds low at constant throttle.

The Forester felt peppier, managing a respectable 0-100km/h time of 9.4 seconds, about half-a-tenth superior to the Outlander. It also has a more refined and slicker CVT with a sportier mode that more notably improves drivetrain response. Nothing flash, but a little sharper overall.

Mitsubishi OutlanderSubaru Forester
Engine 2.4 petrol2.5 petrol
Power124kW @ 6000rpm136kW @ 5800rpm
Torque220Nm @ 4200rpm239Nm @ 4400rpm
TransmissionCVTCVT
DriveAWDAWD
Fuel economy (91 RON)7.2L/100km7.4L/100km

On the Road

Dynamically speaking, the Outlander offers neither the cosseting comfort of the new Toyota RAV4, handling of the Mazda CX-5, or refinement of the Volkswagen Tiguan, but it neatly sits bang-on 'average' in these areas.

It does have a propensity to be a little harsh over sharp hits like bridge joins or larger potholes, transmitting some of this into the cabin, but there's little egregious about its ride. The electric motor-assisted steering is numb, but not ponderous, and against lateral cornering loads it's never wallow-y.

The MY20 has no new suspension features, though the MY2019 update quickened the steering, and fitted bigger front struts and rear shocks, plus extra body adhesive to improve rigidity over bumps.

The MY18 Forester is a smidgen larger than before, stiffer and stronger. This explains why it is quieter on the road.

The steering has a slightly unusual weighting and the ride is occasionally too sharp over big hits (likely down to slightly ‘off’ damper control), but it’s generally a comfortable and compliant vehicle to drive, and fitted with decent Bridgestone tyres.

Both cars offer high driving positions, but it's the Subaru that is easier to see out of. In short, neither is overly sporty, but the Subaru is narrowly more agile while the Outlander irons out hits a little better.

The other side of the technology ledger is the sort of driver-assisting safety features offered. Both cars offer an autonomous emergency braking function (AEB), lane-departure alert, blind-spot monitoring lights displayed in the side mirrors, reverse cross-traffic alert, and active cruise control.

The Mitsubishi has a function called Ultrasonic Misacceleration Mitigation, which stops the car from lurching forwards from a parking bay if one accidentally has the car in Drive instead of Reverse gear. We’ve all seen the stories of someone accidentally driving into a cafe’s al fresco section…

The Subaru offers extras over and above those listed two paragraphs earlier including lane-keep assist that can steer the car away from highway road lines, a Lead Vehicle Start Alert which chimes if the stationary car ahead of you moves and you’re not quick enough to follow suit, and reverse AEB.

What’s interesting is that the Outlander uses a combination of radars and cameras to source road and traffic data and power its systems, whereas Subaru’s EyeSight technology package is camera-based.

Despite this, the Forester’s tech package is more impressive. Lead Vehicle Start Alert is dead useful, and the system that nudges you between road lines works far more often than not (it’s never something to be relied on, merely an aid). Its active cruise control system’s propensity to beep every time it locks onto a car ahead of you is odd.

On a side note, both cars offer an old-fashioned speed limiter alongside active cruise control which can prove invaluable to keeping people’s eyes on the road and off their speedos in stop-start traffic.

Mitsubishi OutlanderSubaru Forester
AEBYesYes
Lane-departure alert YesYes
Blind-spot monitor YesYes
Cross-traffic alert RearRear
Active cruise control YesYes
Ultrasonic Misacceleration MitigationYes No
Lane-keep assistNoYes
Lead Vehicle Start AlertNoYes
Driver Monitoring SystemNoYes

Off-Road

The Outlander in this spec grade uses an all-wheel drive system called Super All Wheel Control. Like most systems in this class, it's electronically actuated on-demand - but it doesn't send torque to the rear wheels haphazardly, it does to each wheel depending on need and on load.

Snow and Gravel modes also modulate the throttle mapping to curb wheel spin, which could otherwise erroneously activate the stability control and stifle momentum.

Subaru’s signature symmetrical full-time all-wheel drive has an active torque split system to manage torque flow between axles.

There are Snow/Dirt and Mud modes that change driveline response and the stability control threshold based on your surface type. The so-called X-Mode system also has hill-descent control that manages slippery slopes for you with individual-wheel-braking.

The fact is, this pair are both better off the beaten path than most direct competitors, though with their road tyres, and without low-range gearing and mechanical locking diffs etc, they’re not designed to take you anywhere and everywhere.

The Forester has a good 220mm of clearance, which is 30mm more than the Outlander’s. Its proactive AWD and quick traction control system meant it walked through an offset mogul and dealt with wheelspin swiftly.

Where the Mitsubishi did well was gravel. S-AWC works with a yaw control system that rapidly controls each rear wheel when needed to improve handling and stability. Thus, if you brake or accelerate too hard around a slippery turn, you need not compensate with extra steering inputs.

If you’re buying a medium family SUV to take occasionally soft-roading, we still recommend the Forester overall.


Towing

Mitsubishi claims a maximum braked-trailer tow rating of 1600kg (with a 160kg towball download rating), 100kg more than the Subaru. The Outlander can be had with a diesel engine rated at 2000kg, whereas the Forester petrol’s hybrid alternative is rated at 1200kg.


Ownership

Both companies offer a standard factory warranty covering five years, but Mitsubishi’s has a distance cap of 100,000km and Subaru’s has none. At the time of writing Mitsubishi was, however, offering a seven-year/150,000km warranty as a special add-on.

The Outlander's servicing intervals are annual or 15,000km and the first three visits are capped at $199 a pop, equalling $597. In contrast, you can buy three years of servicing for the Forester at 12-month/12,500km intervals for $1281.81 all up. So the latter is much more expensive.


VERDICT

The Mitsubishi Outlander doesn't do much wrong and is impressively cheap to run, but its older design means that it is best reserved for bargain shoppers. That doesn't mean don't look at one, but just push hard for a generous price.

The Subaru has a little more modern sheen, is a better drive, offers more of the latest active safety technologies, and unless you really need seven seats, a better-considered cabin. It's an unpretentious ripper.

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