2017 Subaru Forester Review
Liz Kim | Apr 25, 2017
IntroductionBasic and boxy, the Subaru Forester first went on sale in America for the 1998 model year, among the members of the original crossover SUV class of the 1990s. A tall wagon based on the Impreza platform, the Forester was equipped with all-wheel drive (AWD) and a raised suspension for improved ground clearance.
Skip forward 20 years and much has changed in the world, but you'll still find that the 2017 Subaru Forester is a tall wagon based on the Impreza platform, equipped with AWD and a raised suspension for improved ground clearance. It must have been a successful formula because the Forester is one of the best-selling SUVs in America. For 2017, it gets a significant update, although you'd never guess by looking at it, as most of the alterations are more than skin deep.
Changes include minor styling tweaks, an improved EyeSight driver-assistance and collision-avoidance system, expanded availability of existing safety technology, and the debut of new rear automatic braking and high-beam assist headlights that swivel to help the driver to see around dark corners. Comfort and convenience improvements range from a quieter interior and an available heated steering wheel to a height-adjustable power rear liftgate. Starlink adds Siri Eyes Free for 2017, while Starlink subscription service packages add new features. Turbocharged Foresters gain active torque vectoring, and all versions have faster steering.
For this review, we evaluated a Forester 2.0XT Touring with the EyeSight option package, which includes Subaru's driver-assistance and collision-avoidance technologies along with a navigation system. The price came to $36,765, including the $875 destination charge.
What Owners SayBefore we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2017 Forester, it's helpful to understand who buys this SUV and what they like most and least about it.
According to J.D. Power research, Forester buyers are older, more affluent, and more often female compared with Compact SUV segment averages. At an average age of 61 (vs. 56 for the segment), 55% of Forester owners are women (vs. 51%). They enjoy a median household income of $92,143 (vs. $89,505).
The Forester is significantly less popular with Gen X (those born 1965 to 1976), Gen Y (1977-1994), and Gen Z (1995-2004) (30% of buyers vs. 39% for the segment). In fact, J.D. Power data shows that 40% of Forester buyers identify themselves as retired compared with 29% of Compact SUV buyers.
Forester buyers are more likely to agree that they are willing to pay more for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly (68% vs. 56% segment average). Meanwhile, fewer Forester buyers agree that their friends and family think of them as someone who knows a great deal about autos (49% vs. 57%).
Styling is less important to Forester buyers, with 48% agreeing that they like a vehicle that stands out from the crowd, compared with 66% for the segment. Among Forester buyers, 54% agree that a vehicle is just a way of getting from place to place (vs. 44% segment avearge).
Forester buyers say their favorite things about their SUV are (in descending order) visibility and safety, driving dynamics, exterior styling, seats, and the engine/transmission. Buyers indicate their least favorite things about the Forester are (in descending order) storage and space, interior design, climate control system, infotainment system, and fuel economy.
What Our Expert SaysIn the sections that follow, our expert provides her own assessment of how the 2017 Subaru Forester performs in each of the 10 categories that comprise the J.D. Power 2016 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.SM
ExteriorWhile Forester buyers are unconcerned about driving a vehicle that stands out from the crowd, this Subaru's exterior styling is one of their favorite things about the SUV.
Certainly, today's Forester possesses greater style than did the original box-on-wheels, but it remains a rather homely conveyance, designed to serve a purpose and not to convey beauty. New C-shaped running lights and taillight illumination add character for the 2017 model year, along with a couple of new aluminum wheel designs.
Notably, the test vehicle had a new paint color called Sepia Bronze. It looked the same whether clean or dirty, which is sure to be considered a benefit by Forester owners.
InteriorIf Subaru buyers like the exterior styling, the interior design is not high on their list of favorite things about the Forester. This is understandable, because like the outside of the SUV, the inside is built to serve a purpose.
Decked out in Touring trim, the test car included a new leather color called Saddle Brown. It looked good, adding an upscale appearance that the Forester typically lacks. For the most part, though, materials remain industrial-grade, making the test vehicle's as-tested price difficult to accept.
SeatsFront and rear, the Forester provides comfortable seating for up to 5 people. For cold-weather dwellers, available heated seats and a heated steering wheel are quite nice on frosty mornings. Getting into and out of the Forester is easy, too, perhaps explaining why the Subaru tends to be more popular with older people. To improve comfort, Subaru could add softer padding for elbows and knees.
Climate Control SystemForester buyers are not particularly happy with the SUV's climate control system, but it can't be due to the controls, which employ large knobs with integrated buttons and clear markings. Rather, I suspect Forester buyers are dissatisfied with other omissions that impact climatological comfort.
For example, the huge sunroof is not tinted, and when the cover is retracted there is a significant greenhouse effect. Subaru does a great job of prepping the cabin for winter comfort, but there isn't a seat cooling system for hot summer days. Worse, rear passengers swelter without air conditioning vents.
Infotainment SystemAnother sore spot for Forester buyers is the Starlink infotainment system. The test car's setup had the larger 7-in. display screen, which is set behind a large, flush touch-sensitive panel with virtual main menu buttons, power/volume knob, and a radio station tuning knob.
The system looks modern but lacks increasingly common features. For example, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone-projection technology is unavailable, and the Forester doesn't offer safety-related services that help to keep teenaged drivers safe. In fact, one of the upgrades to the system for 2017 is the addition of Siri Eyes Free compatibility, which seems to be years overdue.
You also can't get a Wi-Fi connection through Starlink, another increasingly common offering in the Forester's competition.
Storage and SpaceForester buyers give the SUV's storage areas and cargo space the equivalent of a "Meh." For a vehicle so clearly designed for utility, it appears that Subaru could do a better job of providing spots for owners to stash their stuff, starting with installing a larger center console storage bin.
Cargo space measurements are typical for a compact crossover, amounting to 31.5 cu. ft. behind the rear seat and 68.5 cu. ft. with the rear seat folded down. Like the exterior styling, though, the cargo area is box-shaped, helping to maximize utility.
Visibility and SafetyForester buyers say that this is their favorite thing about the SUV, and that's easy to understand. From the driver's seat you enjoy a panoramic view of your surroundings, and with its sloping hood and slim pillars, it is exceptionally easy to see out of this vehicle.
Additionally, the Forester earns top crash-test ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). New cameras power the Forester's optional EyeSight system, and Subaru expands availability of it as well as other safety systems for 2017.
New features include a rear automatic braking system that can be over-eager in terms of engagement, as well as cornering headlights with automatic high-beam activation.
Engine/TransmissionSubaru offers two different engines for the 2017 Forester. The 2.5i models get a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder motor that boasts a Partial Zero Emission Vehicle (PZEV) rating while making 170 horsepower. The test vehicle–a 2.0XT model–had a turbocharged, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine producing 250 horsepower.
A 6-speed manual transmission is standard for the 2.5i, with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) available as an option. The 2.0XT has a standard CVT and gives drivers a choice between three driving modes. Paddle shifters in this version of the Forester allow the driver to cycle through between 6 and 8 programmed ratios in an effort to provide a more engaging driving experience.
All-wheel drive is standard for every 2017 Forester. In the 2.5i model equipped with the manual gearbox, power flows to the front and rear wheels in a 50:50 split. Add the CVT and power is biased to the front wheels, automatically shifting to the rear as is necessary to improve traction. This version also includes an X-Mode traction system with hill-descent control.
In the 2.0XT model, the AWD system employs active torque-vectoring technology, which is new for 2017 and is designed to improve driving dynamics.
The 2.0XT test vehicle produced plenty of power, but the CVT seems ill suited to the engine, especially when driving in the city or in traffic, the transmission delivering waves of turbocharged torque that causes the Forester to surge. Switching to Sport mode helps to make the SUV's behavior more predictable, but not necessarily satisfying.
Fuel EconomyAfter a full week of driving the Forester 2.0XT, the trip computer average read 22.2 mpg. According to the EPA, the turbocharged Forester should return 23 mpg city, 27 mpg highway, and 25 mpg in combined driving.
If Forester 2.5i buyers experience a similar shortfall in comparison to EPA ratings, it's no wonder that they rate fuel economy as their least favorite thing about this Subaru.
Driving DynamicsBased on J.D. Power data, most Forester buyers are satisfied with the SUV's driving dynamics. Given how most people are likely to drive them, and assuming that many travel during inclement weather or over poorly maintained roads, it is easy to understand how they find this Subaru enjoyable to pilot. Plus, it is quite nimble, features a tight turning radius, and is a snap to park.
Since the 2.0XT model is supposed to be the sporty Forester, equipped with a tighter suspension, larger brakes, bigger wheels and tires, and active torque vectoring, I decided to drive it like I stole it–for a portion of my testing, anyway.
As an enthusiast vehicle, the Forester fares poorly. Though Subaru retunes the 2.0XT's suspension, the SUV still feels too soft and squishy. Despite steering improvements for 2017, I still found it dissatisfying in terms of feel, response, and accuracy. Even the brake pedal seemed to supply too much travel, requiring more effort than should be necessary to bring the Forester to a stop.
I will say this, however. On a short trail made more challenging by California's winter rainstorms, the Forester's 8.7 ins. of ground clearance and nimble low-speed demeanor were a delight, allowing access to places where mere cars dare not travel.
Also, Subaru's steps to quiet the 2017 Forester's interior worked. It is significantly more Zen out on the open road.
Final ImpressionsForester buyers are choosing function over form, and from that perspective this Subaru succeeds. While it could benefit from greater refinement, improved attention to detail, and a more modern infotainment system, the 2017 Subaru Forester is what it always has been: a safe, secure box on wheels that's ready for whatever Mother Nature is about to dole out.
Subaru of America supplied the vehicle used for this 2017 Subaru Forester review.
Subscribe to the J.D. Power Newsletter
You are now subscribed to the J.D. Power Cars Newsletter.