On The Road Review: Subaru Forester



Heading to work on a bright sunny winter day, I start wondering why there is so little traffic on the road. There are a lot fewer cars waiting at each intersection and no long lines of cars trundling along behind rolling roadblocks.

 

Ah hah, the light bulb goes off — school is out for vacation. No half-empty yellow buses stopping at what seems like every driveway (can’t kids walk to each other’s driveway and kind of ‘wait-pool’?), no kids driving dad’s car to school, no moms shuttling other kids into school because they don’t want to ride the bus, and no teaching staffs commuting. There are no blinking school zone lights — when are there any kids around these anyway, let alone any kids walking? Traffic was flowing much smoother, much more efficiently.

These thoughts mirror my impressions of the latest, third-generation Subaru Forester — a smoother, more efficient wagon. This compact class crossover wagon underwent a makeover two years ago, a redesign that created a longer, taller, wider body that is much more user-friendly. Subaru also increased ground clearance, upgrading the independent suspension with long-travel components for improved ride, plus altered the steering gear to increase feedback and path accuracy.

These not so insignificant changes pushed the Forester to the top of the segment in the minds of many critics. Using Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel-drive system, the functionally superior Forester is a favorite of the folks at Car & Driver magazine as well as other enthusiast publications — no small shakes for a brand that is still considered a peripheral player by many.

Giving the Forester a revised chassis improved the car’s ride dynamics in the majority of situations that drivers encounter, while affecting some other dynamics in slightly less positive ways. Body roll on tight turns is higher with the taller body, while the long travel springs and struts create a bounding pogo-effect on winter’s frost-heaved tarmac. Overall, however, the Forester’s ride compliance is commendable in a class where some rivals are still struggling.

Any negative perceptions are forgiven with a driving position that is supportive and chair-like vertical. Ingress and egress remains a Subaru strong-suit while visibility is among the best in all crossover wagons and controls fall readily to hand. In Premium trim, the Forester’s heated 10-way power driver’s seat delivered superior comfort (the bottom cushion could be a tad longer) behind a tilt and telescoping steering column that fits into your hands just so. With an oversized panoramic sunroof, the Subaru’s cabin feels very open, airy.

Controls are logical and legible except for the aftermarket Tom-Tom navigation system applied to the Subaru’s dash in lieu of the standard stereo system. Combining audio functions with the Tom-Tom unit, I found this system to be very challenging to use. The buttons are infinitesimally small and try to combine too many functions into each minuscule button. The nav screen is also very tiny — literally no larger than a typical cell phone face, while the system’s voice kept asking me to turn around at the next opportunity six days after taking delivery. Sound quality and signal reception — no satellite radio hookup offered — also were disappointing. Take a hard look at this option before committing.

Under the whip, the Forester applies all of its 170 horesepower and 170 pound/feet of flat-four torque without protest. The boxer engine sounds a little gravelly at times, but there is no question about the car’s earnest reserve of power. A four-speed automatic is optional, $1,000, while a five-speed manual is standard. Subaru might consider another cog or two in the automatic transmission — many competitors are gravitating toward five- and six-speed transmissions in this class — as fuel economy might also be further maximized. I attained a high of 25.3 mpg over three fill-ups, but my average for the week was a modest 23.8 mpg. EPA mileage estimates are 21/27 mpg. A turbocharged version of this 2.5-liter engine is also available with 226 hp.

During my last test of a Forester several years ago, I “lost” the car one night in a crowded shopping center parking lot. There were so many Foresters lined up in each row, I couldn’t remember which one was my ride. I had to resort to the embarrassing remote alarm to find my car.

My lapse in attention can be forgiven given the number of Foresters that populate our roads. The number two selling Subaru, after the Outback wagon, the Forester accounts for one-third of all new Subarus sold. I don’t see that statistic changing.

Just the Facts: Subaru Forester

Forester is a five-passenger compact class crossover wagon competing against rivals such as the Honda CR-V, Toyota Rav4, Hyundai Tucson and Ford Escape.

Forester measures 179.5 inches long, 70.1 inches wide and 66.9 inches tall on a 103-inch wheelbase. Base weight is 3,335 pounds. Peak cargo volume is 63 cubic feet in a cargo bay that is wide and flat. This generation Forester is 1.8 inches wider and 2.9 inches longer than the previous model, all on a wheelbase that is also increased 3.6 inches.

Base price, with manual transmission, is $21,220 including destination charge. Add $1,000 for an automatic transmission. Tested Premium trim starts at $24,220 and includes: panoramic sunroof, roof rails, steering wheel audio controls, outside temperature gauge, tilt/telescoping steering wheel with cruise control, 10-way power driver’s seat with lumbar, split-folding rear seat, three 12-volt power outlets and Bluetooth hands-free connectivity. Options on test car: all-weather package with heated seats, windshield wiper deicer and heated side mirrors, Tom-Tom navigation and automatic transmission raising the sticker price to $26,384.

All Subaru models are full-time all-wheel drive. Forester comes with side airbags, side curtain airbags, dynamic stability control and anti-lock brakes.

Certain Subaru models also carry a PZEV label, meaning that the car’s emissions equipment qualifies that car for partial-zero-emissions status.

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