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Unless you are an ultra-wealthy business mogul that doesn’t have to budget or worry about the costs of everyday items, you have probably noticed a steady increase in the price tag on most household goods. Cars are no exception, and many gripe about the starting cost of even the most budget-friendly options on the market. The elevated price tag, when compared to models from decades ago, doesn’t tell the whole story about the value of a car. According to one expert, the 2021 Subaru Forester is actually “cheaper” than it was two decades ago. 

Let’s explore this phenomenon in more detail. 

Car prices have increased, but so has inflation

Most people have heard of inflation and understand that today’s dollars might be worth a different amount compared to the worth of the past or future, but it can be hard to understand how that specifically impacts our daily lives. Products, especially cars, may seem more expensive than ever because the actual numbers are higher, but what if many models were actually cheaper than in decades past?

Jake Fisher from Consumer Reports explains that “Once you adjust for inflation, many popular cars like the Toyota Corolla and Subaru Forester are actually cheaper today than they were 20 years ago. And that’s despite the fact that today’s models are better in just about every way.” He continues on to say, “Even though the new models are larger, safer, faster, cleaner, more fuel-efficient, and packed with features, they are actually more affordable, too.” 

You can test this theory out for yourself using your own past vehicle purchases with the U.S. Inflation Calculator Tool. If you purchased a 2001 Subaru Forester for $20,295 (its starting price at the time, according to AutoTrader), the calculator shows that this is the same as $30,371 in today’s dollars.

Meanwhile, the 2021 Subaru Forester starts at $24,795 in today’s dollars. Plus, the 2021 model is so much more advanced than the 2001 model that it would probably have seemed like a spaceship to people living in 2001. 

The 2021 Subaru Forester vs. the 2001 Subaru Forester

It may seem unfair to compare a vehicle of today to one from the past, and that’s probably a fair argument. At the same time, it is fun and interesting to look at all the modern and cutting-edge features you get in a 2021 vehicle compared to one from 2001 that would have actually cost more in today’s dollars. 

The 2001 Subaru Forester was a great vehicle back in its day. It had decent safety ratings and a permissible engine, but even back then its fuel economy wasn’t great. The 2001 Forester could get up to 15 MPG in the city and 26 MPG on the highway. The 2021 Forester’s fuel economy is listed at 20 MPG in the city and 38 MPG on the highway. 

Plus, the 2021 Forester has safety features like automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, a rearview camera, and modern airbag technology. The 2001 Forester doesn’t stand a chance, as these features simply didn’t exist back then. Interestingly, front airbags were an optional addition for the 2001 Forester, and head protection wasn’t offered either. Airbag standards have certainly come a long way. 

The bottom line

A white Subaru Forester E-boxer is seen during the Vienna Car Show press preview at Messe Wien
The Subaru Forester | Manfred Schmid/Getty Images

When it comes down to it, it’s easy to feel cheated that the average starting price for vehicles is about $40,000 when older generations definitely didn’t pay that much for their cars and trucks. At the same time, it’s impossible to meaningfully compare the price tag of a new car like the Subaru Forester from decades ago to one of today without taking inflation into account. 

Once a car’s price is adjusted for inflation, it tells a completely different story about how much money consumers spend on cars these days. Take some time to play around with the inflation calculator tool if you’re curious about how your purchases from the past would compare to those of today. 


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