2017 Subaru Forester
Review of: 2017 Subaru Forester 5dr Wgn CVT 2.0XT Limited w/Tech Pkg
2017 Subaru Forester XT: Sport utility with sports car cred
By Chris Chase
Dec. 29, 2016
There are many compact crossovers on the road, but few can claim to share an engine with a sports car.
Subaru’s Forester XT can, though: its 2.0-litre, turbocharged, horizontally-opposed (or “boxer”) motor is closely related to the one in the rally racing-inspired WRX sedan, and one of several mechanical traits that helps set the Forester apart in a class of vehicle that now defines the automotive mainstream in North America.
Pros & Cons
- + Sharp handling
- + Advanced safety features
- + Drive mode selector
- - Rear seat comfort
- - Fuel economy
- - Driver's seating position
For 2017, the Forester gets a mid-cycle refresh that brings styling tweaks front and back, and a similarly subtly retouched interior. C-shaped motifs in the front and rear lights echo those used on other recent Subaru designs, and will be found on the forthcoming redesigned 2017 Impreza compact sedan and hatchback.
Forester’s 2017 update adds sound insulation to the cabin, bringing a notable and welcome reduction in road noise. Other comfort upgrades include a Forester-first heated steering wheel, standard in the Limited trim that’s available both with our XT’s turbo engine or the entry-level 2.5-litre motor. Our XT Limited model also had heated rear seats and the expected heated front chairs.
The driver’s seat is mounted high up. That contributes to the great visibility that’s been a Forester hallmark for years, but even at my modest five-foot-six height, I wished the seat would adjust another inch or so downward. Taller drivers will want to pay close attention to how they fit under the sunroof that comes standard in the 2.5i Touring model and all those above it.
Both front seat occupants should note how they fit in the small front seats. Forester looks and feels substantial inside and out, but these seats belong in a smaller car.
Forester offers good rear seat space and comfort that belies the fact this car shares its underpinnings with the Impreza compact sedan and hatch.
Out back, the Forester’s upright tail allows for a spacious cargo area. All models have split-folding rear seats to expand carrying capacity, and we loved that the seatbacks in Limited models fold down automatically with the pull of a lever just inside the tailgate. If only that sweet touch was standard across the line.
Our XT Limited tester had the optional technology package, which includes Subaru’s excellent EyeSight active safety suite that adds automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist and reverse automatic braking (that last item being new for 2017) to a car already equipped with blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert from the Touring trim level’s $30,495 price point. If you’re into a car that pays attention when you forget to, EyeSight is one of the best such systems we’ve tried.
Certainly, Subaru isn’t alone in dropping a stout turbocharged engine into a crossover; Ford does it with a 2.0-litre turbo that makes for a quick Escape. But when you know the pedigree of Subaru’s own 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder, you might imagine this boxy, upright crossover will behave like a WRX station wagon.
And from a cold start, that’s how it feels like things are going, with an abrupt throttle that works like an on/off switch, which is not far off the WRX’s normal way of being. But once the car warms up, the throttle settles down and starts to work well with the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), making good use of the engine’s 258 lb-ft of torque in normal driving.
That temperature-related change in behaviour is worth keeping in mind during a test drive: if you prefer that eager driving feel, steering wheel-mounted buttons for sport and sport-sharp drive modes provide quicker throttle response and command the transmission to spin the engine faster for more immediate power delivery. Sport-sharp also gets you as close as you’ll get to driving a Forester XT with a manual transmission: it activates paddles behind the wheel that shift the CVT through eight fixed ratios. All we wished for here was that the same shifts could also be done via the console-mounted shift lever.
Subaru goes against the grain in making its excellent AWD system standard across the Forester line; its competitors all offer front-drive as well, but Subaru stands out with a system that sends power to all four wheels constantly, rather than reverting to front-wheel drive in clear conditions.
Sitting so high up initially makes the Forester feel tippy in corners, but in reality this little crossover is a sharp handler that displays serious confidence in speedy corners and curves; if you believe Subaru’s marketing hype, that’s partly due to the boxer engine’s low centre of gravity. If it’s your tendency to regularly test your car’s handling, you’ll want to stick with the more aggressive drive modes, as the default economy-biased intelligent setting requires a deep stab of the throttle to get a rise out of the engine.
Typically, front-wheel drive returns better fuel economy than a comparable AWD vehicle, thanks to a simplified drivetrain that weighs less, but Subaru has engineered its AWD models to compete with the fuel consumption estimates of many FWD competitors at 10.2/8.6 L/100 km (city/highway) in the Forester XT. The real world often generates different results than the lab-type setting in which those estimates are measured, especially in chilly winter weather: our tester averaged 11.8 L/100 km in a week of snowy December city driving.
Forester’s 2017 updates bring nominal price increases to most trims, but Limited models with their new comfort/convenience items see a substantial $1,500 bump, which took our top-end XT Limited Tech model to $39,495.
By contrast, a CR-V gets a similar list of convenience and active safety features in its $38,090 Touring trim, but Honda’s little turbo 1.5L (190 hp/179 lb-ft of torque) can’t match the Forester XT performance-wise.
Ford’s Escape will keep up with its 2.0L turbo (245 hp/275 lb-ft), but it costs nearly $41,000 once a Titanium-trimmed model is optioned to match the Forester in XT Limited Tech guise.
And if you’re going to spend that much, you might prefer going for a true luxury utility like the Acura RDX, which starts at $42,190 with a 279-hp V6 and standard AWD, though at that price the active safety items included in the Forester Limited Tech cost extra.
Subaru has seen success in moving itself into the mainstream without abandoning all of the quirks that once set the brand apart from its competitors. We like the way the brand has imported some of the WRX‘s performance credibility to the Forester without eroding this utility’s day-to-day livability; seating is what will make or break this car for many buyers. Overall, though, Subaru’s standard AWD is this vehicle’s major calling card: the Forester may not be the car for all people, but it certainly is one for all seasons.