2016 Subaru Forester Review
Christian Wardlaw | Feb 16, 2016
IntroductionLast year, Subaru sold more vehicles in the United States than at any time in its history, capping a 7-year sales gain streak. Americans purchased 582,675 Subarus in 2015, more than all of VW Group, including Audi, Porsche, and Volkswagen. That's not bad for a company building the majority of its vehicles from just two platforms and a relatively limited component set.
Subaru's best-selling model is the Forester, a compact crossover SUV equipped with standard all-wheel drive (AWD), a generous 8.7 inches of ground clearance, and an enviable record for safety and reliability. Last redesigned for 2014, the Forester's appeal ratings jumped that year, and in the J.D. Power 2015 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study,SM the Forester ranked third in its segment.
What Owners SayNew infotainment systems debut in the 2016 Forester, potentially resolving one of the least appealing things about the SUV, as reported to J.D. Power by owners of the 2015 model. To assess the new systems, and other aspects of the popular Forester, our expert evaluated a Forester 2.0XT Touring with the optional EyeSight option package, which includes adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and lane-departure warning systems. With a set of accessory all-weather floor mats, the price came to $36,121, including the $850 destination charge.Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2016 Forester, it is helpful to understand who bought the previous version of this crossover SUV and what they liked most and least about their Foresters.
J.D. Power research shows that, compared with the small SUV segment average, Forester owners are slightly older (58 years vs. 56 years segment average) and earn more money ($96,042 vs. $90,130 segment average). Additionally, Forester owners are less concerned about buying a vehicle from a U.S. company (9% vs. 31%, respectively) or one that stands out from the crowd (11% vs. 21%), and are more likely to pay extra for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly (16% vs. 10%) and has the latest safety features (30% vs. 24%). They are more likely (74% vs. 63%, respectively) to make reliability their top consideration when choosing a new vehicle.
In the 2015 U.S. APEAL Study, the Forester ranks third out of 12 compact SUVs in terms of overall appeal. Owners indicate that their favorite things about the Forester are (in descending order) visibility, driving dynamics, exterior, engine/transmission, and seats. Owners indicate that their least favorite things are (in descending order) infotainment system, fuel economy, climate control system, interior, and storage and space.
What Our Expert SaysIn the sections that follow, our expert provides his own assessment of how the new 2016 Forester compares with the compact SUV segment in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2015 U.S. APEAL Study.
ExteriorPerched on a stubby 103.9-in. wheelbase, the 2016 Forester exhibits disjointed dimensions, the turbocharged 2.0XT model's frowning face almost comical in contrast to the SUV's slab sides, oversized lighting, and huge greenhouse. Aside from the angry visage, the Forester 2.0XT looks friendly if flawed.
InteriorHard plastic rules inside of the Subaru Forester, giving the cabin an inexpensive look and feel. In addition to primary instrumentation, three different displays vie for the driver's attention, fostering confusion about what information is located where. Main controls are easy to find and use, but secondary switchgear is haphazardly placed. Subaru could certainly stand to refine the Forester's interior.
SeatsTall seating hip points and large doors make it easy to get into and out of the Forester. Front and rear seats are comfortable, and the steering wheel is a pleasure to grip. Armrests could benefit from thicker padding and the upper door panels require soft padded material in order to improve comfort.
Climate Control SystemThanks to large dials with embedded function buttons, the Forester's climate controls are a model of simplicity. Heated front seats are available, but Subaru declines to offer heated rear seats or a heated steering wheel, odd omissions for a vehicle so obviously meant for driving in cold, wintery conditions. Ventilated front seats would be a nice upgrade, too, considering that the optional panoramic sunroof supplies almost no tint or protection from solar heating.
Infotainment SystemAt the same time that Subaru's new Starlink infotainment systems are a big improvement in terms of screen size, graphics, and functionality, opportunity remains to make them even better.
The test vehicle had the top version of Starlink with a 7-in. display screen, navigation, voice recognition, text-messaging support, SiriusXM All Access radio, a Harman Kardon premium sound system, and more. Starlink subscription service debuts for 2016, too, the basic package free for the first year. Automatic collision notification and SOS emergency calling are included in the basic package, while an upgrade package adds a remote vehicle locator and stolen-vehicle recovery service, among others.
Using Starlink is relatively easy. Large function keys and knobs for volume and tuning are appreciated, and the touch screen resists fingerprints, a rare trait. Pairing an iPhone 6 to the system, making and receiving calls, and streaming music posed no problems.
Subaru needs to illuminate the system's volume and tuning knobs at night, and in the stiff-riding Forester 2.0XT, accuracy is occasionally a challenge when using touch-screen functions. Starlink services should provide features like speed, curfew, and boundary alerts, and Subaru needs to offer Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone-projection technology sooner rather than later.
Storage and SpaceLuggage space measures 31.5 cu. ft. behind the rear seat, the cargo area shaped to accommodate four large suitcases, two soft duffel bags, and a compact folding stroller without worrying that items might fall into the rear seat.
Considering how perfect a Forester would be for heading to a ski resort, the decision to use a 60/40 split-folding rear seat is strange when a 40/20/40 split would be more practical. Folding the rear seat down creates 68.5 cu. ft. of volume, a bit less than some competitors.
Visibility and SafetyThanks to large windows, big side mirrors, and thin roof pillars, outward visibility is extraordinary. Perhaps that's why the company still doesn't offer a blind-spot warning system or a rear cross-traffic alert system for the Forester.
EyeSight is optional, though, installing adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and lane-departure warning systems. This camera-based technology is highly rated by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), but is not infallible. Driving into early morning or late evening sunlight can "blind" the cameras, producing a notification on the driver information display telling the driver that EyeSight is inactive.
Should a collision occur, rest assured that Subaru has engineered a structure designed to keep the Forester's occupants safe. This crossover earns the highest-possible ratings in all crash-test assessments, both from the IIHS and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The single exception is a 4-star (out of 5) federal government rating for the front passenger in a frontal collision.
Engine/TransmissionDue to a horizontally opposed cylinder layout, Subaru engines produce a grumble and vibration unlike traditional inline or V-type engines. Whether you enjoy this or not is entirely dependent on whether or not you feel it adds character and personality to the vehicle. In any case, this flat (aka "boxer") engine design allows Subaru to maximize ground clearance while minimizing the center of gravity–both good things.
The Forester 2.0XT benefits from turbocharging, which allows the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine to make 250 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) features programmed ratios that make the powertrain sound and feel like it has a more traditional automatic transmission, and AWD is standard. Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-Drive) gives the driver a choice between Intelligent, Sport, and Sport Sharp driving modes.
No matter which SI-Drive mode is engaged, the Forester 2.0XT accelerates with ease, and the turbocharged engine resists the power-sapping effects of altitude, making it an especially good choice for owners living in mountainous regions. Because of the CVT, though, the transmission's paddle shifters are not satisfying to use.
Fuel EconomyDuring a week of driving, the Forester 2.0XT returned 21.6 mpg, falling short of the EPA's estimate of 25 mpg in combined driving. In Subaru's defense, however, hours were spent in heavy traffic heading to and home from local mountains following a snowstorm.
Driving DynamicsSubarus are entertaining to drive, and that applies to more than just the rally-inspired WRX sport sedan and rear-drive BRZ sports car. In addition to their grumbling boxer-type engines, Subaru models typically feel connected to the road, demonstrate responsive handling, and when turbocharged, accelerate with enthusiasm.
That's the case when it comes to the taut and athletic Forester 2.0XT. In addition to its more powerful engine, CVT paddle shifters, and SI-Drive modes, this turbocharged version of the SUV is equipped with larger 4-wheel-disc ventilated brakes, sport-tuned suspension, and 18-in. aluminum wheels. The AWD system actively manages power distribution based on numerous factors, including wheel slip, steering angle, yaw rate, lateral acceleration, and slip angle.
Though not as fast or as fun as a WRX, which is derived from the same basic platform as the Forester, the 2.0XT is quick, responsive, and capable no matter the road or weather. Generous ground clearance encourages off-pavement exploration, and an X-Mode drive setting enhances traction in the dirt. X-Mode also activates the Forester's hill-descent control system, helping the driver to focus while coming down a hill.
Final ImpressionsWhile the Forester's new Starlink infotainment systems represent improvement over what Subaru previously offered, greater attention to detail could make them even better. Additionally, the Forester could benefit from a complete reworking of the interior. From the control layout and displays to the materials used, a new cabin could help this Subaru improve its overall appeal.
Otherwise, aside from disappointing fuel economy, the Forester's popularity and ability to satisfy owners is logical. Given the SUV's high ratings for reliability and safety, plus a Partial Zero Emission Vehicle (PZEV) rating for the standard 4-cylinder engine, it makes sense that buyers express significant interest in those areas. Then, once they have one parked in their driveway, the Forester's additional charms become evident, making this Subaru easy to appreciate.
Subaru of America supplied the vehicle used for this 2016 Subaru Forester review.
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