2016-2018 Subaru Forester Range Review

Subaru’s fourth-generation Forester is practical, fun, and surprisingly handy on trails. The boxy medium SUV has thrifty diesel and speedy petrol engines, and leading-edge safety.

Subaru Forester 2 0 I L 2017 Drive MAIN Jpg
Score breakdown
Safety, value and features
Comfort and space
Engine and gearbox
Ride and handling
Things we like
  •   Engines to suit all tastes
  •   Driving
  •   Safety
Not so much
  •   Plain looks, all-new model due soon

What stands out?

The previous generation of Subaru’s tall-riding Forester is a practical car for families that is also fun to drive – and surprisingly handy on tracks and trails. You can choose from four engines, among them a thrifty diesel and a very fast turbo-petrol, each driving all four wheels. Auto braking and other high-tech driver aids are available, completing a highly respected medium SUV.

What might bug me?

Every country town has a host of them – but they are popular for good reason.

What body styles are there?

The Forester comes only in one body style, a five-door SUV-style wagon.

All Foresters drive all four wheels at all times.

The Forester is classed as a medium SUV, lower priced.

What features do all Foresters have?

A reversing camera, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen display.

A sound system with an AM/FM radio, a CD player, Aux and USB inputs, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, voice control, and at least six speakers.

Dual-zone air-conditioning, which allows the driver and front-seat passenger to set their own cabin temperatures.

Leather trim on the steering wheel, with buttons for operating the cruise control, the entertainment system, and your phone.

Roof rails, for mounting luggage systems.

Aluminium alloy wheels, and a full-sized spare wheel.

Seven airbags. Anti-lock brakes, and electronic stability control, which Subaru calls Vehicle Dynamic Control. This helps you maintain control in a skid. (For the placement of airbags, and more on Forester safety systems, please open the Safety section below.)

A three-year warranty, with no limited on distance travelled in that time.

Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?

The 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel uses least fuel, consuming 5.9 litres/100km in the official test (urban and country combined) in manual gearbox form. For country driving, this combination is hard to go past. In city driving, the diesel needs lots of gearchanges and therefore is better with the optional automatic, which uses about 10 per cent more fuel.

In the real world, you can expect a Forester diesel to average about 8.5 litres/100km over a mix of city and highway use, with consumption dropping to 7.0 litres/100km once you get out of town.

The diesel will also feel more powerful in most driving conditions than the two non-turbocharged petrol engines available. The main reason you wouldn’t get it is that it costs more than either of these engines.

The engine in the least costly Forester is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol, which is available only as a manual.

From there you can move up to the 2.5-litre petrol, which is auto only. The 2.5 feels a bit stronger than the 2.0 in all conditions, and the CVT auto transmission enhances that strength.

A Forester 2.5i-L averaged 11.8 litres/100km in a real-world comparison conducted for the June 2017 issue of Wheels magazine, ranking among the heavier drinkers of nine medium SUVs reviewed. (The most frugal, a Volkswagen Tiguan, returned 9.5 litres/100km.)

The most powerful engine choice is the turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol, a version of the engine powering Subaru’s iconic WRX sports sedan. This engine provides about half again as much thrust as any of the alternatives. It is available only with the automatic gearbox.

A Forester XT Premium with this engine averaged 11.4 litres/100km in real-world driving for Wheels.

The manual gearbox supplied with Foresters is a six-speeder. The auto gearbox is a Continuously Variable Transmission, or CVT, which gives better performance and fuel efficiency than a conventional auto with fixed gear ratios.

All Forester engines have their four cylinders laid flat in pairs and opposing each other, an unusual design that helps smoothness and – because it keeps the weight of the engine low in the car – improves handling.

(Power outputs and all other Forester specifications are available from the Cars Covered menu, under the main image on this page.)

What key features do I get if I spend more on 2016-2018 Forester?

Spending as little as possible will get you a Forester 2.0i-L, which has the 2.0-litre petrol engine, cloth seat trim, a manual gearbox, and 17-inch wheels.

Spend more for the 2.5i-L and you get the bigger petrol engine with an automatic gearbox. You also get X-Mode, which optimises the Forester’s stability and traction controls for driving at low speeds on loose and slippery surfaces. X-Mode will even restrain the speed of the car on steep downhill slopes, without help from the driver.

Spend more again for a 2.5i-S and you get, in addition, two suites of driver aids: EyeSight, and Vision Assist.

EyeSight brings you adaptive cruise control (which will slow you from your set cruising speed to follow slower vehicles on the highway, resuming when the way is clear). As well, you get auto emergency braking and lane-keeping assistance, among other features.

Vision Assist helps you understand what is going on around your car. It includes a blind-spot monitor, a rear cross-traffic alert, and a side-view monitor.

The 2.5i-S also has satellite navigation, leather trim, heated and power-adjustable front seats, a driver’s seat that remembers your setting, and a tailgate that raises and lowers at the press of a button. Windscreen wipers operate automatically when it rains. Headlights use very efficient and long-lasting LEDs, and switch on automatically when it gets dark. They also swivel to shine into corners as you turn the steering wheel. A smart key can be left safely in your pocket or bag while you unlock and start the car. And the wheel diameter rises to 18 inches, with the tyre sidewall shrinking to compensate.

You can also spend money on a diesel engine. The 2.0D-L is similarly equipped to the 2.0i-L. The more expensive diesel, the 2.0D-S, has most luxury features of the 2.5i-S. However, only automatic gearbox diesels have X-Mode, and only the 2.0D-S automatic has EyeSight and Vision Assist.

Finally, you can purchase a Forester with the most expensive engine, the very powerful turbocharged 2.0 litre petrol. The Forester XT has this engine and the features of the 2.5i-L, including the automatic gearbox and X-Mode. It also has a power-adjustable driver’s seat, and swivelling LED headlamps from the 2.5i-S.

The Forester XT Premium has the turbo petrol engine and all the features of the 2.5i-S. In addition, in February 2016 it became the only Forester to use Active Torque Vectoring, which improves drive in corners by directing more power to the tyre with more grip.

Did any upgrade have a down side?

The turbocharged petrol engine requires premium grade (minimum 95RON) petrol, which is not always available in country towns.

The 18-inch tyre package on the more expensive Foresters rides more roughly than the standard 17s, and the tyres are more damage prone on rough roads.

How comfortable is the Forester?

The Forester has a comfortable, roomy and well appointed cabin even in the least expensive model. The fit and finish is excellent and the overall feel is one of modernity and technical precision. Top-spec models add to that with plenty of luxury and convenience features. The driving position feels very natural, while the tilt and reach adjustment for the steering wheel and the broad seat adjustments work for a wide range of people.

The Forester has a comfortable but well controlled ride. Models with 17-inch wheels ride more softly than those on the 18s.

Road noise suppression in past Foresters hasn’t been great, and on some surfaces the Forester has been noisy inside. Foresters on sale since February 2016 have benefited from several measures designed to make them quieter to ride in, among them thicker glass in the door windows and revised door seals.

The Forester is an easy car to drive, with light steering. All engines respond well to the accelerator, especially when fitted with the most popular gearbox, the CVT auto.

Some drivers don’t like the feel of a CVT, which allows the engine speed to fluctuate incrementally without a change in road speed, a bit like an old manual car with a slipping clutch. The latest Forester CVT addresses this problem, cutting fuel use when cruising but acting more like a conventional automatic, with stepped ratios, when you ask it to accelerate hard.

What about safety in a Forester?

All Foresters have anti-lock brakes, stability control, seven airbags, a reversing camera, and seatbelt reminders for all seats.

The seven airbags are in the usual places: two directly in front of the driver and passenger; an airbag in front of the driver’s knees; airbags immediately outside the driver and front passenger that protect at chest level; and curtain airbags extending down each side of the car at head level to protect passengers front and rear from side impacts.

The Forester 2.5i-S and XT Premium, and (since September 2017) the diesel 2.0D-S in automatic trim, add Subaru’s EyeSight active safety package, which relies on stereo cameras. It brings auto emergency braking that works at city and highway speeds, and detects pedestrians, warning you first and then braking you automatically if a crash seems imminent. EyeSight also supplies lane-drift assistance – alerting you if you have begun to drift out of your lane on the highway, perhaps from distraction, and gently attempting to steer the car out of trouble.

These three Foresters also have Subaru’s Vision Assist suite, comprising a blind-spot monitor and a rear cross-traffic alert, among other features. The blind-spot monitor checks for traffic near your rear corners, alerting you to vehicles that might not show in your mirrors. (A related system alerts you if you indicate to change lanes into the path of an overtaking car.) The rear cross-traffic alert operates when you are reversing, checking for vehicles crossing behind you. In addition, there is Subaru’s Side-view monitor, which shows you how close your wheels are to the gutter when parallel parking. And an Adaptive driving beam seeks to maximise illumination from your headlights while avoiding dazzling oncoming drivers.

The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) rated all current Foresters at five-stars for safety, in January 2013.

I like driving - will I enjoy this car?

In a word, yes – you will enjoy driving this car.

The 177kW turbocharged petrol models are the pick for keen drivers, and have a level of performance approached by few lower-priced SUVs of this size. The only glitch is that this engine is not available with a manual gearbox, something that keen drivers may miss. However, the CVT does respond well to this engine, largely because there’s good power available even from moderate engine speeds.

The diesel produces strong power at low engine speeds but top-end performance is modest.

All Foresters offer agreeable, nicely sorted handing and steering that will appeal to keen drivers. In fact it’s one of the best lower-priced SUVs in this regard. (In February 2016 Foresters gained marginally more responsive steering, through a more direct ratio.)

“What a deeply admirable thing the Forester is,” Wheels senior reviewer Nathan Ponchard reported of the 2.5i-L in June 2017, after driving it alongside key alternatives. “If you champion function over form and lament the loss of great ride quality in modern cars, then welcome to Subaru country, where the weather’s always fine.”

The Forester is also better to drive off sealed surfaces than most small or medium SUVs, which means it is excellent on gravel roads, good on sand, and okay on tracks that are not very rough or steep. Its full-size spare tyre is a major bonus here.

How is life in the rear seats?

The Forester has one of the better rear seats in its class, with plenty of leg room and head room for tall passengers. The ride quality is also very good at the rear.

Dedicated vents supply heating and cooling to the rear compartment.

All Foresters have three child-seat anchor points, the outside two of which have ISOFIX fittings.

How is it for carrying stuff?

The Forester has a relatively shallow load area as the floor is raised slightly to accommodate the full-sized spare tyre fitted to all Australian models. That said, the load area isn’t bad, thanks in part to the Forester’s boxy body shape.

Diesel and turbocharged petrol engines also have a solid 1800kg tow rating (braked trailer). The two other petrol engines have a 1500kg limit, which is more usual for medium SUVs.

Where is the Forester made?

All fourth-generation Subaru Foresters were made in Japan.

What might I miss that similar cars have?

The ability to display some apps from compatible smartphones on the car’s touchscreen, and control them from there (via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto). The Ford Escape, Holden Equinox, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Skoda Karoq and Volkswagen Tiguan offer this, for example, as does the smaller Subaru XV.

Wider access to active safety aids such as auto emergency braking, which is not available on the less luxurious Foresters. The Tiguan, the Nissan X-Trail, the Mazda CX-5, and the Toyota RAV4 supply auto-braking with all versions, for example.

I like this car, but I can't choose which version. Can you help?

The 2.0D-S in automatic form was arguably the pick of the range. This model is equally at home in the city and the country. Its offers decent performance and excellent fuel economy. Because it’s easy on fuel, you can go a long way on a tank, which is handier the further you get from civilisation. And it comes with EyeSight and Vision Assist driving aids, and a lot of convenience and luxury.

However you can’t go far wrong, no matter what model you choose. The Forester remains among the best of lower priced medium SUVs.

Are there plans to update the Forester soon?

This fourth-generation Subaru Forester went on sale in Australia in early 2013 and was revised in 2015.

A facelift in February 2016 brought new-look headlamps, tail-lights and bumpers, swivelling LED headlamps on the more expensive petrol models, and changes aimed at reducing cabin noise and improving the ride and steering. The CVT transmissions on Forester XTs gained gear-ratio steps at high throttle openings.

In the third quarter of 2016 Subaru offered briefly a limited-edition Forester tS, based on the XT Premium, which had a firmer ride, for sharper handling on smooth roads.

About September 2017 (for the 2018 model year) Subaru made its EyeSight suite of driver aids available on a diesel, the 2.0D-S auto, and added Vision Assist to all Foresters with EyeSight. In addition, steering assistance enhanced EyeSight’s lane-keeping functions.

The all-new, fifth generation 2019 Subaru Forester arrived in August 2018, bringing a more advanced version of Eyesight active safety, and facial recognition that recognises the driver and adapts to their preferred settings. Powertrains were cut to just one option, a 2.5-litre non-turbo petrol with CVT auto, resulting in the line-up being reduced from nine to four. It's bigger too, with 33mm more rear legroom and a wider boot space.

The 2019 Forester will soon be covered in a separate range review.
Score breakdown
Safety, value and features
Comfort and space
Engine and gearbox
Ride and handling
Things we like
  •   Engines to suit all tastes
  •   Driving
  •   Safety
Not so much
  •   Plain looks, all-new model due soon


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