- Responsive ride and handling
- EyeSight, Bluetooth, and great crash-test scores
- Spacious cabin with top-notch visibility
- CVT does its best to disguise its roots
- Welcome turbo scoot
- Turbos exclude manuals
- No turbo, no shift paddles
- Optional navigation is dreadful
- Premium price at the top end doesn't net premium feel
The 2015 Subaru Forester remains one of the best cars you can buy, thanks to exceptional safety, versatility, and all-weather capability.
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.
2015 Subaru Forester
The Subaru Forester isn't runway material, but its simple design is refreshing and its interior is trimmed well.
A contemporary touch here, a rugged cue left there--the latest Subaru Forester has taken another careful step out of its decidedly boxy past.
The '15 Forester isn't much larger than the previous-generation wagon, but the details have been reworked for a more handsome look that also keeps outward visibility a priority. Some of the themes and design details are shared with the Subaru Impreza, down to the sculpted side metal and the taillamps. The heavily creased looks have dissipated somewhat, but the fenders still are modestly flared. The grille's wings and headlamps taper further back than before, and stand a little taller.
Whether you choose the Forester 2.5i or the Forester 2.0XT, there's more detail wrought into the lower front end, and it's probably the least successful bit of attention paid to the crossover wagon. The higher hoodline and chiseled front end are subtle in basic form, but turbo models get a more aggressive, technical-looking lower airdam that brackets the front end like dewlaps. Some are going to mourn the loss of the aggressive hood scoop in XT turbo models, but engineers couldn’t ignore the advantages to moving it under the hood; the look is smoother and more sophisticated, too.
Inside, the instrument panel has been completely redesigned and pushed five inches forward and slightly downward—with the low-set dash updated to the same relatively simple layout that's been given to the Legacy, Outback, and Impreza. A center stack of controls flows from a new multi-information screen down to climate and audio controls and a center console with cupholders, storage, and an armrest. And throughout the interior, the materials have been upgraded, with a mix of matte and soft-touch materials accented with matte-finish metallics.
2015 Subaru Forester
We'd opt for the turbo Forester XT for occasional fun with its Sport # mode; all models have a modicum of off-road ability.
In its latest incarnation, the Subaru Forester nudges its performance needles gently in the right direction, especially when it's compared to some of its head-to-head competition. It's quicker than a Honda CR-V or a Rogue and better planted, too, though it lacks the athletic ride and steering of a Ford Escape (and the compromises that brings).
The Forester simply blends a pleasing amount of driving fun into its all-weather-wagon recipe, and that's more true of the turbocharged XT than of the base, normally aspirated wagon. That standard powerplant is a 2.5-liter, horizontally-opposed four-cylinder engine with 170 horsepower, coupled to either a six-speed manual or a continuously variable transmission (CVT). These 2.5i models aren’t quick, but they’re adequately powerful for a vehicle weighing in at about 3,300 pounds.
In the turbocharged 2.0XT, the power equation's much more favorable. It turns in a stout 250 horsepower and 258 pound-feet at 2,000 rpm (on premium gas)--though it comes only with the CVT. Weight on top trims creeps up to about 3,600 pounds, but the Forester 2.0XT can tow up to 1,500 pounds.
The turbocharged models show off the best of the Forester's capable tuning. The body's stiffer than before, and the suspension has been redesigned. As a result, this Forester rides more comfortably, with less of the compact-car abruptness over large bumps. The Forester now has especially good body control, as well as very well-tuned and nicely weighted rack-mounted electric power-steering. Considering its toughness and cargo capacity for weekend outdoor gear, that's a win.
It's not quite as supple as a Rogue or an Equinox, but neither has the flourishes of personality that come from Subaru's reaches into acceleration and off-roading. One of those flourishes is SI-Drive. Essentially the same system that Subaru’s used in some of its sporty models in the past, it offers three modes—Intelligent (I), Sport (S), and Sport Sharp (S#)—that tweak the way the accelerator and powertrain respond. Sport Sharp enables a transformation in the 2.0XT's CVT—essentially making it 'pretend' it's an eight-speed automatic transmission, with relatively snappy shifts and manual control via steering-wheel paddle-shifters (which are omitted on 2.5i models). In Intelligent or Sport, there are instead six simulated 'gears' available by using the paddle-shifters.
If you want to go with the greater performance of the XT, we think the CVT is quite livable and unobtrusive, and the simulated eight-speed mode really redeems it (although it can’t quite nail the downshifts quickly and make them smooth). If you’re going for the standard 2.5i model, the CVT will be just fine for most people, but our favorite remains the six-speed manual. The shift linkage is a little sloppy and the throws are long, but it’s the way to get the most power out of the torquey boxer engine—and the mechanical-split all-wheel-drive system makes the Forester a little more fun, as well as a little more predictable in an enthusiast sense, whenever traction gets scarce.
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.
2015 Subaru Forester
Comfort & Quality
It's somewhat plain inside, but the Subaru Forester has excellent passenger and cargo space for a compact wagon.
Subaru went to lengths to keep the current Forester at about the same overall length--it's a compact vehicle, after all, and the larger Outback exists for buyers that need even more space. To net more usable space, Subaru moved the seat positions, the roof pillars, and resculpted the interior trim to create the look and reality of a more spacious vehicle.
By the numbers, the Forester now rides on a 103.9-inch wheelbase, and is 180.9 inches long. It has 8.7 inches of ground clearance, almost 40 inches of rear-seat head room, 34.4 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats (when no sunroof is present), and 74.7 cubic feet behind the front seats, when the second-row seats are folded down.
From the driver seat, the Forester feels completely different from the previous model, and especially from some other vehicles it might be compared with: Escape, Tucson, even Rogue. The re-engineering has reoriented interior space in useful ways. The dash sits almost five inches further forward from the seats, which themselves provide a slightly higher driving position and more elbow room. The seats are more adjustable and the Forester's sills and shoulder line are lower in comparison. The perception of space is unsurpassed in this class.
The front seats themselves lack enough bolstering on the short, flat bottom cushion, and bigger drivers will make constant contact with the Forester's center console and door panels, both lacking some soft touch points. In XT (turbo) models it's especially lacking, as there's no sport-seat option. The commanding view is worth those minor trade-offs.
In the second row, repositioned rear seats allow an inch greater distance between the front and rear seats—that’s more rear legroom—and rear seatback folding that’s close to fully flat with a one-touch mechanism. There’s 12 percent more cargo space, too. The repositioned back seats are easier to get into than in the previous version, and they're more comfortable, with a subtle contouring that should help comfort on longer trips. All but the base model get three-position recline for the (60/40-split) rear seatbacks.
All models now get a fold-down center armrest, and solid-looking cupholders have been moved forward from the back of the center console. In turn, the center console now longer extends as far back, to give the center occupant a little more space. With the center driveshaft tunnel lowered by an inch, there's a little more foot space, too.
There’s also a much greater sense of detailing and refinement inside the new Forester. 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—altogether making a big difference in keeping the cabin quieter on rough surfaces, though wind noise and tire thrum at highway speeds still are a constant presence.
2015 Subaru Forester
The Forester is one of the top-rated vehicles in crash tests from both major agencies.
The Subaru Forester has earned exceptional safety scores for the compact-wagon class, and as a result, we've given it one of our highest safety ratings.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the Forester a five-star rating overall--nearly perfect, save for a four-star score in front-impact protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) named the 2015 Forester a Top Safety Pick+, thanks to "good" scores in every category plus the Forester's available forward-collision protection systems. The Forester is the only small SUV (their description) to merit the agency's top score in its new small-overlap frontal test.
For 2015, Subaru's spread more safety equipment across the lineup. All-wheel drive is of course standard; it's laid out differently depending on the choice of transmission, but in either case distributes its power independently of the stability system. Bluetooth is standard, and this year, a rearview camera is also standard on all Foresters.
Available active-safety features in the Forester will now include adaptive cruise control (ACC), running at speeds from 25 mph up to 90 mph, while the Forester gets 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. Subaru has lopped $500 off the cost of the optional EyeSight system this year.
Furthermore, in X-Mode, Hill Descent Control automatically deploys to keep speeds slow and safe down steep, slippery slopes.
Visibility is also a step ahead of both the previous Forester and most other compact crossovers, because of two changes: Subaru moved the A-pillars forward a bit, then moved the side mirrors back from the pillars and added a small partitioned front windows ahead of the window glass. Bringing the hoodline down in XT Turbo models (where there used to be a big air scoop) also helps. The Forester's simply one of the easiest vehicles to see out of--an often overlooked aspect of safety.
2015 Subaru Forester
The Forester's acquired options like leather and a sunroof over the years; its infotainment system is fairly dreadful.
Last year, the Subaru Forester underwent a complete redesign, with a larger body, new and more efficient powertrains, and more substantial standard features and options. Changes are few for 2015: a rearview camera is now standard on all models, and features like a moonroof, navigation, and an all-weather package are more widely available. Subaru's EyeSight safety system has seen its price cut by $500. Prices range from $23,045 for the Forester 2.5i with a manual transmission, to $29,345 for a Forester 2.0XT Premium.
All Foresters come standard with a 4.3-inch color display that serves as the output for the rearview camera, as well as temperature and trip computer functions. The Forester also has standard power features, tilt/telescope steering, AM/FM/CD audio with steering-wheel controls, and Bluetooth connectivity with audio streaming.
On Foresters equipped to Premium and Limited spec, there's a more powerful six-speaker audio system with HD radio. Purchase the optional navigation system, and the Forester adopts a 6.1-inch touchscreen, satellite radio with real-time traffic, voice controls, smartphone integration, and Aha app functionality. On Touring models, a 440-watt, eight-speaker Harman Kardon audio system is standard.
Premium models come in two flavors. Opt for the manual transmission and you get heated front seats, heated mirrors, and a windshield wiper de-icer, while with the CVT is includes a panoramic power moonroof (with those winter items as an option package). In either case, they include 17-inch alloy wheels and a power driver seat. On the Limited, the CVT is mandatory; it also adds 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. The available power hatch can be operated manually with low effort, or be configured to open short of a low garage ceiling.
A word about Subaru's audio interfaces: they're dreadful. The base sound system has a limited number of characters with which to figure out media that's being played, while the touchscreen audio system in higher trims has a confusing menu system. Performing simple tasks such as tuning or seeking for the radio requires a good, long look at the screen to find a small 'button' amid the cluttered display and sometimes, big reflections. Likewise, there's no way to display the list of satellite radio stations. And that SD slot that's front and center? It's not for media files; it instead needs to be filled with a map-data card at all times, otherwise the nav won't work.
2015 Subaru Forester
A top combined EPA rating of 27 mpg puts the Forester in good stead with other compact crossover wagons.
With no powertrain changes for the 2015 model year, the Subaru Forester's fuel economy ratings are unchanged--and now that we've had a few thousand miles behind the wheel of the Forester XT, we can confirm its gas-mileage ratings are just about within reach.
Last year, the Forester inaugurated a new generation of horizontally opposed four-cylinder engines, combined with a new iteration of Subaru's Lineartronic continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) in place of the former four-speed automatics. The tandem made it possible for Subaru to improve both gas mileage and performance.
For 2015, the base Forester 2.5i with the CVT boasts EPA ratings of up to 27 mpg combined. Direct injection in 2.0XT models helps them attain an EPA combined rating of 25 mpg. In our Forester XT Six-Month Road Test driving, we've measured just over 24.1 mpg in mixed driving--well within the EPA's suggested 10-20% variance off its combined figures.