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The 2015 Subaru Forester is up for nearly anything. It's an impressive vehicle with a wide array of capabilities. Even among Subaru’s ready-to-rumble lineup, the Forester stands out for its station wagon-like ride and handling, crossover-like space, and car-like maneuverability, plus Subaru’s all-weather and off-road capable all-wheel drive. These traits, among others, are what won the car our Best Car To Buy 2014 award.
Little has changed for the 2015 model year. We still think the Forester is one of the safest, more versatile cars on the road--and we've ratified that by spending a few months behind the wheel of a turbocharged Forester 2.0XT.
The Forester stands out in ways that some car shoppers completely ignore. For its size, it has exceptional room for passengers and for cargo, and among all-wheel-drive vehicles, its gas mileage is a standout, too. In other ways, the appeal is completely obvious: the Forester's one of the best vehicles crash-tested by the IIHS, and its combination of standard AWD and lots of ground clearance makes off-pavement excursions nearly as rewarding as those committed on road.
The Forester's redesign last year wasn't a sea change. Better gas mileage, storage space, flexibility, and performance were all in the plan, but the Forester also manages to squeeze in a more handsome shape that creates excellent outward visibility. A little taller than before, slightly longer between the wheels, the latest Forester owes a little bit to the Impreza sedan and a lot to the past decade of Foresters gone before it. The crisp new grille design and smoothly sculpted side sheetmetal flow well, and the taller front end fares well with faired-in headlamps, though the XT's lower front end gets a little too busy.
From the cockpit, the Forester feels a little more athletic than a Rogue or a CR-V, though not as sharp as the tightly packaged Ford Escape. The Forester's base engine is a 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter flat four-cylinder, while 2.0XT models have a 2.0-liter turbocharged variant with direct injection and a stout 250 horsepower. With the base models, we prefer the standard six-speed stick over the optional continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The 2.0XT comes only with the CVT, but it does get programming that lets it behave like a six- or eight-speed automatic, with quicker "gearchanges" drummed up at the touch of a button through the "SI-Drive" syste, which also tweaks throttle.
The Forester's completely reengineered suspension and stiffer body structure create a great environment for good all-around, any-weather handling. Steering is nicely weighted, and body control is as in-check as you'll find from such a tall, spacious utility vehicle. Gas mileage as high as 27 mpg combined puts it near the class lead, too.
The Forester retains all of its rugged trail prowess, including 8.7 inches of ground clearance and some approach and departure angles that even off-road purists wouldn’t be quick to dismiss. But perhaps inspired by systems such as Land Rover’s Terrain Response, Subaru has added something called X-Mode. When engaged at low speeds, it electronically manages torque from left to right, supplementing the AWD system’s front-to-back distribution, and it automatically deploys Hill Descent Control at low speeds.
Ultimately the Forester is fashioned first after its primary duty: carrying five people and a lot of gear, whether it's weekend-adventure material or just restocked household goods. This Forester is about the same size as before on the outside, but moving the seats higher and moving the roof pillars and dash forward have expanded interior space. There's more rear legroom, plus about 12 percent more cargo space, and rear seatback folding that’s close to fully flat with a one-touch mechanism. There’s also a much greater sense of detailing and refinement inside. Materials—everything from upholsteries to door trim—are a solid step up from before, and Subaru has added more insulation both to the door panels and to the area just ahead of the instrument panel.
A rearview camera is now standard on all Foresters, as is Bluetooth. Available active-safety features in the Forester include adaptive cruise control (ACC), running at speeds from 25 mph up to 90 mph, as well as the EyeSight system for spotting road hazards with a camera-based system, up to 80 meters ahead, and potentially avoiding an accident by braking at up to 0.4g. EyeSight costs $500 less for 2015, too. The Forester is the only model in its class to earn a top 'good' rating in the IIHS' new small-overlap test, and only one of two in its class to earn the new Top Safety Pick+ accolade--although in new federal tests it hasn't quite pulled off a sweep (it earns four of five stars in frontal impact).
Even the base Forester 2.5i model has a 4.3-inch display for outside temp and trip-computer functions. Bluetooth hands-free calling and audio streaming are standard. With the Limited model, the CVT is mandatory but you get perforated leather seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, fog lamps, automatic climate control, a power rear liftgate, and an upgraded instrument cluster. With Touring models, you get eight Harmon Kardon speakers and a 440-watt amp, along with full integration of Aha streaming audio, through an app for iPhone or Android handsets--but the touchscreen interface is a kludgy, small-buttoned, lower-resolution mess, a blot on the Forester's supremely well-executed design.