2016 Subaru Forester: Value gains

Staff reports
Farm Forum

The 2016 Forester continues to offer value for buyers with Subaru’s improved multimedia access and new technology options.

The compact crossover SUV is offered in six trims: 2.5i, 2.5i Premium, 2.5i Limited, 2.5i Touring, 2.0 XT Premium, and 2.0 XT Touring. Prices range from $22,395 to $33,795.

My recent Forester tester was the 2.5i Premium CVT model. With one option package (All-Weather + Navigation + EyeSight $1,895), it had an as-tested price of $28,540.

Forester’s strength in this segment has much to do with its size. Compared to the former-generation models, the 2016 editions are longer, wider, and taller than before, which benefits both storage space and rear-seat room. Cargo capacity ranges from 34.4 to 74.7 cubic feet (31.5 to 68.5, on moon-roof-equipped models), which rivals the best in the segment.

As for the passenger space gains, Forester’s 41.7 inches of rear seat legroom is 3.7 inches more than the previous generation. That’s effectively enough room to comfortably seat 6 footers in back, with like-sized folks in front. No third-row seat is available; this feature is rarely offered in the compact segment and when found, is suitable only for kids.

Forester’s low lift-over height in back makes it easy to load the cargo bay, and the rear seatbacks fold forward to form a (largely) flat load floor. However, you may first have to slide the front seats forward, so the rear headrests will clear them — annoying, when arms are full.

Standard under the hood is Subaru’s familiar, 2.5-liter Boxer four-cylinder engine, rated at 170 horsepower and 174 lb.-ft. of torque. Also available is a 2.0-liter turbocharged, direct-injection that makes 250 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is available on 2.5i base and Premium models. All higher trim levels employ a continuously variable transmission (turbo models have a unique, high-torque version of the CVT).

Maximum towing capacity for both engines is minimal at 1,500 pounds. EPA fuel economy estimates for the 2.5-liter are 22 mpg city/29 mpg highway (with manual transmission) or 24/32 mpg (with CVT); my most recent test netted 23 mpg in mixed driving. The turbocharged/CVT combo is estimated to return 23 mpg city/28 mpg highway; the last time I tested the 2.0 turbo Forester, it returned an average of 26 miles per gallon.

As you might guess from the horsepower numbers, the two engines offer distinctly different driving experiences. The trip from 0-to-60 mph is in the low-9-second range for the 2.5 with CVT. That’s rather slow, though it offers enough low-end torque to make the Forester 2.5 feel passably responsive around town. Power limitations become more apparent at higher speeds. As with any non-turbo, small-displacement engine, high-demand situations (passing, ramp merges) must be planned in advance.

Forester in 2.0 turbo trim is another matter entirely. Fully 3 seconds faster from 0-60, the engine is enjoyably (and surprisingly) responsive.

All Foresters are equipped with all-wheel drive, though the type of system depends on transmission choice. Both are on-demand systems, providing power to all four wheels continuously, transferring torque to the wheels with the best grip. Turbo models add an X-mode control, which coordinates throttle response, transmission shift points, AWD, and stability control systems to optimize grip. Forester has a smooth ride, and while it handles confidently, it’s among the least sporty small SUV in the segment. Serious off-roaders shopping the compact segment will gravitate towards the Jeep Cherokee. But, with 8.7 inches of ground clearance, Forester is among the best of the rest when it comes to tackling light trails.

Fans of straight-forward switchgear will find favor with Forester’s front cabin. The trio of rheostat knobs control air conditioning and heating functions are easy to reach and non-distracting to use.

Newly available for 2016 (on Premium trim levels and up) is Subaru’s STARLINK 7-inch Multimedia Navigation system. The screen responds to the same tap/swipe moves used on smart phones and tablets, as well as voice commands. Three years of complimentary map updates are included.

The available STARLINK Safety Plus package includes features like SOS emergency assistance, and a smartphone app that provides remote lock/unlock, vehicle locator services, and security alarm notification.

Tech lovers may also be interested in the EyeSight safety suite, which adds lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, and steering-responsive fog lights. Blind spot monitoring systems are popular with drivers as an extra set of eyes when changing lanes. Used along with the traditional, over-the-shoulder peek, they offer a belt-and-suspenders approach to accident avoidance.