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While SUVs may not make you think about top performance, there are some affordable SUVs that provide excellent performance. Buyers looking for a new SUV with a sporty feel are in luck. U.S. News put together a list of 14 options. It includes the 2021 Subaru Forester, but that might not be the sporty SUV you want to buy.

The 2021 Subaru Forester is the 12th sportiest SUV under $30,000 in 2021

All 14 SUVs on the U.S. News & World Report list of the “Sportiest SUVs Under $30,000 in 2021” have above-average performance based on scores from U.S. News. That score factors in horsepower, acceleration, handling, ride quality, and braking.

The 2021 Subaru Forester came in just 12th on the list. It has a performance score of 7.1 out of 10 and an overall score of 8.4 out of 10. This compact SUV comes standard with all-wheel drive, like nearly all Subarus. U.S. News points out that this feature improves its handling and makes it better for poor weather and off-road driving. Other positives of the Forester are “a compliant ride, accurate steering, and strong brakes.”

The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine has enough power with 182 hp, but it’s paired with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that struggles a bit. It’s not a problem for daily commuting but isn’t great if top performance is the goal.

Sportier SUVs to consider

Gray 2020 Subaru Forester is on display at the 112th Annual Chicago Auto Show at McCormick Place
The Subaru Forester | Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

If performance is a top priority, then the top three SUVs on the list are ones to consider over the Subaru Forester. The 2021 Mazda CX-3 comes in third place. It has a performance score of 8.2 out of 10 and an overall score of 7.3 out of 10. The CX-3 isn’t a highly rated subcompact SUV, since it’s pretty small in the rear seats and cargo space.

It doesn’t have the best predicted reliability either. However, it stands out as the best-performing subcompact SUV. U.S. News highlights its “precise steering, buttoned-down suspension, and strong brakes.” Despite its great performance, its 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine isn’t the most powerful, with just 148 hp. The 2021 Mazda CX-3 has a starting price of $20,640.

The 2021 Honda CR-V is in the second spot. It has an 8.4 out of 10 for its performance score and an overall score of 8.8 out of 10. It has a high-quality interior with plenty of space. The standard engine is a 190-hp 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine paired with a CVT. It has surprisingly good acceleration, and the transmission is excellent. It provides a nice ride with “enthusiastic steering and strong brakes,” although it isn’t super sharp when going around corners. The 2021 Honda CR-V has a starting price of $25,350.

Coming in first is the 2021 Mazda CX-5. It has a performance score of 8.5 out of 10 and an overall score of 8.8 out of 10. A 187-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder is standard and has plenty of power. There is an even more powerful 250-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine, but it knocks the price above $30,000.

The CX-5 provides great handling without much body roll. There’s a nice amount of feedback from the electrically assisted steering, and the suspension is adjusted to be just right. U.S. News says that “there’s a harmony to the way the CX-5 handles that’s not found in any other compact SUV.” The 2021 Mazda CX-5 has a starting price of $25,270.

The 2021 Subaru Forester


Somehow the 2021 Subaru Forester Just Earned This Award for the First Time

The 2021 Subaru Forester is tied with the Kia Sportage for the third-best compact SUV behind the Honda CR-V and the Mazda CX-5 when looking at overall ratings. While its performance doesn’t measure up to some of the others, it still has plenty to offer. It does have a nice ride and can do a little bit of off-road driving. In addition, it has good fuel efficiency.

There is lots of space for passengers and cargo, and it’s nicely built. Its cargo area is actually one of the largest in its class. The infotainment system is easy to use, says U.S. News. A 6.5-inch touchscreen is standard, but an 8-inch version is available.

The 2021 Subaru Forester has a starting price of $24,795. It has five trim levels, and three of them start under $30,000. It isn’t one of the cheapest in the class, but it comes with all-wheel drive, which often costs extra in other vehicles. The 2021 Forester may not be the best in the performance area, but it’s still a good option for buyers looking for cargo room and all-wheel drive.