Small enough to be easy to park and maneuver, yet roomy enough to fit five passengers plus their cargo, the 2013 Subaru Forester is the ideal year-round family transporter. Equipped with one of the best all-wheel-drive (AWD) systems in the business as standard equipment, buyers only need choose between the fuel-efficient engine on the X trims or the more powerful turbocharged XT models.
You'll Like The 2013 Subaru Forester If...
If you like the ride and handling of mid-size sedan, but the need for maximum cargo space requires a more SUV-like solution, the Subaru's 2013 Forester gives you the best of both worlds. Its low-profile boxer engine gives it remarkable poise in the curves, and its AWD lets it go places no car would dare to venture.
You May Not Like The 2013 Subaru Forester If...
If you need room for seven, the ability to tow more than 2,400 pounds, or a rear seat DVD entertainment system, the Subaru Forester probably won't make the grade. Its outdated 4-speed automatic transmission doesn't provide the best fuel economy and the 5-speed manual isn't available on the sportier turbo models.
For 2013, the Subaru Forester 2.5X receives a new radio with built-in Bluetooth and streaming capabilities, as well as iPod control and a USB port. Steering-wheel audio controls are standard on the base trim, while Premium models get a new Value Package that includes an upgraded radio display, fog lights and the Cold Weather Package.
The Subaru Forester's colorful gauges are set into a sweeping dashboard with a logical layout. A multifunction display with fuel-economy and outside-temperature readouts is standard, as is a versatile center console with numerous cubbies and two 12-volt sockets. The roomy front seats are height adjustable, and the materials feel reasonably rich. Rear legroom is plentiful, and the 60/40-split seat folds easily and even reclines in all but the base 2.5X. The wide liftgate opens to 33.5 cubic feet of cargo space, plus such niceties as hooks for grocery bags and other items, plus tie-downs in the floor and a storage well underneath it.
While earlier Foresters looked like tall Subaru wagons, the Forester for 2013 is a svelte take on the SUV. Prominent wheel arches and nearly nine inches of ground clearance lend it a clean yet businesslike profile. Up front, a large grille and wraparound "hawkeye" headlights add a hint of sporty aggression, especially in combination with the functional hood scoop on the turbo models. Sporty alloy wheels (optional on the base 2.5X, standard in a 17-inch size on all the higher trims) and a tasteful measure of chrome accenting add just enough finesse to its clean, functional design.
We took our 2013 Subaru Forester on some light off-road trails, which showcased the vehicle's firmer suspension, direct steering and notable ground clearance, all of which came into play when traversing rocks and ditches. Also helpful was the Forester's standard Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system, capable of transferring up to 100 percent of the engine's power to the individual wheels with the best traction. Back on pavement, we liked the added get-up-and-go of the turbocharged models (who wouldn't?), but those with a more practical and budget-minded outlook will be just as happy dashing around town with the naturally aspirated engine. Getting in and out of both rows of seats was a breeze thanks to wide-opening doors, and we found the all-around views from the driver's seat to be excellent – a boon when changing lanes, reversing, and exploring dirt roads.
A base 2013 Subaru Forester 2.5X with manual transmission starts around $22,000, while the 2.5X Limited with navigation bumps the price to about $29,000. The turbocharged 2.5XT Premium brings the price closer to $28,000, with no options offered. The top-dog 2.5XT Touring with navigation tops out just over $32,000. At the Forester's base price, its closest competitor is the Nissan Rogue, but the base Rogue does not include AWD. The Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape all start around $23,000, also without AWD. However, as inexpensive as the Forester seems at first, adding options quickly escalates the price and it ends up at the higher end of its segment. To compare actual transaction prices for the Subaru Forester, be sure to check the Kelley Blue Book Fair Purchase Price. For resale value, the Forester is expected to maintain value better than the Rogue, but a few points below the CR-V, Escape and RAV4.
The Subaru Forester 2.5X comes with a 5-speed manual transmission, AWD, Hill Start Assist, air conditioning, keyless entry, 16-inch steel wheels, six airbags, driver-seat lumbar adjuster, auto-off headlights, and Bluetooth for audio and phone. The Premium (in 2.5X or turbo 2.5XT form) gains a panoramic moonroof, 17-inch alloy wheels and a 10-way power driver seat. The turbo also adds fog lights, a rear spoiler and heated front seats. The 2.5X Limited adds leather, an automatic transmission, climate control, heated mirrors and a 6-speaker audio system. The top 2.5X and 2.5XT Touring models include electroluminescent gauges, dual-zone climate control, 7-speaker audio, rearview camera and xenon headlights.
Among the Forester's most attractive options for 2013 is a touch-screen navigation system with premium audio and iTunes song tagging on Limited and Touring models. Premium models can be equipped with a removable TomTom navigation system. An All-Weather package for the 2.5X Premium adds heated front seats, heated side mirrors and a windshield wiper de-icer. (It's standard on the higher models, though oddly not available on the 2.5XT Premium.) Other than satellite radio, most other options are bundled into the various trim levels. The 4-speed automatic transmission is optional on the 2.5X and 2.5X Premium, and standard elsewhere.
Being able to see what's behind a vehicle when backing up, changing lanes, or even venturing off-road can make a big difference in imparting driving confidence. The 2013 Subaru Forester's large rear window allows the driver to see an object only 39 inches tall within 39 inches of the vehicle.
Although not as large as others we've seen, this oversized glass roof provides pleasant light to both the front and rear passengers, bringing a bit of the outdoors inside.
Under the Hood
Powering all 2013 Forester 2.5X trims is a competent 170-horsepower 4-cylinder boxer engine (a "flat" engine in which the pistons lie horizontally, one advantage of which is a lower center of gravity). This engine features chain-driven dual overhead camshafts for greater power and longevity as well as quieter operation. A 5-speed manual transmission is standard on 2.5X base and Premium trims, with a 4-speed automatic optional (and standard on all higher trim levels). The Forester 2.5XT enjoys a 224-horsepower turbocharged boxer-4. Although the base engine is practical around town, those seeking more power without suffering typical SUV fuel-economy penalties will appreciate the turbo, as long as they don't mind paying for premium gasoline.
170 horsepower @ 5,800 rpm
174 lb-ft of torque @ 4,100 rpm
EPA Estimated City/Highway Mileage: 21/27 mpg
2.5-liter turbocharged boxer-4
224 horsepower@ 5,200 rpm
226 lb-ft of torque @ 2,800 rpm
EPA Estimated City/Highway Mileage: 19/24 mpg
Big, heavy gas-guzzling SUVs have their place, but if you don't need room for seven or the ability to tow a heavy trailer, a vehicle like the 2013 Subaru Forester makes much more sense. Easy on gas, the 4-cylinder Forester combines car-like ride and handling with the ground clearance and AWD tenacity of a light-duty off-road vehicle. Unlike most compact crossovers, the Forester's Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive is permanently engaged, providing excellent traction in all weather conditions. The Forester's roomy interior is highly versatile, and Subaru offers an abundance of roof-rack accessories for securing everything from cargo to kayaks. Best of all, the Forester is reasonably priced, holds it value well, and is an IIHS Top Safety Pick.