We’ve had our long-term 2019 Subaru Forester Touring for some time now, and I’ve had my large son’s car seat in it — and out of it, and back in it — a fair number of times. Installing a car seat over and over is a pain, but the Forester is actually a pretty good car for it. The rear seat is roomy, the door opening is large and the car seat is generally easy to install.
For a few short days, though, I also had a 2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid in the driveway alongside the Subaru. Mostly stuck at home in quarantine, I wasn’t getting a lot of chances to drive the two cars back to back, but comparing something like a child’s car seat in each car is easy enough without unnecessary trips and potential exposure to coronavirus. So, with my son along for moral support, I lugged his car seat out of the garage and got to strappin’.
In terms of backseat roominess, the Forester and CR-V are competitive. On paper, they’re very close, with the Forester offering 39.4 inches of rear legroom and 39.6 inches of headroom, and the CR-V providing 40.4 inches of legroom and 39.2 inches of headroom (the fact that I tested a Hybrid makes no difference). For each, I moved the front passenger seat forward to a reasonably comfortable seating position, keeping a sizeable gap between my knees and the dashboards, and eyed them up. They look damn near the same, each offering lots more space in the second row than my wife’s 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK that I’m usually putting the car seat into. Even the openings are close in size and shape, perhaps with the Forester getting a slight advantage in ingress/egress for one’s feet, which matters little when installing the boy’s Chair Force One (officially a Britax Frontier ClickTight).
First, I tried the car seat in the Subaru. It’s really easy. There’s no angling the seat to wedge it in the door. Just walk up and plop it down. I thought for sure the Forester would take the win here, but when I went to put it in the CR-V, it was equally simple. Once installed, both still offer plenty of room behind the front seat for a child to swing their legs around without kicking the seat back.
With just one child, we often find ourselves putting one of the rear seats down to accommodate more items, like when we’re hauling gear up to our cottage for a vacation — or just going to Costco. If we’re picking a side of the car, we usually put our boy on the passenger side. If we’re parallel parking, it’s easier and safer to unload him or buckle him up curbside rather than exposed to traffic. It’s also easier to check on him with a quick glance in the back seat.
Both of these vehicles have 60/40-split folding rear seats. Where they differ is which side is the 60 and which is the 40. In the Honda the driver’s side has the bigger folding section. In the Subaru, the middle section folds down with the passenger side. It makes no difference, really, if you don’t have a preference for which side you put the car seat on. With the seat on the passenger side — my preference — the CR-V has the cargo advantage, as the 60 portion can still fold down with the car seat installed. In the Subaru, I’d have to put the car seat on the driver’s side to take full advantage of cargo. I don’t know how much that matters to most drivers, but for someone like my wife, that might not be a deal-breaker, but it would be a major strike against the Forester.
Finally, let’s take a look at the LATCH anchors. If you use them instead of the seat belt to strap your seat down, you can know what a pain groping around for these can be when trying to install a car seat, especially in cars with more cramped back seats than these two. In the Forester, they’re easy to spot. The big Velcro flaps that are meant to hide them — but actually do a bad job of it — are a giveaway to their position, and the anchors themselves stick out prominently. Clicking the seat onto these is a breeze.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rated the CR-V’s LATCH ease of use lower than the Forester, which received the best-possible rating. Generally speaking, though, I found the Subaru Forester and Honda CR-V to be equally matched when it comes to installing a car seat and personally preferred the Honda for two reasons. First, you can put the car seat on the passenger side and still take full advantage of the remaining cargo volume by folding down the larger of the 60/40 folding seats. Second, the CR-V simply hides the LATCH anchors more beautifully, without sacrificing function.