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It’s hard to fault the Subaru Forester as a great SUV or tall wagon. It has plenty of room, all-wheel drive standard, several cool features, and classic Subaru looks. The Subaru Forester got a new face in 2022, as well as some new options and trim levels. But the under-$30,000 SUV segment may just be the most competitive in the automotive space right now. Can the Subaru Forester compete with recently-updated alternatives from Hyundai, Ford and Mazda, and sales successes like the Toyota RAV4 and VW Tiguan?

The Forester checks a lot of the right boxes for an SUV

2023 Subaru SUVs: 2023 Subaru Forester Wild
2023 Subaru Forester Wild | Subaru of America, Inc.

It has 8.7-inches of ground clearance which, while not massive, can get you over a surprising amount of rocks on a trail. It also has a generous 74.2 cubic feet of cargo space with the seats folded, which puts it far ahead of CR-V  or the RAV4 SUVs. Forester comes standard with Subaru’s 182-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine tied to a CVT transmission, as well as all-wheel drive. Also, it’s one of the cheapest SUVs to own over five years.

While the base version starts at $26,395, the version you want is the Premium for $29,395, which comes with a power heated driver’s seat, keyless entry, a power moonroof, and automatic climate control. For tackling the trails, it has X-Mode with Hill Descent Control, as well as an improved interior. Like the others, Subaru has its own driver’s assistance tech, and in this case it’s called EyeSight. It comes standard on the 2023 Forester.

The Hyundai Tucson packs a lot of value for less than $30,000

Like the Subaru, the Hyundai Tucson got a major facelift for 2022. In Tucson’s case, that facelift gave it a much more upscale look to it, more like a Toyota Venza, both inside and outside. It still comes with the Hyundai 2.5-liter four cylinder that makes 187 horsepower. It packs a lot of value, too, with the features many of us like, even in base SE or SEL trims, like Apple CarPlay, an 8-inch touchscreen, and several assistance aids like lane keep assist and lane follow assist.

The Tucson also gets Hyundai’s clever H-Tex seating, which is a leatherette that’s easy on the eyes and easy to keep clean. Tucson does come as a hybrid or PHEV version, but they’re much more expensive.

Ford redesigned the Escape so it can compete

Front angle view of red 2023 Ford Escape
2023 Ford Escape | Ford

The new-for 2023 Ford Escape has all-new styling that gives this SUV a much-deserved chance. The Escape has always been anonymous-looking, but not anymore, with Mach-E-inspired styling. The new Escape starts at $27,500, and for that, you get one of the newest Ford interiors, as well as a 180-horsepower turbocharged three-cylinder engine. It holds 65.4 cubic feet of luggage.

Fun fact: the Maverick truck is built on the same platform as the Escape.

The VW Tiguan is a three-row Subaru Forester alternative

A blue 2022 Volkswagen Tiguan driving down a snowy road. It's the cheapest three-row SUV.
2022 Volkswagen Tiguan | Volkswagen

The Forester is a five-seater, so if you need room for seven for less than $30,000, you’ll need to step up to the VW Tiguan. The base S version has manual air conditioning, while the more expensive trims of the Tiguan offer more goodies, like heated steering wheels and leather trim. However, even the base Tiguan has a 6.5-inch touchscreen with smartphone integration, several drivers aids like forward collision alert and even VW’s 8-inch Digital Cockpit.

The Tiguan comes with VW’s ubiquitous 184-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which gives it nearly identical power to the Subaru. It starts at $27,885 and comes standard with seven seats, and as a bonus the second-row slides and reclines. The third row even splits 50/50. Sure, inside it’s a bit basic, but the cloth seats have a high-quality feel and the front seats are heated. However, it doesn’t rank quite as highly as the others at J.D. Power.

We have to put the Toyota RAV4 on the list as a Subaru Forester Alternative

A gray 2023 Toyota RAV4 small SUV is driving on the road.
The 2023 Toyota RAV4 | Toyota

The Toyota RAV4 is sales homerun for Toyota. It’s the best-selling SUV on the planet right now.  It’s hard to fault the RAV4 with its spacious cabin, good looks, and the Toyota name to back up its reliability. Also, with a base price of $27,575 (or just $30,225 for the Hybrid), and the upgraded XLE coming in at just under $30,000, it packs in a lot of value.

It also makes more power than the Forester, 203 horsepower, from its 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. But, it doesn’t hold nearly as much, with just 69.8 cubic feet of room in the back with the seats folded.

Mazda CX-50 and CX-5 are great sporty Subaru Forester alternatives

A 2023 Mazda CX-50 compact crossover SUV with roof rails parked in the dirt near water and mountains
2023 Mazda CX-50 | Mazda

The CX-5 and CX-50 are similar and related SUVs. The CX-5 is the sporty on-road version, while the CX-50 is the one that most people looking for a Forester will cross-shop it with. It, too, comes with all-wheel drive and has an off-road mode, as well as a towing mode for up to 3,500 pounds. The base 2.5 S starts at $27,550 but the 2.5 S Select for $28,950 adds a 10.25-inch display, 17-inch wheels, leather-trimmed seats, dual-zone climate control, and a six-speed automatic instead of a boring CVT. Unfortunately, at this trim level, it doesn’t offer heated seats (like the Subaru).

The CX-50 was all-new for 2022. Though it looks sharp, it only holds 56.3 cubic feet of stuff in the back, so unlike in the Subaru, you can’t sleep comfortably in the back.


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