In the cutthroat small-crossover segment, carmakers need a hook to make their entries stand out. Subaru has a hook with its pre-collision safety system, and with it, the Forester can be a compelling choice.
We car enthusiasts can take a dim view of safety features. Back in the late-’60s, auto journos sniffed at the padded dashboards and collapsible steering columns that began appearing, partly by government mandate. Those of us who consider ourselves skilled drivers have long put a stake in ground of rugged individualism – the car should get out of the way so we can do our jobs.
But we don’t live in the car-crazy ’60s, and most drivers today are not car enthusiasts. Many instead maintain a behind-the-wheel focus on their smartphones, with all the distraction that brings. In this environment – especially if you have a teen driver who is constantly glued to their screen – it is a welcome development for a car to warn you and then ease up the throttle, and then hit the brakes for you.
Even if you have mixed feelings about the increasing control new cars have over our journeys, with the eventual evolution being the autonomous car, all you have to do is stand on a busy street corner and watch the phone-holding drivers go by. Then you realize that this distracted-driver train has left the station, and safety systems like Subaru’s EyeSight work well enough that they will probably populate most new cars in the next few years.
EyeSight (which we first experienced in a Legacy sedan) mounts two cameras around the rear-view mirror to constantly measure the car’s distance and lane position to maintain a safe course and prevent collisions. Subaru goes a step further than the systems in the Mazda CX-5 and Volvo XC60 by modulating the throttle as well as the brakes, and unlike the Mazda, it also includes Adaptive Cruise Control. That’s how the Subarus equipped with EyeSight nab the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety’s top rating for preventing frontal collisions.
Behind those cameras are buttons to turn off some functions if you want to go it alone. It was tempting to do that in the hilliest parts of San Francisco, where the tested Forester panicked when heading up hills and the car in front changed angles as it crested the peak. It also sparked up when heading down steep hills behind a car that leveled out as it entered the intersection below.
Though we were still at what seemed a safe distance, EyeSight didn’t like the way the car in front changed angle, and it consistently sounded the alarm under those circumstances. Not enough of a nuisance for me to shut down the system – it was more like a reminder that we were dealing with a particular set of algorithms, not an extra set of human eyes.
In a nod to the enthusiasts who may be slow to embrace this tech, EyeSight is available on every Subaru except the sporty BRZ and WRX/STI models. On the Forester, you’d have to skip the base 2.5i trim and start with the tested 2.5i Premium. Then you’d have to get the CVT automatic, so that your entry price for an EyeSight-equipped Forester is $27,240, including the $850 destination charge.
Otherwise, the tested Forester held few surprises; this model’s mission for straightforward and practical transport has changed little through the years, although its initially characterful personality has been muted over time.
Under the hood is Subaru’s 2.5-liter, horizontally-opposed four-cylinder engine. There’s still the old-VW-Beetle-like grunting startup, but once underway, this familiar mill does its job in relative anonymity.
The CVT transmission is typical – it’s deliberate with highway downshifts, but it was a little slushy in town as it fielded varying throttle inputs. Handling was more enthusiastic than serviceable, and that fits well with the Forester’s mission.
Front seats were exceptionally comfortable, with well-placed lumbar support that seemed to hold your lower back in a seatback-wide bolster.
Room in back was plentiful, and there was excellent visibility all around.
There’s enough clearance back there for the folding seatbacks to generally not need their headrests removed before they flop down, and they create a just-about flat floor.
Lots of usable cargo room back there…
…and there’s a padded tray underneath for smaller items.
Subaru is fortunate that it stepped up development on EyeSight as others play catch-up. For buyers worried about distracted driving in family members – or in themselves – EyeSight can make the Forester an obvious choice in a cutthroat field.
Enthusiasts will probably continue focusing on the sportier entries in Subaru’s lineup, even as they recommend that the non-enthusiasts around them take a good look at EyeSight, as I am doing here. EyeSight is not perfect, but there’s value-add in the peace of mind it can bring.
2015 Subaru Forester 2.5i Premium
Base Price: $25,095
Price As Tested: $27,439
Option Package 14: $1,295
Includes All-Weather Package And EyeSight Driver-Assist System
Heated Front Seats And Side Mirrors
Windshield Wiper De-Icer
EyesSight Driver-Assist System
Pre-Collision Braking System
Adaptive Cruise Control
Lane Departure Warning, Lane Sway Warning
Pre-Collision Throttle Management System
Auto-Dim Mirror Compass: $199
Destination Charge: $850
Effective pre-crash technology
Familiar boxy and utilitarian feel
Muted driving personality, compared to previous Foresters
Perturbed front-end styling