One of the best small SUVs, the 2017 Subaru Forester is a good value, with remarkable interior volume, thrifty fuel economy, and top safety scores.
The Subaru Forester is a compact utility vehicle with wagon-like practicality and standard all-wheel drive. It has the capabilities of a crossover, the ride and handling of a car, and plenty of all-weather security and even off-road capability. It’s the Japanese brand’s best-selling vehicle line, not to mention the winner of our Best Car To Buy 2014 award.
The Forester is a fantastic choice in its segment, easily earning its 7.2 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
We view the Subaru Forester as one of the best all-round cars in its segment, and we confirmed that judgment when we spent a few months with a turbocharged Forester 2.0XT across a variety of terrains and driving cycles.
Subaru Forester styling and performance
The Forester’s simple, handsome shape manages to be modern without excess flash. It offers superb outward visibility in an era in which too many automakers use roof-crush standards as an excuse for abysmal rearward visibility. Minor detail tweaks for 2017 update the look, though there are sill a few too many different vents, lights, grilles, and accents on the turbocharged 2.0XT model. In general, though, we like Subaru’s latest, somewhat restrained design language.
Inside, the controls are simple, logical, and easy to use; it’s a vehicle you can drive for the first time without having to study an owner’s manual. Interior materials include a mix of matte and soft-touch surfaces accented with matte-finish metallic trim, and they have been improved in recent years. Laudably, Subaru has improved the noise suppression in a few steps. More sound insulation was added for this generation and this year it gets more sound deadening, thicker door glass, restructured door seals, and an acoustic windshield.
Taller drivers may find the front row's lower seat cushions a little short, but rear passengers have plenty of leg room and the rear seat back folds close to fully flat with a simple one-touch mechanism. Cargo space is generous for the class.
Behind the wheel, the Forester falls on the sportier end of the handling scale—far sportier than the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, or Toyota RAV4. And its combination of standard all-wheel drive and almost 9 inches of ground clearance makes bad weather or off-road excursions feel just as secure as conventional travel on pavement. The steering is nicely weighted, the body doesn’t roll much for a tall utility vehicle, and Subaru’s CVT is the least annoying one we know of. Its gas mileage—as high as 28 mpg combined, up one mpg this year—is at the top of the class as well, though a new crop of smaller and less roomy SUVs now beat that.
Foresters are offered with two engine choices. The base engine is a 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter flat-4, while the more powerful 2.0XT models have a 2.0-liter turbocharged flat-4 producing a substantial 250 hp. With the base models, some drivers will prefer the standard 6-speed manual gearbox over the optional continuously variable transmission (CVT). The turbo 2.0XT can only be obtained with the CVT, though drivers can use the SI-Drive system to reprogram the transmission and throttle settings to make the Forester behave as though it has a 6- or 8-speed automatic, with shift paddles to produce quick, if simulated, "gear changes.”
Subaru Forester safety, comfort, and features
The Forester has earned high praise from the IIHS, including a Top Safety Pick+ designation thanks to it's consistent "Good" ratings on all crash tests—including the difficult small overlap frontal crash—and optional safety equipment. The federal government has been equally kind, giving it a five-star overall rating, though it earned four stars for frontal impact protection and rollover.
Available active-safety features are highlighted by Subaru’s excellent EyeSight camera system, which spots road hazards ahead and brakes to avoid an accident or reduce its impact. This system gets color cameras this year and they provide a longer, wider field of vision. Also newly available are automatic high-beam assist, steering-linked headlights that point into turns, and reverse automatic braking.
The 2017 Subaru Forester is offered 2.5i and 2.0XT models, with base, Premium, Limited, and Touring trim levels for the 2.5i, and only Limited and Touring trims for the 2.0XT. Prices range from just over $23,000 to close to $35,000. Even the base model comes with Bluetooth hands-free calling, audio streaming, a rearview camera, and a 6.2-inch touchscreen for basic infotainment functions.
Notable features that are available as options or standard on higher line models include a version of the infotainment system with a 7.0-inch screen; perforated leather seats; a power rear liftgate; an eight-speaker, 440-watt stereo.
The base 2017 Forester 2.5i with the 2.5-liter engine and CVT boasts EPA ratings of 26 mpg city, 32 highway, 28 combined, and those numbers fall to 25 mpg combined if you specify the 6-speed manual. The 2.0XT is also rated at 25 mpg combined.