- Good ride, enjoyable driving
- Top-notch safety scores, systems
- Spacious cabin with super visibility
- Among the best CVTs around
- Turbo adds speedy performance
- Paddles shifts only on turbo
- No manual offered with turbo
- Priciest models not all that premium
features & specs
The 2016 Subaru Forester continues to be a good value and one of the best small SUVs you can buy, with superb all-weather capability, safety ratings, and versatility.
Now in its third year removed from a complete redesign, Subaru’s compact crossover has only a few changes—among them a few new safety, security, and infotainment features. We view the Subaru Forester as one of the best all-round cars in its segment—and we confirmed that judgment when we spent a few months with a turbocharged Forester 2.0XT across a variety of terrains and driving cycles.
The 2016 Subaru Forester is a compact utility vehicle with wagon-like practicality and standard all-wheel drive. It’s got the capabilities of a crossover, the ride and handling of a car, and the all-weather security and off-road capability that Subaru’s known for. It’s the Japanese brand’s best-selling vehicle line—not to mention the winner of our Best Car To Buy 2014 award.
The Forester’s simple, handsome shape manages to be modern without excess flash. Smart shoppers will notice that it excels in subtle ways that many may overlook. Among compact all-wheel-drive vehicles, it’s relatively fuel-efficient, but it offers remarkable interior volume—both for people and their cargo. Its consistently top scores on safety tests are better-known; this year it’s again an IIHS Top Safety Pick+.
The 2014 redesign was hardly a radical rethink: Subaru simply improved almost all of the Forester’s qualities in ways that real-life users value. It’s slightly taller, a little longer between the wheels, and offers superb outward visibility—in an era where too many automakers use roof-crush standards as an excuse for abysmal rearward visibility. The front end manages to be taller without seeming aggressive, though the XT has a few too many different vents, lights, grilles, and accents. In general, though, we’re big fans of Subaru’s latest, more restrained design language than we were of its cartoonish or just plain odd efforts in past years.
Inside, the controls are simple, logical, and easy to use; it’s a car you can drive for the first time without having to study an owner’s manual. Materials—everything from upholsteries to door trim—are better than in previous Forester generations, though we still find Subaru’s soft-touch surfaces slightly sticky to the touch.
Laudably, Subaru has improved the noise suppression, with more insulation behind both the door panels and the instrument panel. Taller drivers may find the front lower seat cushions a little short, but rear passengers have plenty of legroom and the rear seat back folds close to fully flat with a simple one-touch mechanism.
Foresters are offered with two engine choices. The base engine is a 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter flat-4, while the more powerful 2.0XT models have a 2.0-liter turbocharged version producing a substantial 250 hp. With the base models, some drivers will prefer the standard 6-speed manual gearbox over the optional continuously variable transmission (CVT)—and Subaru is one of the few makers continuing to offer a manual in its compact crossover. The turbo 2.0XT can only be obtained with the CVT, though drivers can use the SI-Drive system to reprogram the transmission and throttle settings to make the car behave as though it has a 6- or 8-speed automatic, with paddle shifters to produce quick, if simulated, "gear changes.”
Behind the wheel, the Forester falls on the sportier end of the handling scale—far sportier than the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, or Toyota RAV4. And its combination of standard all-wheel drive and almost 9 inches of ground clearance makes bad weather or off-road excursions feel just as secure as conventional travel on pavement. The steering is nicely weighted, the body doesn’t roll much for a tall utility vehicle, and Subaru’s CVT is the least annoying one we know of. Its gas mileage—as high as 27 mpg combined—is at the top of the class as well, though a new crop of smaller and less roomy SUVs now beat that.
The Forester has earned high praise from the IIHS, including a Top Safety Pick+ designation thanks to it's consistent "Good" ratings on all crash tests—including the difficult small overlap frontal crash—and optional safety equipment. The federal government has been equally kind, earning a five-star overall rating in every test except the frontal impact test, where it earned four stars.
Available active-safety features in the Forester include adaptive cruise control as well as Subaru’s excellent EyeSight camera system for spotting road hazards up to 80 meters ahead, and braking to avoid an accident or reduce its impact. The adaptive cruise control only operates at speeds of 25 mph or higher, however.
But the Forester has fewer compromises than comparable (and pricier) vehicles from those two brands. It’s a perfectly practical, sensible choice for carrying five people and quite a lot of their gear in almost any circumstance. Many owners will never discover those off-road capabilities—though there are a lot of Subarus in areas with extreme winter weather.
All Foresters, even the base 2.5i model, come with Bluetooth hands-free calling, audio streaming, a rearview camera, and a 6.2-inch touchscreen for basic infotainment functions. There are now four trim levels: base, Premium (the most popular), Limited, and the top Touring trim level.
The 2.5i Premium adds a 7.0-inch version of the new corporate infotainment system, 17-inch alloy wheels, and a 10-way power driver’s seat plus reclining rear seatback. Manual-gearbox Premium models have the All-Weather Package as standard; it’s an option on CVT-equipped versions.
Moving up to the Limited model, the CVT is mandatory but you add automatic climate control, an upgraded instrument cluster, perforated leather seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, fog lamps, and a power rear liftgate.
The top-of-the-line Touring model adds premium audio and infotainment. It comes with an eight-speaker, 440-watt stereo, plus keyless ignition and a single-touch folding rear seat back.
The base 2016 Forester 2.5i with a 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four and CVT boasts EPA ratings of 24 mpg city, 32 highway, 27 combined, which falls to 25 mpg combined if you specify the 6-speed manual. Direct injection in 2.0XT models helps them attain an EPA combined rating of 23/28/25 mpg, though shoppers should note that premium fuel is recommended in the Forester XT turbo models.
2016 Subaru Forester
The 2016 Subaru Forester is a clean, straightforward design inside and out, and it avoids the syling excesses of some other SUVs.
By now, the Subaru Forester is a well-known and instantly identifiable sight in cold-weather and more rugged regions of North America. Its shape is clearly that of a tall wagon with SUV ride height, and Subaru has thankfully ignored the fashion for swoopy designs and racy-looking utility vehicles.
Instead, the 2016 Forester is a handsome vehicle, a slightly less boxy but still evolutionary take on the previous generation that keeps easy access and outward visibility as its priorities. A few design themes, including sculpted body sides and the taillight shapes, are shared with the current Subaru Impreza. There are fewer exaggerated creases, just modest fender flares, and the grille and front lamp units taper and sweep further around the car than before.
The hood line is slightly higher than before, with a more chiseled front end slightly let down by a profusion of details in its lower front end, including an aggressive airdam on turbo models that brackets the front end like dewlaps. Turbo models lose the hood scoop, too, meaning they're more sophisticated in appearance at first glance.
Moving inside the Forester, the instrument panel shares its relatively simple layout with the larger Legacy mid-size sedan and Outback crossover utility. It's further forward, and lower, giving more openness to the front-seat areas. Materials throughout the interior have been upgraded, with a mix of matte and soft-touch surfaces accented with matte-finish metallic trim. Larger multi-information screens for 2016 top a center console that contains simple, intuitive climate and audio controls and sweeps into a center console with an armrest, the inevitable cup holders, and a variety of storage bins.
2016 Subaru Forester
The 2016 Subaru Forester offers capable off-road ability, enjoyable on-road driving, and spirited performance if you get the turbocharged XT model.
The 2016 Subaru Forester comes down slightly on the sportier end of the performance scale, with better acceleration and more reassuring handling than a Honda CR-V or a Nissan Rogue. It doesn't have the athletic ride or steering of the Ford Escape, or the driving pleasure of the Mazda CX-5, but it blends a pleasing amount of fun into its eminently capable all-weather-wagon recipe.
The standard powerplant on the 2.5i models is a 2.5-liter, horizontally opposed 4-cylinder engine with 170 horsepower, paired with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) or a 6-speed manual. All-wheel drive is standard on every Forester.
The 2.5i Foresters aren’t all that quick, but they’re adequately powerful for a vehicle weighing in at about 3,300 pounds. Move up to the Forester 2.0XT, however, and the picture changes. That turbocharged, direct-injected 2.0-liter engine, also a flat-4, puts out a stout 250 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque (on premium gas). It comes only with the CVT, though; no manual shifting here. The curb weight on top trims rises to about 3,600 pounds, but that's offset by a tow rating of up to 1,500 pounds for the Forester 2.0XT.
The Forester's capable roadholding is best shown off by the more powerful turbo engine. This Forester rides more comfortably than previous generations, with less abruptness over large bumps. It now has especially good body control, as well as very well-tuned and nicely weighted rack-mounted electric power steering. Considering the toughness of the little SUV, and its cargo capacity for weekend outdoor gear, that's a win. We might still prefer a Mazda CX-5 if we were using it entirely on pavement, but for any off-road or trail use, the Subaru gets the nod.
The Forester's rugged trail prowess includes 8.7 inches of ground clearance and approach and departure angles that even off-road purists won't quickly dismiss. For additional security in off-road conditions, Subaru has added a function dubbed "X-Mode" that distributes power left to right at low speeds—supplementing the all-wheel-drive system’s standard front-to-back distribution. That function, plus impressive approach and departure angles, let Subaru’s utility wagon play on some of the same hills as competitors from off-road stalwarts Jeep and Land Rover.
Back on the pure performance side, Subaru's SI-Drive system offers three modes—Intelligent, Sport, and Sport Sharp—that tweak the way its accelerator and powertrain respond to driver inputs. Sport Sharp transforms the 2.0XT's CVT—it simulates an 8-speed automatic, with snappy shifts and manual control via steering-wheel paddle-shifters (not offered on 2.5i models). In Intelligent or Sport there are instead 6 simulated gears available via the paddle-shifters.
If you’re going for the standard 2.5i model, the CVT will be just fine for most people, though we remain fond of the 6-speed manual, an increasingly rare offering in compact crossover utilities these days. Its shift linkage may be a little sloppy, and its throws are long and truck-like, but it’s the way to get the most power out of the torquey boxer engine. Plus, the mechanically split all-wheel-drive system makes the Forester a little more fun, as well as a little more predictable, whenever traction gets scarce. If you want to go with the greater performance of the XT, though, the CVT is livable and unobtrusive, and its simulated 8-speed mode really redeems it.
2016 Subaru Forester
Comfort & Quality
The 2016 Subaru Forester combines excellent passenger and cargo space with practicality, even if it's a touch plain.
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.
2016 Subaru Forester
The 2016 Subaru Forester earns top safety scores, its EyeSight system is among the best, and outward visibility is excellent.
For many years, the Subaru Forester has garnered exceptional safety scores in the small SUV class, and it customarily earns one of our highest safety ratings. For the 2016 model year, the NHTSA gave it an overall five-star rating, with almost perfect detail scores, except for a single four-star rating on front-impact protection test.
The IIHS awarded the Forester its coveted Top Safety Pick+ designation, thanks to its highest score of "Good" in every single test category, coupled to the available forward-collision protection system.
The Forester's outward visibility is superb, better than that of almost any other compact crossover. There's a small triangular glass pane that lets drivers see out the area ahead of the door-mounted side mirrors. The Forester's simply one of the easiest vehicles to see out of—an often overlooked aspect of safety.
Last year, Subaru made a rearview camera standard on all Foresters. Optional active-safety features include adaptive cruise control that runs at speeds of 25 mph up to 90 mph, and Subaru's highly-ranked EyeSight system for spotting road hazards up to 80 meters ahead, using a pair of cameras. That system can potentially avoid an accident, or reduce its severity, by automatically braking at up to 0.4g. Finally, the Forester's off-road "X-Mode" uses hill-descent control to keep speeds slow and safe while heading down steep, slippery slopes.
2016 Subaru Forester
The 2016 Subaru Forester offers premium options like leather and a moonroof, but it's most honest in its basic models.
The 2016 Subaru Forester has changed little from the previous two years, with the latest model year seeing only the addition of Subaru's well-received infotainment platform across the range to provide hands-free connectivity and various safety and entertainment services. A rearview camera was made standard on all Foresters last year, and options such as navigation, a moonroof, and Subaru's well-known All-Weather Package are available across a wider range of models than before.
Prices range from $23,245 (including destination) for a base Forester 2.5i with 6-speed manual gearbox to $34,645 for the top-of-the-line Forester 2.0XT Touring model, which comes only with the continuously variable transmission (CVT). All Foresters for 2016 come standard with a tilting and telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity, steering-wheel controls for the audio system, and a 6.2-inch Starlink multimedia touchscreen for the rearview camera and various trip computer and temperature functions.
Above the base 2.5i model, there are three trim levels: Premium, Limited, and the high-end Touring line. The Premium model adds 17-inch alloy wheels, a 10-way adjustable power driver's seat, reclining rear seatback, panoramic power moonroof, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment. Manual-transmission 2.5i Premium cars get the All-Weather Package—including heated front seats and side mirrors, plus a windshield-wiper deicer—as standard, while it's optional on models with the CVT.
Limited and Touring models make the CVT standard, and include automatic climate control, perforated leather trim on the seats, leather wrappings on the shift knob and steering wheel, the All-Weather Package, fog lights, and a power liftgate, which can be operated manually with low effort or be configured to open short of a low garage ceiling. (Some of those can be added as options on Premium models as well.)
Only the Touring model, however, includes a 440-watt premium audio system, keyless ignition, an excellent one-touch folding rear seat back, and other additional features.
2016 Subaru Forester
The 2016 Subaru Forester, at 27 mpg combined, does all right in fuel efficiency, but now several AWD vehicles beat those ratings.
The powertrains of the 2016 Subaru Forester are unchanged since its makeover two years ago, and hence its EPA ratings remain the same as well. Having put a few thousand miles on a turbocharged Forester XT last year, we can confidently say that its ratings are within reach in real-world conditions.
The base 2016 Forester 2.5i with a 2.5-liter flat-4 and continuously variable transmission (CVT) boasts EPA ratings of 24 mpg city, 32 highway, 27 combined, which falls to 25 mpg combined if you specify the 6-speed manual. Direct injection in 2.0XT models helps them attain an EPA combined rating of 23/28/25 mpg, though shoppers should note that premium fuel is recommended in the Forester XT turbo models.
In the mixed driving of our Forester XT six-month road test, we measured just over 24.1 mpg overall—which is well within the EPA's suggested variance of 10 to 20 percent from its combined ratings.