2017 Subaru Forester Review

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2016 Subaru Forester 2.0i-S

Overall Rating


4 out of 5 stars

Rating breakdown
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Safety, value & features

4 out of 5 stars

Comfort & space

4 out of 5 stars

Engine & gearbox

4 out of 5 stars

Ride & handling

5 out of 5 stars


4 out of 5 stars

Pros & Cons

  1. ProEngines to suit all tastes; driving; safety.

  2. ConPlain looks.

  3. The Pick: 2017 Subaru Forester 2.0D-L 4D Wagon

What stands out?

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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, turbocharged petrol, each driving all four wheels. High-tech active safety aids complete a highly respected medium SUV.

What might bug me?

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

What body styles are there?

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

It is classed as a medium SUV, lower priced. All Foresters come with full-time all-wheel drive.

What features do all Foresters have?

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A reversing camera, and a 7-inch touchscreen multi-function display.

A sound system with an AM/FM radio, a CD player, Aux and USB inputs, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, MP3 and Pandora internet radio compatibility, 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.

Electronic stability control, which Subaru calls Vehicle Dynamic Control. This helps the driver control the vehicle in a skid, and is mandatory on new cars.

Seven airbags: two directly in front of the driver and passenger, a side airbag for each front occupant that protects the upper body, a curtain airbag on each side to protect the heads of front and rear occupants, and an airbag in front of the driver’s knees.

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?

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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.

One reason why you might not get it is that it costs more than either of these engines. Another is that it is not available in a Forester with Subaru’s EyeSight active safety features.

The least expensive engine in the range is the 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 in all conditions, and the CVT auto transmission enhances that strength.

The most powerful 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 comparison testing for the November 2015 issue of Wheels magazine, ranking third for fuel use of the four medium SUVs reviewed. (The most frugal of these, a Mazda CX-5 GT, returned 10.2 litres/100km.)

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.

What key features do I get if I spend more?

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The least costly Forester is the 2.0i-L, which has the 2.0-litre petrol engine, cloth seat trim, and a manual gearbox.

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. It will even restrain the speed of the car on steep downhill slopes, without help from the driver.

Spend more again for the 2.5i-S and you get a suite of driver aids that Subaru calls EyeSight. Among these is automatic emergency braking: EyeSight warns you that an obstacle is ahead (commonly a slowing car), and applies the brakes if you ignore the warning. It operates at city and highway speeds.

EyeSight also warns if you are drifting out of your lane, or if you are steering erratically – perhaps because you are tired. And when you use cruise control, it slows you to the speed of a vehicle in front when required.

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. Wheels of 18-inch diameter replace the 17-inch wheels of less costly versions, fitted with tyres of a slightly lower profile.

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 no diesel has EyeSight.

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.

Does any upgrade have a down side?

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

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

Even the most expensive diesel Forester is not available with automatic braking or other EyeSight active safety features.

Standard paint finishes are white, red, blue and black. There are five additional-cost metallic colours.

How comfortable is the Forester?

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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 might not like the feel of the CVT. It allows the engine speed to fluctuate steplessly without a change in road speed, a bit like an old manual car with a slipping clutch. This is particularly noticeable when the accelerator is pressed hard.

The latest CVT, fitted to the diesel and (since February 2016) XT turbocharged petrol engines only, 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?

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The Forester brings a solid standard safety package. All models have seven airbags and a reversing camera, the mandatory stability control, and seatbelt reminders for all seats.

The Forester 2.5i-S and XT Premium (only) add Subaru’s camera-based EyeSight active safety package, which brings auto emergency braking that works at city and highway speeds. EyeSight also supplies a lane-drift warning – alerting you if you have begun to drift out of your lane on the highway, perhaps from distraction – and a fatigue monitor.

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?

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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.)

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?

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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?

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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. The two other petrol engines have a 1500kg limit, which is more usual for medium SUVs.

Where is the Forester made?

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All Subaru Foresters are made in Japan.

What might I miss that similar cars have?

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Perhaps 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 offers this, for example.

Possibly wider availability of active safety aids such as auto emergency braking, which is not available on the less costly Foresters or the Forester diesels. The Mazda CX-5 supplies city-speed auto-braking with all versions, for example, while the Kia Sportage offers auto braking and other assistance with its diesel.

Among many similar cars you might consider are the Toyota RAV4, Nissan X-Trail, Hyundai Tucson, Honda CR-V and Volkswagen Tiguan.

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

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The 2.0D-L in automatic form is 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.

If you want more luxury inclusions then you can make a solid argument for the 2.0D-S. For those wanting high performance, the two XT models are the only choice.

If EyeSight active safety means a lot, you need the 2.5i-S or the XT Premium.

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

Are there plans to update the Forester soon?

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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.

An all-new version of the smaller Subaru XV, an SUV based on the Impreza hatchback, is expected in Australia about the middle of 2017. An all-new Forester may follow in 2018.