Rugged, reliable, dependable. Also comfortable.
The Subaru Forester can proudly claim to be one of the first estate-SUV crossovers when it first debuted in its Impreza-based form. Back then, the Forester could also lay claim to being one of the more dynamic options in the segment, offering a more car-like experience behind the wheel than most. But much time has passed since then, and the Forester is now unashamedly a family SUV just like the rest of them, albeit with the Subaru flair the brand peppers into all of its cars.
Practical and tough, the Forester has built a reputation among people who expect the most out of their cars. Others may claim to be as tough as nails, but the Forester just is. With Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive and some features you’d only usually find on more serious off-roaders, the Forester won’t run out of talent before you run out of bravery, with plenty of room in the back for people and cargo to bring along for the adventure.
“Subaru prides itself on its engineering pedigree, which means that form often follows function. The Forester doesn’t stand out from its rivals, but it’s not a bad looking car.” - AutoExpress
A recent redesign saw the Forester get thrown right into the middle of newer rivals, but did little to alter the upright, boxy, traditional-SUV look that the Forester enjoys. Though it has never won awards for being a looker, the Forester’s function-before-form approach has been diluted slightly, with the inclusion of smart headlights (that swivel with the direction of travel on XT Premium cars), LED daytime running lights, LED taillights, and alloy wheels.
The boxy proportions may not be immediately pleasing to the eye, but it gives the Forester immense presence on the road. Despite sitting among cars like the Mazda CX-5 and Honda CR-V, the Forester looks more considerable with its large glasshouse, slab sides, and tall roofline. It sticks to a very traditional SUV recipe where most competitors have compromised in the name of desirability. Funnily though, the more typical shape of the Forester has its fans too, with its no-nonsense design language coming through very clearly through the model lineup.
Engine & Drivetrain
“While its engine is relatively new, it feels like the same Boxer motor Subaru has used since, like, fire was invented.” - Jalopnik
For the Forester, there are no less than 4 engine options overall. All motors benefit from the ‘Boxer’ engine layout that all Subarus have (where the pistons are horizontally-opposed, rather than vertical), ensuring a lower centre of gravity and exceptionally smooth operation. They also have a unique noise to them too, but we’ll get to that later. There’s a six-speed manual and a continuously-variable (CVT) automatic to choose from, with the auto-boxes gaining an ‘X-Mode’ off-road setting.
The base 2.0-litre petrol engine produces an adequate 110kW/198Nm, and is paired exclusively with the 6-speed manual. The 2.5-litre petrol comes next, with 126kW & 235Nm, and is available with the automatic and the manual. Move up to the diesel, and you get a 2.0-litre turbo job that pushes out 108kW but 350Nm of twist, along with the usual fuel consumption benefits you get with an oiler. The top-dog in the engine range is the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo petrol, which is good for 177kW/350Nm. Unfortunately, this engine is offered only with the CVT automatic.
Fuel consumption figures sit at 7.2L-8.1L for the petrols, and just 5.9L/100km for the diesel.
“It may lack style but there's no questioning the layout or functionality.” - Autocar
Subaru’s insistence of putting function before form is evident here, with the Forester’s cabin built to be more practical than aesthetically noteworthy. The interior is built to weather the worst wear that it would have to reasonably expect, and it’s easy to get the feeling that the Forester will outlive most of its owners, and their kids. Materials are forgiving but never plush, with a clear emphasis on robustness and longevity. There’s also a focus on ease of use, which is why all controls are large and tactile enough to be used even with gloves on.
There’s acres of room inside, thanks to the boxy exterior. The cargo space is actually relatively shallow compared to some of its rivals, due to the necessity to pack the Forester with a full-size spare wheel. Despite that, there’s still plenty of room for stuff, and equally-generous dimensions for passengers means that the Forester’s play at being a family wagon isn’t just hot air.
Behind the Wheel
“It’s confidence-inspiring. In other words, you can drive it like a little car, hitting corners quickly, turning in sharply, and be somewhat spirited behind the wheel.” - Jalopnik
While the very mention of Subaru could have you conjuring up images of motorsports and driving thrills, the Forester is far more down to earth, as it understands that the majority of buyers in this segment care more about comfort, refinement, and day-to-day ease of use. As such, the Forester provides an excellent ride, handling all but the very worst surface imperfections with ease. It feels decidedly old-school in its approach to SUV dynamics, preferring comfort over agility, which contrasts sharply with offerings like the Mazda CX-5 with its nuggety ride and agile handling.
The Forester may be large, but it doesn’t feel it from behind the wheel. This SUV shrinks around you most in town, where the light steering works in your favour to never leave you feeling overwhelmed by the big Japanese bruiser. This is aided further by the availability of the brand’s proprietary ‘EyeSight’ safety suite (standard on top-spec models, optional lower down the range), which lops in things like autonomous emergency braking to make the Forester easier to trust. NVH levels are kept at bay thanks to thicker glass, revised door seals, and additional sound dampening, all introduced with the recent refresh.
The diesel Boxer engine, a truly unique proposition in the segment, offers all the benefits of a diesel without any of the drawbacks. Power & torque delivery is surprisingly linear, with almost no turbo lag when you stomp on the throttle. That said, be careful of how you thrash the gearbox, as the CVT-automatic will complain audibly if it’s pushed hard.
Safety & Technology
“The Forester brings a solid standard safety package…” - WhichCar
Subaru has always had a solid focus on safety, and the Forester continues that focus. All models boast seven airbags, stability control, traction control, a reversing camera, and even seatbelt reminders for all five seats. The Forester also packs a strong body structure that ensures good protection of the passenger cell in the event of a collision.
2.5i-S and XT Premium models add further to the already impressive safety stats by offering EyeSight active safety technology, which throws in things like autonomous emergency braking, and lane-drift warning.
The Subaru Forester was given a 5-star ANCAP rating in January 2013.
The Subaru Forester is often overlooked in favour of more contemporary rivals, but that doesn’t make the big Scooby a bad car. Sure, it’s a little long in the tooth, and a new model is expected to arrive next year, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that it’s a solid contender in the family SUV market, and offers more capability and practicality than most other offerings.
The Forester is designed to appeal to those who enjoy, favour the road less travelled, with things like ‘X-Mode’ imbuing this SUV with real capability off the beaten track. Package that with excellent practicality and remarkable comfort on the road, and you have a family wagon that can truly boast of its breadth of ability. This is an adventure-mobile hiding in plain sight, and is worth considering even against more road-biased rivals like the Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V, and Ford Escape.
AutoExpress - 3.0/5.0 - “The latest Subaru Forester is spacious, well-built and dependable, but remains a niche SUV choice.”
Kelly Blue Book - 5.0/10 - “The Subaru Forester’s reputation wasn’t formed on good looks, but on solid reliability, practicality, and rugged utility. Sound nerdy? Maybe. But the new Forester has gone to finishing school, sporting a new nose with LED-accented headlights, an upgraded & quieter interior, and luxurious cabin trim packages, shedding the pocket protector for a dash of style.”
Slash Gear - 8.0/10- “The 2017 Subaru Forester is perhaps the perfect encapsulation of why this tiny Japanese automaker has been able to boast year-after-year growth that would shame industry heavyweights like Toyota, Honda, and Ford. The current generation Forester’s redesign coincided perfectly with the surging demand for small SUVs that were both affordable and ultra-practical, with the Subaru’s boxy shape smoothed out by a fresh-look exterior design and a range of more efficient drivetrains.”
Forbes - 4.5/5.0 - “Even if I had not had the chance to drive in a snowstorm, I still would have considered my experience with the Subaru Forester a success. The crossover’s success and growing popularity is no surprise, and the latest Forester is the best one yet.”
CarAdvice - 8.0/10 - “Overall, the Subaru Forester is a great choice for families with two kids that need the additional interior space and practicality on offer without having to step up to the larger SUV segment.”
The Car Connection - 7.2/10 - “One of the best small SUVs, the 2017 Subaru Forester is a good value, with remarkable interior volume, thrifty fuel economy, and top safety scores.”
Autocar - 3.0/5.0 - “The Forester may have decent performance and reasonable economy on its side. It may be more capable off road than many of its rivals. It also holds a certain amount of mechanical interest value, as Subarus tend to do.”
Jalopnik - 7.0/10 - “Yes, the Forester is kind of old, but people keep buying them. More and more people keep buying them, in fact. What the hell is going on here? Is there some sort of Jeep-like, 4x4 cult following with the Forester that I’m not aware of?”