THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Best: One of the original crossovers and still relevant, the Forester features a good mix of nimble performance and utilitarian space within its compact confines.
- What’s Worst: Hmm, premium octane for the turbo version. And not everyone is a fan of the Forester’s boxy design but its functionality should win you over.
- What’s Interesting: Most customers will never call on the Forester’s rough-trail abilities but the combined efforts of symmetrical full-time all-wheel-drive and X-mode system provides all-weather, any-road driving security.
Twenty years ago Subaru capitalized on the success of its Outback wagon program with a follow-up Forester, creating a new, dedicated compact CUV.
It was one of the first crossovers to blend real SUV style and utility on a car-based platform for improved handling and increased fuel efficiency.
The new Forester didn’t waste any time bursting out of the starting gate, to the point where it soon led the Subaru stable in both sales and popularity.
Since those early days, the Forester has evolved through four generations of upgrades, with the latest changes enhancing this model mainstay through a mid-cycle refresh treatment for 2017.
The Forester lineup features a mix of two engine choices and four trim levels, with available Technology Package add-ons to buttress basic Subaru strengths.
These include extra ground clearance, low centre of gravity boxer engine performance, and the trademark traction and stability of Soob’s symmetrical, full-time all-wheel-drive system. Subaru’s X-mode system for extra challenging roads and all-weather situations is a bonus.
Some of the changes applied across the Forester lineup for 2017 include minor exterior tweaks – a new mesh grille, new “C”-shaped headlights and taillights, a new front bumper and new wheel styles.
Our first test drive, a 2017 Forester 2.5i Touring with Technology Package ($33,295) came dressed in a handsome shade of Quartz Blue Pearl. This “Touring” model sits about halfway up a trim level lineup that ranges in price from about $25,995 to $39,495.
Under the hood, a standard 2.5-litre horizontally opposed “boxer” four-cylinder engine makes 170 hp and 174 lb/ft of torque, mated here to an optional CVT automatic ($1,300) instead of the standard six-speed manual tranny.
With the CVT, this Forester is rated at 9.2/7.4L/100km (city/hwy), although my real world driving mix averaged out to a median 8.6L/100km (comb) rating. This engine is capable enough for normal family driving chores, although the cheaper (and less fuel efficient) manual shifter, a growing rarity in this class of vehicle, would probably allow you to max out the power more ably.
Slip into the driver’s seat and you immediately notice the high vantage point which, coupled with ample headroom, big windows all around and an extra large glass sunroof, gives the Forester cabin an open, airy ambiance.
The Touring trim supplies a good list of included content, bolstered by the Tech Package’s ($1,500) Eyesight system – two stereoscopic, windshield-mounted CCD cameras tied unto driver assist technologies that include pre-collision braking and brake assist, pre-collision throttle management, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane sway warning and lane keep assist systems.
New additions to the Technology Package for 2017 include Reverse Automatic Braking, a proximity key with push-button start and steering-responsive fog lamps.
This new Touring model also adds Rear/Side Vehicle Detection, new machined black wheels and new illuminated vanity mirrors for 2017.
And it won’t take you long to appreciate another interior improvement – reduced NVH and a quieter ride due to thicker side glass, an acoustic windshield and better insulation.
This is a smooth and civilized cruiser, wrapped in a very complete package.
But our second tester is a good example of what can happen when you push your Forester preferences even further towards the edge of the lineup limits.
We follow up our initial test with a 2017 Forester 2.0XT Limited model with the Technology Package ($39,495), sort of an uber-Forester with all of the bells and whistles.
This Forester sibling was equally handsome, brilliant in Crystal White Pearl and standing on bigger 18-inch machined black aluminum alloy wheels.
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But the main difference lies under the skin where a smaller but more powerful 2.0-litre twin-scroll turbocharged, direct-injection “boxer” four-cylinder motor makes 250 hp and 258 lb/ft of torque, most of the muscle kicking in at an early 2,000 rpm.
This motor is mated only to the CVT tranny, but stepped shift patterns are available via the steering wheel paddles and Subaru’s SI-Drive system also offers three performance mode choices.
The near 50 percent power increase takes all the hesitation out of passing ploys and adds a pleasurable edge to the Forester’s driving feel. This powertrain is rated at 10.2/8.6L/100km (city/hwy) with my actual averages coming in at 10.3L/100km (comb).
Inside, Cognac Brown leather seats and matching door inserts with contrast stitching are set off nicely against the pervading black textures.
And, along with the leather wrapping, a seven-inch infotainment system with nav, eight-speaker Harman Kardon audio upgrades, all the extra luxuries you’d expect, and the new-for-2017 add-ons mentioned in our earlier test, this 2.0XT Limited model also kicks in auto-dimming rearview and sideview mirrors, one-touch folding seats with driver memory, steering responsive headlights, active torque vectoring, a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats.
These two Forester flavours are just a taste of the varying model; trim and powertrain combinations available to Subaru customers who display a brand loyalty other manufacturers can’t help but envy.
Subaru Forester 2017 2.5i Touring & 2.0XT Limited
BODY STYLE: Compact crossover (CUV)
DRIVE METHOD: Symmetrical full-time all-wheel-drive with six-speed manual or Lineartronic CVT automatic transmission
ENGINE: 2.5i Touring – 2.5-litre DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder “boxer” (170 hp, 174 lb/ft); 2.0XT Limited – 2.0-litre twin scroll turbo, direct injection “boxer” four-cylinder (250 hp, 258 lb/ft)
FUEL ECONOMY: 2.5i Touring CVT (Regular) 9.2/7.4L/100km (city/hwy), as tested 8.6L/100km (comb); 2.0XT Limited CVT (Premium) 10.2/8.6L/100km (city/hwy), as tested 10.3L/100km (comb).
CARGO: 892/1,940 litres
TOW RATING: 680 kg with trailer brakes, 453 kg without.
PRICES: 2.5i Touring with Technical Package $33,295; 2.0XT Limited with Technical Package $39,495