New & Used Subaru Forester: In Depth
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The Subaru Forester sits somewhere between compact and mid-size on the crossover scale, offering plenty of space for passengers and cargo within its tallish confines. It is easily the most SUV-like offering from Subaru currently. Within the corporate lineup, it's larger than the Impreza-based XV Crosstrek yet smaller than the Outback wagon.
There are few changes for the current 2015 model year, but the Forester was extensively redesigned for 2014, and the latest version has sold in the largest number yet of any generation. Foresters have built their reputation on all-wheel drive, good ground clearance, and functionality. The current model competes with the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, and Toyota RAV4, among others.
Subaru has 'mainstreamed' the Forester to some degree in the current generation, though it has avoided making the overall package larger. Today's Forester is about the same size as the outgoing 2013 model, but it manages to offer more rear-seat and cargo space, improved infotainment, and a sportier exterior. Its EPA gas-mileage ratings are as high as 32 mpg on the highway, which is a respectable number for any tall crossover vehicle with standard all-wheel drive—in fact, some competitors can't reach that number with their base front-drive models.
Today, the Forester offers a choice of two powertrains: a 170-hp, 2.5-liter flat four for the 2.5i, and a 2.0-liter direct-injection turbo four making 250 hp in the 2.0XT. Subaru's continuously variable transmission (CVT) offers a special Sport manual mode on the XT model that simulates eight distinct "gears." The less expensive trim levels with the naturally aspirated engine are still available with a six-speed manual transmission.
In our initial drive of the latest Subaru Forester—as well as subsequent experiences including a six-month road test of the 2014 Forester—we've found it to be roomier and more refined than ever, yet still surprisingly rugged.
The new Forester has also made news on the safety front as the first 'small SUV' model to get a 'Good' rating in the new IIHS small overlap frontal crash test. It also receives the new Top Safety Pick+ stamp of approval. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the Forester five stars overall, with four stars in the rollover and frontal crash categories. The Forester has also inherited Subaru's camera-based EyeSight active-safety tech package, which enables active cruise control, lane-departure warning, and other features.
Subaru offers a tS (tuned by STI) version of the Forester in other markets, but it has not been announced for North America yet. The STI brand is looking to expand here, however, so a high-performance crossover may be a possibility for the future.
Since its launch in 1998, all Forester models have been essentially taller wagons built on the underpinnings of the compact Impreza sedan and hatchback. As the Forester gained in volume and reputation over its first decade, it entirely replaced the five-door Impreza wagon once that compact-car line was redesigned for 2008.
The first-generation Forester ran from 1998 through 2003, followed by a second generation that spanned model years 2004 to 2008. That second Forester was significantly restyled halfway through its life, with a new front end, tailgate, and rear lights added in the 2006 model year. The prior model was launched in 2009, and ran through 2013.
Although it launched just as the recession arrived, the 2009 Forester shattered sales records by hitting just the right spot in the highly competitive compact crossover market. New buyers were lured to the brand by a sticker price that started just around $20,000, along with high perceived value, and of course Subaru's standard all-wheel drive--which won't be found on any competitors.
For the outgoing generation, the Forester 2.5X model produced 170 horsepower from its 2.5-liter engine, with either a five-speed manual gearbox or an old four-speed automatic transmission. The 2.5XT turbo version, a significant upgrade, boosted power output to 224 hp.
While base Forester models have been practical but spartan, they've had a lengthy list of trim levels and options that easily pushed the top-level turbo model to the $30,000 mark. Those features have included a navigation system, along with a leather 10-way powered and heated driver's seat, and a moonroof, among other luxury options.
At long last, for the 2013 model year, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity and audio streaming became standard, along with a USB port and iPod capability. Steering-wheel audio controls were made standard as well, and a new Value Package bundled the popular All-Weather Package (heated seats and mirrors, plus wiper de-icer) with a display audio system and fog lights.