Have you ever opened your closet, stared at your clothes for five minutes straight, and realized you still have nothing to wear? Shopping for a compact crossover is a lot like that. You’re spoiled for choice, almost to the point where it’s overwhelming, but the 2023 Subaru Forester is like your favourite shirt. It’s comfortable, familiar, fits well, and you know exactly what you’re getting into.
The Forester isn’t the newest or shiniest option out there — this fifth-generation model debuted in 2019, and following a minor facelift last year, it’s unchanged for 2023 — but you can’t deny it still delivers what most sport-ute buyers want. There are newer, more stylish, more tech-filled, and more efficient crossovers for the money, but few deliver the same kind of confidence as the Forester when the weather turns into a dog’s breakfast.
All Foresters are powered by a 2.5-litre normally aspirated four-cylinder Boxer engine, putting out 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque. Like every other Subaru that isn’t the BRZ, all-wheel-drive is standard. Once upon a time, you could spec a Forester with three pedals, but a continously variable transmission is your only option now.
Honestly, the numbers aren’t impressive on paper, but the Forester makes do. A lot of people rag on Subaru for its Boxer engine’s gruff soundtrack, but the Forester doesn’t moan or groan any worse than a comparable four-cylinder crossover with a CVT, and there’s enough kick for puttering around town. Merging and passing on the highway isn’t really a nail-biter, either, but Subaru’s 2.4L turbo-four would be a welcome addition to the lineup. If you’re seeking more beans or more efficiency through a hybrid powertrain, look elsewhere.
Even if you’re not the biggest fan of CVTs and Subaru’s soundtrack, the Forester is otherwise well-mannered. Road noise is almost non-existent, and the suspension and chassis do a great job at filtering out all but the harshest of bumps, rough pavement, and other imperfections. That said, the Forester does exhibit a bit more wind noise than we remember, but we blame the Outback and Crosstrek — both of which punch in well above their weight in terms of refinement — for spoiling us. Here’s hoping the next-gen Forester sees similar improvements.
For an all-wheel-drive crossover, the Forester’s fuel economy is par for the course. Officially, it’s rated at 9.0 L/100 kilometres in the city, 7.2 highway, and 8.2 combined. After a fairly even split of city and highway commuting with much of that spent in traffic, we averaged 9.5 L/100 km. Thankfully, the Forester happily takes regular-grade gasoline.
Following a very subtle facelift last year, the Forester sets itself apart by looking decidedly … normal. Where most competitors come across as an overstyled mess of big grilles, creases and folds, and sloping rooflines impacting headroom and cargo space, the Forester is decidedly a box on wheels owing to its tallish roofline and big windows — more on that later. Our particular tester, the Sport trim, is a bit of a misnomer; there’s nothing particularly sporty about a current-gen Forester, but it sets itself apart from the rest of the lineup with orange accents inside and out, gloss black 18-inch wheels, and a handful of other visual tweaks.
Inside, the Forester delivers precisely what we’ve come to expect over the years. Material quality is so-so, but visibility all-around is excellent owing to the aforementioned big windows and tallish roofline, the seats are supportive, and it’s easy to get comfortable. Infotainment is not handled by the portrait-oriented 11.6-inch touchscreen we’ve seen implemented across the rest of Subaru’s lineup, but rather an eight-inch display plus separate physical switchgear below for the climate controls. It’s not the most eye-catching interface out there, but the infotainment is intuitive enough and the physical controls are a refreshing break. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity is standard, too, but you need to plug in.
On interior space, the Forester isn’t class-leading, but it’s competitive. You won’t be pinched for headroom and legroom regardless of where you sit; cargo space punches in at 818 litres with the rear seats up and grows to 1,957 when folded. It’s on the tighter end of the segment, but like the powertrain, the numbers alone don’t tell the whole story. The Forester’s cargo floor is lower than most, so loading your junk into the Forester’s trunk is easier than you’d expect.
Tech-wise, the Forester comes with the latest version of EyeSight, Subaru’s suite of active safety nannies including blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, and lane-centering. It all works together well, as long as you get used to the incessant beeping every time you have the adaptive cruise control running and someone changes into your lane. X-Mode, Subaru’s suite of off-road assists aimed at making that gnarly cottage access road a bit less of a nail-biter, is also standard.
Pricing ranges from $31,995 for a base Forester, all the way up to $42,595 for the fully loaded Premier trim. Our Sport tester sits smack-dab in the middle of the lineup at $38,295 as-tested; it’s arguably the sweet spot of the lineup, with goodies like LED lighting all around, a power liftgate, a heated steering wheel, and a big sunroof — in addition to all the other aforementioned bells and whistles — standard. Unless you really want stuff like leather seats, chrome window trim, and a camera that
spies ensures you’re paying attention to the road, there’s not much of a reason to upgrade to the more expensive Limited trim.
The 2023 Subaru Forester may be getting a bit long in the tooth, but there’s a familiarity to it. When you hop in, you know exactly what you’re getting: it won’t be flashy, fast, or fancy, but rather comfortable, practical, and capable. Still, some more power — or even a hybrid — would be nice.