Subaru has created an enviable space for itself in the compact crossover category.
Subaru debuted the Forester crossover in the U.S. in 1998. It was based on the compact Impreza sedan, and ran Subaru’s full-time mechanical all-wheel-drive system. In snow and mud, it easily outpaced the competition, whose front-wheel drivetrains were modified to run a less-robust form of AWD.
That alone would have made the Forester a favorite in snow country. But, like the Outback wagon that predated it, Forester boasted a lofty 8.7 inches of ground clearance. It tackled terrain that stopped others cold.
Subaru positioned Forester as the ruggedly utilitarian compact crossover. Indeed, it was not a fussy car. It welcomed muddy boots, dirty dogs and wet ski gear.
Hooked on Forester’s underlying utility, affordability and durability, owners gave it a pass when it came to tepid cabin design, mediocre fuel efficiency and dated electronics.
Nevertheless, Subaru has moved forward, addressing the shortfalls with upgraded cabins and infotainment options and with new safety and driver-assist systems.
In 2014, the fourth-generation Forester grew a roomier and better-appointed cabin. It added the very good EyeSight safety and driver-assist system and introduced an available torque-vectoring feature. The rear seats were raised for greater comfort and better outward visibility and thigh-support and legroom both were improved.
The cargo hold grew to yield 34.4 cubic feet behind the rear seats and a class-leading 74.7 cubic feet with the seatbacks folded.
The sound system improved from woeful to not bad.
This year, Forester ($26,370, including transportation) expands its driver-assistance menu to include lane-departure intervention and a blind-spot monitor, with rear cross-traffic alert. Adaptive headlights and automatic high-beam control are available. A unique reverse automatic-braking feature helps prevent accidents while backing up.
New noise-defeating measures render the cabin a quieter place. The steering system responds more quickly to driver input. Revised shock-absorber cut ride harshness.
In a nod to the growing demand for luxury accoutrements, Subaru even makes a heated steering wheel and leather interior available on the upscale Touring trim ($32,170).
Power is by a pair of four-cylinder “boxer” engines. A 170-horsepower 2.5-liter four powers 2.5i trims; 2.0XT trims get a 250-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four.
A six-speed manual transmission is available, but on lower trims only; everything else gets a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that boosts fuel efficiency and upgrades the traction-control system to include hill-descent control.
This year, the CVT is programmed with a set of “shift points” that emulate the performance of a conventional automatic. The elasticity characteristic of the CVT technology remains, but it’s muted.
The EPA rates CVT-equipped 2.5i models at 28 mpg combined (26 city/32 highway) and 2.0XT trims at 25/23/27.
My 2.5i Touring tester, with CVT, was not wildly quick; 2.5i trims run the 0-60 sprint in about 9 seconds, while 2.0XT trims turn it in 6.3 seconds. All Foresters are tow-rated to 1,500 pounds.
But neither quick nor towing is the goal; Forester succeeds on the strength of its fundamental virtues, an enviable spot indeed.
2017 Subaru Forester 2.5i Touring
Vehicle base price: $22,272
Trim level base price: $31,295
As tested: $33,765
Options included Starlink multimedia navigation system; EyeSight Driver-Assist system with pre-collision throttle-management and braking; lane-keep assist; adaptive cruise control; lane-departure warning; lane-sway warning; reverse automatic braking; adaptive headlights with automatic high-beams.
Tow rating: 1,500 pounds
EPA rating: 28 combined/26 city/32 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified