Yes, you can get excited about a CVT
Subaru‘s top-selling model in the U.S. has changed relatively little since it won our 2014 SUV of the Year award. For 2016, the Forester stays true to the successful formula that secured it first place two years ago, gaining a few extra features including a standard rearview camera for 2015 and a more user-friendly touchscreen interface for 2016. But despite its highly functional design, the 2016 Forester shows signs of age in a segment that has evolved so much over the last few years.
Toyota has come out with a new, better-riding RAV4 and Kia just revamped the Sportage with thoughtful updates to the interior. Honda‘s CR-V boasts a new powertrain that improves acceleration compared to the previous model. The Forester has long benefited from a cavernous interior and great safety scores (government five-star rating, IIHS Top Safety Pick+), although it hasn’t kept current with the competition, as evidenced by the lack of soft materials inside the cabin and the archaic knobs and graphics.
“Pleasant details and contrast but the design looks really, really old now,” noted MT technical director Frank Markus, echoing the sentiments of other members on staff regarding the car’s interior. Associate editor Christian Seabaugh lamented the “hard plastics and cheap-looking buttons randomly placed around the cabin.” Also, you won’t find air vents in the back. And virtually everyone complained that the seats felt unusually stiff and uncomfortable.
You can pay anywhere between $23,245 USD and north of $34,000 USD for a Forester, depending on the trim level you choose. Our tester was a mid-range 2.5i Limited model, which comes with a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter engine instead of the more powerful 2.0-liter turbo unit. It also has a 10-way power driver’s seat, 60/40-split folding rear seats, leather-trimmed upholstery with heated front seats, a backup camera, and a 7-inch touchscreen. One feature we wanted was push-button start, but it wasn’t on our model despite its price tag. Thanks to a few options—including navigation and the EyeSight safety suite of automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane departure warning—the total rang up to $31,790 USD.
When equipped with the base 2.5-liter engine, the Subaru Forester ranks in the middle of its segment in terms of performance. Although the throttle makes a slightly abrupt start off the line, the Forester benefits from what’s perhaps the best CVT in its class of competitors.
“I very much appreciate the old-school programming of this CVT, with no fake sawtooth rpm trace,” Markus said. “Just a full on motorboat-getting-up-on-plane feel.”
“Great ride quality and body control, especially considering how boxy and top-heavy [it] looks,” Seabaugh said.
What the Subie doesn’t protect you from, though, is wind noise that seeps into the cabin as if a window is cracked open. Generally, the Forester manages to keep road noises at bay, although the engine groans loudly when getting up to speed. The steering wheel responds well to small movements but feels soft particularly while turning at moderate to high speeds. The brakes feel satisfyingly crisp.
Now for the numbers. The Subaru’s flat-four makes 170 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque, providing enough juice for reasonable acceleration. On the track, we clocked it hitting 60 mph in 8.7 seconds.
It’s quicker than the 181-hp 2017 Kia Sportage and the 170-hp 2016 Nissan Rogue, which both reached 60 mph in 9 seconds flat in our tests. But it’s still behind other competitors including the 185-hp Honda CR-V, which hit the mark in 8.3 seconds. These competitors were equipped with all-wheel drive just like our tester.
Middling quickness doesn’t get in the way of the Forester’s best attribute: raw functionality. A number of editors on staff praised the crossover’s commanding vantage point. “Whenever someone says all modern cars feel like visibility-limited caves inside, point them to the Forester,” said senior production editor Zach Gale. Markus even likened its open, airy cabin to the “feel of riding in an old, vintage Range Rover or Isuzu Trooper.” While you may not appreciate it right away, hop into a swoopy CUV like the new Toyota RAV4 and you’ll notice a difference in how much you can see.
The Forester achieves a competitive 24/32/27 mpg (9.8/7.3/8.7 L/100km) city/highway/combined in EPA ratings when equipped with the CVT. Looking at combined numbers, the Forester is on par with the CR-V and performs 1 mpg better than comparable RAV4 and Mazda CX-5 crossovers. But we found the Subie didn’t quite live up to the EPA ratings in our real world tests, particularly on the highway. Our Real MPG test yielded 23.7/28.3/25.6 mpg (9.9/8.3/9.2 L/100km).
The 2017 Subaru Forester coming out this summer receives a midcycle refresh. Updates include a slightly modified front fascia, a small bump in fuel economy, a more modern steering wheel and cabin, updated EyeSight safety features, revised wheel designs, and thicker door glass and stronger seals that hopefully will fix that pesky insulation problem. Until then, it’s a capable, reliable competitor that acts a bit older than the rest of the pack.
|2016 Subaru Forester 2.5i Limited|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$31,790|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||2.5L/170-hp/174-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve flat-4|
|TRANSMISSION||Cont. variable auto|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,437 lb (57/43%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||180.9 x 70.7 x 66.4 in|
|0-60 MPH||8.7 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||16.8 sec @ 83.5 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||122 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.80 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.8 sec @ 0.60 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||24/32/27 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||140/105 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.72 lb/mile|