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2016 Subaru Forester 2.0XT: Off-road cred with lots of tech

By Jil McIntosh

Oct. 29, 2015

To turbo, or not to turbo, that is the question. It’s what will determine which Subaru Forester you pick: the naturally-aspirated 2.5i, or my tester, the turbocharged 2.0XT.

There aren’t many changes for 2016, but you do get an improved audio system, along with a map updating system if you have navigation. In addition, Foresters with a technology package get fog lights that illuminate on turns, if they aren’t already on, to light up the curve.

The 2.5i model is the volume seller and comes in seven trim levels, ranging from $25,995 to $35,795. The turbocharged 2.0XT arrives in only three, consisting of the Touring at $33,495, the Limited at $36,795, and my tester, the Limited with Technology Package, at $37,995.

Pros & Cons

  • + Drive mode selector
  • + Advanced safety features
  • + Off-road performance
  • - Forgettable styling
  • - Stereo controls
  • - No manual transmission
Read the full review
  • Walkaround

    Traditionally styled from the side and rear, the Forester turns a little wonky at the front, with a heavy nose (the black centre bumper on my white vehicle didn’t help) and distracting cut-outs on the sides of the fascia.

    But the headlamps—auto-levelling, high-intensity discharge (HID) on the Limited—are smartly styled, with the now-requisite LED surrounds.

    At the rear, a stainless steel step pad sits below the power-operated liftgate, which can be maddeningly slow to open. Up top, all 2.0XT models include a huge power-sliding sunroof, flanked by silver-finished roof rails.

  • Interior

    The cabin is very roomy, both in the front and rear seats. I like the tall seating position, while my husband complained that he felt he was perched too far up, so have everyone take their seats to be sure it works for the whole gang.

    The cockpit is a busy place, although everything’s ultimately easy to figure out. The automatic climate control is incorporated within three large dials, placed above switches for the heated seats. The infotainment’s icons are large and easy to tap, but while there are dials for volume and tuning, other functions are handled by small, touch-activated buttons that can be harder to hit with accuracy.

    There’s a lot of small-item storage space up front, and if the cargo compartment isn’t enough, the rear seats fold forward for more capacity.

  • Tech

    My tester was equipped with EyeSight, a suite of safety technologies that uses a stereo camera mounted on the windshield near the rearview mirror. Subaru says it’s a lower-cost alternative to grille-mounted laser or radar systems.

    By capturing two images and comparing them, the system can determine where objects are and if they’re close enough to pose a threat (including cyclists and pedestrians, but not animals or small children). The EyeSight technologies include adaptive cruise control that can come to a complete stop and then start again when traffic moves, pre-collision braking, and pre-collision throttle management, which will cut power if you hit the gas while something’s in front of you. It also includes lane departure warning and lane-keeping assist, along with lane sway warning, which can tell if you’re moving erratically in the lane but not going over the line.

    The system works very well, especially the adaptive cruise control, which is smoother than many I’ve driven. However, because the camera can only look forward, the Forester doesn’t offer blind spot monitoring, which I find can be helpful for many drivers in heavy traffic.

    8.5Very good
  • Driving

    The 2.0XT’s engine is a turbocharged 2.0-litre horizontally-opposed four-cylinder, making 250 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. It’s a considerable step up from the 2.5i, which hands back only 170 horses. Stick-shift fans will mourn, but the six-speed manual available with the 2.5-litre isn’t found on the turbo, and the only unit available is a CVT, albeit one with a torque converter.

    Despite the bad rap that continuously-variables tend to get, this one works quite well, although it can be noisy on hard acceleration. It’s a more sophisticated version than the CVT the 2.5i gets, with manual mode that takes it up to eight pre-selected “gear” points with paddle shifters. The turbo also includes SI-Drive, which gives you regular operation, and then two progressively sportier modes that control engine and transmission mapping.

    All-wheel drive is standard, of course, and there’s a button for X-Mode, which also alters the drivetrain for better traction, and includes hill descent control.

    I’ve always enjoyed driving the Forester, and this generation of it is no exception. It’s substantial without feeling heavy and its steering is well-weighted, although it does tend toward some body roll on sharper curves. Then again, despite its two sport settings, it’s really more about everyday driving and, when necessary, tackling unpaved roads with more off-road ability than you might expect.

    I was also impressed with the fuel economy. Against published figures of 10.2 L/100 km in the city and 8.5 on the highway, I averaged 8.9 in combined driving.

    8.5Very good
  • Value

    It’s a $2,200 hike to move up from the naturally-aspirated 2.5i to the turbocharged version in each of the three trim levels (Touring, Limited, and Limited Technology) that can be ordered with either engine. The equipment lists remain pretty much the same, so you’ll have to decide if the improved performance is worth it to you.

    But the Forester is pretty much in the middle of the pack with its competitors, many of which don’t have the higher-tech features on my vehicle or match its horsepower and torque. Against my tester’s price of $37,995, you’ll pay $36,995 to get into the top Mazda CX-5; $36,998 for a top-line Volkswagen Tiguan; and $38,495 for the highest Kia Sportage.

  • Conclusion

    I’ve always been fond of the Forester, and my appreciation of it continues. At the dealership, I’d probably follow the majority and opt for the less-expensive 2.5i, especially since Subaru drops the same features into each, rather than holding back on a few choice ones to force buyers up into the next engine bracket. Still, the turbo adds some fun to a vehicle that’s already a decent machine, so test-drive them both.

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