It’s no big news that Subaru really knows how to make a car. As far as good all-rounders that can haul a lot of stuff, take whatever mother nature throws at them, last forever and be had at an attractive price, it doesn’t get much better. Particularly for people in winter climates, Subaru’s bread and butter all-wheel-drive has been praised and celebrated for years. And for those who are just a tad bit more adventurous, the Forester has also been characteristically popular. Introduced in 1997 and put on a raised Impreza platform, the Forester is Subaru’s take on a crossover SUV, one that defies so many of the dismal crossovers that dot our roads today by being able to both avoid looking and feeling like an SUV and actually have some off-road capability. Now in its fourth generation, the Forester is still that same basic and unassuming but thoroughly capable vehicle it’s always been. That’s something I knew immediately coming in with our 2.0 XT Premium test car, but it still managed to surprise in a few areas, most of them pleasantly.
Even the shockingly quick WRX’s and STI’s that Subaru builds aren’t particularly wild to look at so, as you would imagine, the Forester hasn’t been styled with any particular flare. Subaru knows you’re going to buy this car on its reputation and not because it caught your eye on the showroom floor, so they didn’t bother making it pretty. The Premium versions like our test car have 17-inch alloy wheels, chrome exterior door handles and body-color exterior mirrors, but it doesn’t make a huge difference. And although you can get the Forester in two somewhat exciting colors (red and blue), you will still see plenty of these finished in green or silver carrying around hikers in Vermont. The current model actually looks a little taller and more SUV-ish than its predecessor, and even though it’s got the sedate looks of a typical Subaru, the Forester is as attractive as about any of the other compact SUV’s or crossovers out there.
With the Forester, the basic exterior translates to a utilitarian interior. Like the Jeep Patriot we tested a while back, it feels simple but rugged. The good kind of rugged. It’s the kind of car you won’t feel guilty about stepping into with muddy boots or sweaty clothes. On a related note, the Forester has been advertised to dog people quite a bit lately, and it’s easy to see why. With plenty of room in the back seat and up to 68 cubic feet of cargo space with the standard 60/40-split rear seatbacks, getting an 80 pound dog in and out was no problem, and back to that ruggedness again, the Forester was clearly designed with this kind of stuff in mind. The Premium version like our test car gets a panoramic moonroof as well as the steering wheel controls and basic connectivity stuff like Bluetooth that everybody expects in a new car these days. But while the interior was basic and straightforward, the digital stuff was not, and Subaru seems a bit behind the times when it comes to the interfaces with the onboard computers. An Apple product, this is not.
The standard Forester gets a 2.5 liter horizontally opposed 4-cylinder that makes 170 horsepower, but our XT test car came with a snorty direct-injection 2.0 liter turbocharged Boxer that puts out a healthy 250 horsepower and 258 lb/ft of torque over a 2,000-4,800 rpm range. Stepping into a car that you mostly see on campsites, we weren’t expecting much, but the potent engine was tons of fun to play around with. It makes awesome mid-range torque, and with the way it’s geared 10 to 40 miles per hour comes shockingly quick. Just getting up to 40 feels really fast, and though acceleration kind of falls off after that, it’s the punch you feel at normal road speeds that will entertain you most in day-to-day driving.
The suspension is raised in the Forester and you get up to 8.9 inches of ground clearance as well as a relatively high driving position, but you still don’t really feel like you’re in an SUV and it’s pretty much the same story with the handling. The turbo, paired exclusively with a CVT automatic with manual mode, can be genuinely fun to drive. It’s not a WRX, but it’s way more entertaining than you might expect.
The Forester has typically been the car that you wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone, and that clearly hasn’t changed with this year’s car. It’s something that will get you there, no matter where you’re going or when, and will keep getting you there for years. Whether it’s a move, a hike, a stop over at the dog park or a long road trip, the Forester is going to do it well. And with that surprising turbo motor on boil, those hikes and road trips will be that much more enjoyable.