THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Best: Bulletproof engine and all-wheel-drive with a commodious interior.
- What’s Worst: Styling is starting to become dated.
- What’s Interesting: X-mode on the CVT transmission which controls wheel slip that’s very close to four-wheel-drive, letting the Forester go over most terrain except for rock crawling.
HIGH RIVER, AB: While it can be successfully argued the Subaru Forester created the compact crossover; there is little doubt it defined the segment in terms of utility and capability.
At the time the Forester was shown in 1995 at the Tokyo Motor Show as the Streega concept to emerge as the Forester in 1997, competitive all-wheel-drive compact CUVs were practically non-existent.
Over the years, the Forester has remained pretty true to its roots with, in typical Subaru fashion, continual improvements.
This results in incredible owner loyalty with the Forester being the brand’s bread and butter seller.
So for 2017, Subaru stuck with a winner, making just incremental changes.
There are two models each with its own “boxer” four-cylinder engine and a choice of six-speed manual or CVT transmissions and each a different all-wheel-drive system.
On the entry and mid-trim 2.5i models there is a naturally aspirated version of the long serving and ultra reliable 2.5-litre “boxer” four-cylinder with 170 hp and 174 lb/ft of torque. The 2.5-litre is rated as a Partial Zero Emission Vehicle (PZEV).
At the top is the 250 hp and 278 lb/ft twin scroll turbo 2.0-litre model called the 2.0XT.
Fuel rating on the 2.5i CVT is 9.2/7.4L/100 (31/38 mpg) city/highway on regular fuel. Fuel numbers on the manual are still be calculated. On premium fuel, the 2.0XT gets 10.2/8.6L/100 km (28/33 mpg).
Manual AWD versions feature a viscous-coupling and self-locking limited slip centre differential that holds a constant 50/50 balance of torque between the front and rear axles.
With the CVT, there is an electronically managed continuously variable transfer clutch (exclusive to Subaru) that actively manages torque distribution based on acceleration, deceleration, cornering and available traction.
The turbo adds the Si-Drive engine management system with three driver-selectable settings for maximum control.
Both AWD versions share a Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) stability program that results in the best all-weather or off-road travel and includes Hill Descent Control.
In addition, the turbo models (with optional Technology Package) now have Active Torque Vectoring first seen on the WRX STI performance sedan.
Of course any CUV is about utility and the Forester has the claimed best cargo volume in the segment with 974 litres behind the second row seat and 2,115 litres folded. The sunroof eats into this slightly with 892 litres behind the second row, 1,940 litres folded.
There are four tiedowns and two hooks in the cargo area.
Towing with both engines is 680 kg with trailer brakes, 453 kg without.
The Forester is one of the safest vehicles on the road with the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awarding the Forester (with optional EyeSight) with its 2016 Top Safety Pick+ award with the Forester being the longest-running TSP winner in the small SUV class for 10 years.
The third generation EyeSight is now available with upgraded cameras and software to improve on collision avoidance.
Standard on the Touring and Limited trim models is Rear/Side Vehicle Detection with Blind Spot Detection and Rear Cross Traffic Alert plus Lane Keep Assist.
Something new that comes with the Technology Package is Reverse Automatic Braking (RAB) that uses four sonar sensors to detect large objects such as posts or people when backing up. If the driver does not react, RAB steps in and stops the Forester.
To demonstrate how it works, Subaru set up a large garbage bin and told us to back up without putting a foot on the brake pedal. Every time, the system stopped the Forester.
But my co-driver asked what would happen if the sensors were coated with mud or ice, i.e., would there be a warning the system was not working, such as Mercedes-Benz does with a visual prompt and audible warning?
What the engineer did was tape over the sensors and backed it up and there was an audible warning.
Driving time was extensive with my partner and I driving both the topline 2.5i Limited and 2.5i CVT with Convenience Package, which will probably be the highest volume model. But I was surprised to learn the upmarket Touring and Limited are expected to account for up to 20 per cent of sales. There were no turbo models available at the launch.
The drive route was in and around High River, AB, which is now well on the mend from the devastating flood of four years ago.
Roads were a mix of laser straight ranch roads and into the start of the foothills where there were no surprises with both models we drove breathing a little hard on steeper ascents, but otherwise with enough power to get the job done.
One exercise included activating the X-mode, which is standard on all Subaru CVTs and helps reduce potential wheel slip on slippery surfaces, climbing steep inclines and navigating rough roads.
At the Sierra Ranch, the Foresters were sent out through a creek and up and down inclines that would have stopped lesser vehicles, again, with no problems.
Bottom line is the 2017 Subaru Forester continues to provide all the core values that have made the brand synonymous with the kind of reliability and competence that keeps bringing people back to the brand.
Subaru Forester 2017
BODY STYLE: Compact crossover
DRIVE METHOD: Symmetrical full-time all-wheel-drive with six-speed manual or Lineartronic CVT transmission
ENGINE: 2.5-litre DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder “boxer” (170 hp, 174 lb/ft); 2.0-litre twin scroll turbo, direct injection “boxer” four-cylinder (250 hp, 258 lb/ft)
FUEL ECONOMY: 2.5i manual, NA; 2.5i CVT (Regular) 9.2/7.4L/100 km (31/38 mpg) city/highway; 2.0XT (Premium) 10.2/8.6L/100 km (city/hwy)
CARGO: 974/2,115 litres second seat up/down; with sunroof, 892/1,940 litres
TOW RATING: 680 kg with trailer brakes, 453 kg without
PRICE: 2.5i, $25,995-$33,295; 2.5i Limited, $35,795-$37,295; 2.0XT, $33,995-$39,495