Subaru has put great efforts into perfecting this engine and it really shows.
I’ll admit that I am not exactly good at making practical vehicle choices; I usually put things like character and style well before practicality. But around this time of year, as the weather slowly begins to turn colder, and damper, I usually can’t help but feel a bit of a tug towards practicality. That’s where the Forester comes in to play. It’s actually managed to build its own character and appeal based strictly on practicality. To me, that’s the appeal of the Forester; it’s developed a cult following on the premise that it is the perfect vehicle for people who expect a lot of versatility from their car. To see how well the Forester would adapt to my own lifestyle and whether I could appreciate it’s no non-sense practicality, I borrowed the best one available – a 2016 Subaru Forester XT Limited, complete with their EyeSight Technology.
Upon arrival at Subaru headquarters, I shut off my 30-year old V8 and walked over to the Forester. As I climbed in and pushed the start button, the exterior LEDs lit up and the 2.0L turbocharged boxer-style 4-cylinder sprang to life with a lot less clatter than I’ve grown to expect from older Subaru engines. I immediately noticed a sporty-looking boost gauge light up in the display screen in the center of the dash, not something I was expecting to see. I’ve never considered Subaru 4-cylinders to be smooth, but out on the road I couldn’t believe just how quiet, predictable and refined the little turbo 2.0L felt. Subaru has put great efforts into perfecting this engine and it really shows. That boost gauge isn’t exactly making promises the Forester XT can’t back up; rated at 250 horsepower, the Forester XT is no slouch and will make light work of passing slower traffic.
The turbo 4-cylinder is coupled up with Subaru’s high-torque Lineartronic® CVT, the same CVT tuned to handle higher torque engines that I raved about in the Subaru Outback 3.6R. Again, Subaru has made great strides in perfecting this transmission and it is a perfect complement to the Forester XT’s lively powerplant. The CVT has three modes that can be selected from two buttons on the steering wheel: Intelligent, Sport and Sport#, the last of which really allows quick access to all of the 250 horses available. The XT is also equipped with paddle shifters for those who would like even more control, but I didn’t find them to be particularly responsive or even necessary in the Forester.
An equally impressive chassis surrounds the well-tuned driveline. The Forester rides with a certain confidence that’s achieved by providing enough road feedback through the steering wheel, a firm and direct on-center steering feel, and a planted ride. The Forester remains extremely well composed whether it’s at speed, maneuvering in the city or cruising along rough rural roads. Whether you’re in the downtown core or miles from civilization the Forester always feels like the right vehicle, and that’s likely the reason why it’s become so. As a driving enthusiast, the Forester is engaging enough to keep me entertained and comfortable for my daily commute. My only real gripe while on the road with the Forester is the noise levels. Road noise is quite prominent and that can quickly become annoying.
While the mechanics of the Forester really impressed me, the interior remains in typical function over form, Subaru style. The leather seats equipped in my top of the line tester are extremely comfortable, even for long periods of time, but the leather feels cheap and plasticky, and only the driver’s side seat has power controls. The dash, door panels and center stack utilize a low budget, high-sheen, hard plastic that also works to cheapen the overall feeling inside the Forester. The controls take some getting used to as well, mostly due to the many buttons on the steering wheel.
The 7-inch touch screen that dominates the dashboard runs Subaru’s StarLink infotainment system; while it is simple enough to navigate, it looks outdated and tends to lag as well. From a space perspective, the Forester stands out in my mind as one of the more spacious compact SUVs on the market with its generous rear passenger space and a nice big cargo area. Storage up front is on the tight side with only small door pockets, a tight glove compartment and a narrow center console.
The Forester XT starts at a reasonable $33,495, and with the Limited trim and additional Technology Package, my tester prices out at $37,995. That’s a fair bit of money for a compact SUV that’s going to be used to schlep kids around through salt covered roads and lug ski equipment up to the lodge. Nonetheless, this full loaded version does have some very nice features that might be worth the premium to some buyers. HID headlamps and some chrome trim distinguish the Limited model, but the biggest differences are on the inside. A huge panoramic sunroof spans the length of the SUV and really helps brighten up the dark colored interior. Other notable adds include a very crisp sounding 440W Harman-Kardon 8-speaker sound system, proximity key, the touchscreen with navigation, and of course, Subaru’s latest EyeSight technology
EyeSight utilizes two stereoscopic cameras to monitor the road ahead and activate safety systems to help avoid potential dangers. In the event that the system detects a sudden change of speed ahead, it can either brake to slow or stop the car, or it can cut power to the engine if an object suddenly finds its way in front of the car while at low speeds- say in a parking lot. The system also provides a lane departure warning, which I found extremely sensitive and subsequently turned off. Though I didn’t have to use any of the pre-collision safety systems, the adaptive cruise control that comes with the EyeSight technology is a very nice feature to have for anyone like myself who spends many hours a week on the highway.
Another feature unique to the Forester in this segment is Subaru’s Symmetrical AWD technology and off-road capability. While many competitors in this segment offer AWD because they have to, Subaru has built a business on it. After spending some time with the Forester XT, I am confident that it can handle just about any road or weather conditions one can find. A big button on the center console labelled X-Mode optimizes aspects of the Forester, from the AWD system to the transmission, and even the brakes for the best off-road experience.
Although I would rarely use that X-Mode button myself, it does mean that the engineers at Subaru don’t need to compromise any of the Foresters on road performance in favor of the off-road tuning. I am sure that played at least a small role in the phenomenal fuel economy numbers I posted over my week with the Forester XT, ending my time with an 8.2L/100km average over 600km of mixed highway and city commuting. Granted, weather conditions were favorable all week and I managed to maintain a light foot, allowing the CVT to keep the rpms nice and low; these numbers are still very impressive for an SUV as capable and as spacious as the Forester.
After spending a week with it, I definitely understand the appeal of the 2016 Subaru Forester XT Limited and why it’s become so popular with everyone from ski junkies to young urban parents. It really is one of the most versatile, efficient and easy to drive crossoverss on the market. It’s the sort of car that you can count on to get you anywhere, but it’ll never steal the spotlight. The Forester is the family workhorse and even someone with automotive tastes as impractical as mine can appreciate that.