The 2016 Subaru Forester is the same length it's been for the last eight years even as the current generation added more interior space and a greater perception of roominess. It's a compact SUV, but the Forester boasts roughly the same cargo-carrying capacity as the bigger Outback thanks to a taller design.
The Forester offers surprising space in its 181-inch length, including almost 40 inches of rear seat head room (without the sun roof), 34.4 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats, and 74.7 cubic feet when the second-row seats are folded down. It also has 8.7 inches of ground clearance.
Subaru has heavily refined the interior of the current Forester. Materials—from upholsteries to door trims—are a solid step up from before, and more insulation in both the door panels and the area ahead of the instrument panel makes a big difference in keeping the cabin quieter on rough surfaces. Tire thrum at highway speeds is still a constant presence, and Subaru's reduced—but not eliminated—wind noise from around its large, useful door mirrors, a perennial brand weak spot.
The driving position is pleasantly high, with the dashboard far enough away to give a sense of spaciousness. It has a lot of front elbow room, too. The window line is lower than in other compact crossovers, meaning the interior is light and outward visibility is excellent. In short, Forester passengers' perception of space is unsurpassed in this class.
Our one complaint is that the front seats lack enough bolstering on their short, flat bottom cushions, and bigger drivers will find that they continually touch the Forester's center console and door panels—both of which lack some soft surfaces. The front-seat issue is more acute in turbocharged models, as there's no sport-seat option offered. The commanding view and outward visibility is worth those minor trade-offs, in our view.
The rear seats are easy to get into, with good leg room and a low driveshaft tunnel for the segment, and their subtle contouring should make them comfortable for longer trips. All but the base model get three-position recline for the (60/40-split) rear seat backs, an unusual and welcome feature, and all models now get a fold-down center armrest in the rear too, including solid-looking cupholders. The rear seat back almost folds flat with one button.