Each year automakers try to outdo one another in various ways: fastest, roomiest, bestest MPG, best in class this, leading that, and most dynamic. And then there is Subaru who seems to march to the beat of its own drum. They offer honest cars for normal people with a little something for the enthusiasts, too. They have no pickup trucks, no three-row SUVs, and no six-figure halo-car in their fleet. Their spokespeople are dogs and their engines are pancake. Despite that they manage keep setting record sales.
The current Forester has been around for a few years now, but despite looking very familiar it gets minor upgrades each year. For instance, the infotainment has been redone last year and the excellent EyeSight driver assists system keeps evolving. For 2016, the fog-lights respond to steering inputs and illuminate the turning path of the vehicle. Those are not exactly hot items but it’s the little things that count.
And some things don’t change. The base 2.5 170hp naturally aspirated engine is efficient (24mpg city and 32mph highway) but rather wimpy, but there is a turbo option. The optional continuously variable transmission (CVT) is whiny but a proper stick is available. Because it’s a Subaru, it’s AWD or nothing, unless it’s a BRZ. If there is anything else to complain about is that it is louder inside than most other cars.
But like a Labrador, the thing has a ton of personality. You notice it immediately when you sit inside – light! Yes, light. It’s such a simple concept that so many bunkermakers automakers cannot grasp – windows allow light into the car and allow the driver to see what is outside the car. The Forester has big windows all around, including a huge panoramic moonroof on every but the base model. That alone sets it apart from most of the other vehicles in its class.
While generally simple, the dash layout is incredibly easy to use. Three knobs for HVAC, two knobs and a touchscreen for the slightly-slow infotainment, two gauges and some idiot lights, and that’s pretty much it. Steering wheel controls allow the driver to fiddle with the audio and phone without taking hands of the wheel. There’s a display panel on the top of the dash which reminisces on the three-gauge pack from the original WRX, but it’s pretty useless.
Headroom is plentiful for all occupants, even the really tall ones, but rear-seat legroom is a little tight. The trunk can best be described as average for the class and while rear bench splits and folds, the center armrest does not allow a pass-through for longer objects such as skis. But all but the base Foresters come with factory roof-rails, so it’s got that going for it, which is nice.
The base Forester starts at $22,395. But you really want the Premium model, like the vehicle pictured here, or higher. The Premium starts at $24,795. EyeSight driver assist along with the All-Weather Package (heated seats, mirrors, wipers) adds $1895. The CVT is $1000 and a destination charge is $850. The vehicle pictured here has a manufacturer suggested price of $28,540.
I liked the Forester, it’s got a lot going for it, but it’s not an ideal vehicle for people with kids due to a small rear seat space. Last year I reviewed the Subaru Outback and I was surprised by how much I loved that car. Sure, it’s a few grand more, and it even has the same engine, but it is bigger, especially in the rear seat and trunk areas, and it drives slightly better due to the longer wheelbase.
Disclaimer: Subaru of America, Inc. provided the vehicle for this review. Images: ©2016 Hooniverse/Kamil Kaluski, All Rights Reserved, all except the dash.