Subaru’s Forester deserves a lot of credit for helping launch the crossover SUV craze when it debuted back in the late ‘90s. Nowadays, it has a lot more competition in the segment. Is the Forester still a compelling choice? You bet.
Among compact and midsize SUVs outside of the expensive “premium” brands, the Forester might very well have the best ergonomics. That is what impressed me most the first time I sat down in the driver’s seat of the 2016 Forester 2.5i Premium. Seats are soft, yet supportive. There’s soft-touch material anywhere you’re likely to touch (except the steering wheel, disappointingly), and all controls fall easily at-hand. Those controls are simple and easy to understand without reading the owner’s manual, too — something that’s becoming more difficult to say about some of the more tech-heavy vehicles of today.
The windows, most importantly, are huge. There’s no problem seeing out the side windows or even checking over my right shoulder. And here’s the big one: I can actually see out the back glass. In reviewing countless new cars and SUVs, I was beginning to think this was a design trait lost to history, with the exception of my little Nissan cube’s perfectly vertical, flat rear glass.
Park the 2016 Forester next to its great-grandfather from 1998 and you’ll see that while the car is larger and especially taller, its greenhouse retains much the same profile it had back then. This is a great thing for both visibility and cargo capacity, as the cargo area’s 31.5 cubic feet easily swallowed the same Christmas gifts that had crowded the 2015 Nissan Juke NISMO we drove the week prior.
Adding to the Forester’s ease of visibility is a large windshield with a low cowl and dash. Not since the fourth-generation Honda Accord a friend of mine owned have I personally witnessed such a low, unobtrusive dash and cowl in a passenger vehicle.
Part of the reason Subaru is able to pull off this low-cowl look undoubtedly is the horizontally opposed “boxer” four-cylinder engine under its hood. They’re not called “flat-fours” for nothing — open the hood, and it’s a little bit shocking how low the engine sits under there.
That naturally aspirated 2.5-liter boxer engine is by far not the most powerful you’ll find in the crossover segment. The comparatively tiny Nissan Juke NISMO RS had a 1.6-liter turbo mill cranking out 215 horsepower, which fairly blows the much larger Scoob’s 170 horsepower out of the water.
Having said that, the Forester never wanted for power. In fact, its throttle tuning had that signature Subaru snappiness off the line, so it required only light throttle pressure around town. On the highway, the engine was willing to pass without complaint and would happily break any posted speed limit.
Much like Nissan, Subaru has decided automatic transmissions are best implemented as CVTs. The Forester is available with a six-speed manual transmission, but the 2.5i Premium I tested was equipped with Subaru’s Lineartronic CVT. Cue groans from enthusiasts. Get over it — the Forester’s CVT is a very smooth transmission that will not make itself unduly known unless you spend all your time flooring the throttle.
In the past, I had the opportunity to test a Forester in XT trim with this transmission, but in that model, it had a sport mode that simulated seven “gears.” There was no such feature in the 2.5i, which lacked that XT’s paddle shifters and +/- shift gate in the console. The Forester 2.5i Premium’s console-mounted shifter was just a PRNDL.
That’s of no matter, though. I had found the XT’s turbocharged engine surprisingly fast, but really, there’s no way I’m buying a Subaru Forester if my goal is to go fast or have a high-performance driving experience of some kind. They make the WRX and, to a lesser extent, the BRZ for that.
To me, the 2.5i Premium seemed infinitely more honest about its intended purpose in life than that XT. Here is a roomy, quiet, pleasant-to-drive crossover meant to haul your family and all its trappings upon a surefooted all-wheel drive foundation without guzzling gasoline. I averaged just shy of 29 MPG in mixed driving, by the way.
Finally, a note on Subaru’s technology: The Forester I drove was equipped with the latest Starlink infotainment and telematics setup, and it was much better than the last Forester I drove. Voice commands worked seamlessly — which is saying something, given my sometimes hillbilly-tinged way of speaking — and my phone paired easily. There was full integration of apps like Pandora and Aha. A secondary screen mounted above the touchscreen in the dash would break down my fuel economy and other trip computer functions in about a half-dozen different ways.
Most notable was my tester’s inclusion of Subaru’s EyeSight technology. With two cameras mounted in the headliner on either side of the rearview mirror, EyeSight scanned the road ahead for obstacles such as stopped cars or wildlife in addition to seeing the lines on either side of my lane to warn me if I started to weave out of the lane of travel without signalling. The system also played a vital role in the tested Forester’s adaptive cruise control system, which would slow automatically when approaching a slower-moving car from behind. It all worked quite impressively together.
My only gripe was the head unit skipping back to the start of the track I was playing over a Bluetooth connection whenever I last turned off the car. This issue was not present when using an AUX cord, which didn’t give me full integration of my music info on the screen. If you’re driving for 30 minutes or more, this seemingly Bluetooth-related issue wouldn’t be a big deal — but in town, stopping to run errands several times, you can find yourself listening to the same track repeatedly. Let’s hope a software update cures this hiccup soon.
I was surprised by how much I found myself liking the 2016 Subaru Forester 2.5i Premium. If I were in the market for a crossover SUV, I think it would have the edge on a lot of its competitors. It certainly appealed to me with a number of practical-minded design features the Ford Escape and GMC Terrain do not offer, primarily its open, airy cabin. If you’re shopping the segment, check out a Forester — even if you, like me, would have to drive a couple of hours to find a Subaru dealer.
2016 Subaru Forester 2.5i Premium
Base Price: $24,795
Price As-Tested: $28,540
Options: Option Package 15 – All-Weather Package (Heated Front Seats, Heated Side Mirrors, Windshield WIper De-Icer); EyeSIght Driver-Assist System (Pre-Collision Braking System, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning & Lane Sway Warning, Pre-Collision Throttle Management System); Steering Responsive Fog Lights; Subaru Starlink 7.0 Multimedia Navigation System (Multi-Touch Gesture High-Resolution Display, Starlink Smart Phone Connectivity, HD Radio, Sirius XM Satellite Radio & NavWeather & NavTraffic) – $1,895. Lineartronic Continuously Variable Transmission – $1,000.
- Lots of glass makes for great outward visibility and a bright, airy cabin
- Engine and transmission strike good balance of capability and efficiency in a vehicle of this size
- Plenty of interior space for family duty, including impressively boxy cargo area — hatch interference into cargo space minimal
- No leather steering wheel in a $28,000 crossover with all this technology? What gives?
- Bluetooth music streaming wants to go back to beginning of last-played track upon restarting car — frustrating when running errands and getting out of car repeatedly
- Gray interior only color choice if you opt for Venetian Red Pearl paint found on our tester
Disclosure: Subaru provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas for this review.