Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2017 Subaru Forester 2.5i Limited

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car

In the battle for your brain space, brands are boiling themselves down to a single word. For instance, when you hear Volvo, its brand architects want you to think ‘safety’. Land Rover would like you to think off-road (which to be honest is two words).

For specific customers – value-conscious families with lots of stuff to move – this SUV is a good option.

And Subaru, ‘longevity’. Which almost makes this review 10 years early.

Subaru’s recent PR materials report winning the Automotive Lease Guide’s 2016 Residual Value Award through a “commitment to designing and engineering high-quality, safe, fun-to-drive vehicles.” That’s about right and certainly in the right order when you’re talking about the 2017 Forester 2.5i Limited.

The quality is certainly high for the price. Secondly, this trim is packed with the sorts of safety features that SUV-purchasing parents love. And fun comes in third place for the bronze. That’s not a slight. This was written on the launch day of the 2016 Olympics, an institution where Canada has a proud history of bronze hegemony. So let’s talk about the Forester in Subaru’s own suggested order.

Quality: a story of value for money

For specific customers – value-conscious families with lots of stuff to move – this SUV is a good option. For less than $40K before taxes, Subaru has included plenty of comfort, well-planned practicality and bling in this Forester 2.5i Limited model with the Technology Package. The Forester is not as pretty as most of Subaru’s other products but stands up well amid its competitors on the Limited trim’s 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels.

The doors are surprisingly light and effectively closing them takes some getting used to. (Expect warning light and avian chirps to alert you.) Despite the welterweight doors, the ride is quiet, making the eight-speaker, 440-watt Harman Kardon sound system extra enjoyable. The stereo integrates well with the 7-inch touch-sensitive, and instantly intuitive, infotainment system. The tech is comprehensive with GPS navigation, all-phone compatibility, satellite radio and three months of other satellite offerings including traffic, weather, sports and stocks.

(BTW, if you need to know the values of your stocks while in traffic, you’re a horrible person.)

The steering wheel is heated, as are the front and back seats, which swim in easy-to-clean leather. This Forester’s eighth-day test occurred during an off-the-charts heat wave and cooled seats would’ve brought rave reviews but alas. Thankfully this tester’s white exterior and butterscotch-coloured seats didn’t trap much heat or overburden the A/C. (See more below, regarding fuel economy.) The already light and airy atmosphere was made brighter and roomier by the huge power sunroof. It’s remarkable the effect on the mood a roomy sunroof can have.

A Proper Workout: Venturing Off-road in the 2017 Subaru Forester

The proximity key took some getting used to. Highly sensitive, it unlocks the car door just microseconds before the driver reaches it. Which is why the key fob has no ‘unlock’ button, an inconvenient quirk if you want to remotely unlock the Forester for a passenger who arrived at the car before you. [Actually, the Subaru logo on the fob functions as an "unlock" button - Ed]. That I couldn't find the unlock button is a small complaint and very #firstworldproblems but worth relating nonetheless.

Some of the most impressive ‘luxuries’ are safety features.

The steering-responsive headlights point where you steer, not necessarily just in front. So you illuminate dark corners at night. That’s great for swiveling side to side but the auto-leveling feature delivers a similar effect when you’re on an incline, pointing downwards or up. While we did cover a lot of territory in the Forester – nearly 1,600 km over eight days – we didn’t drive at night on darkened curvy hills. Nor did we need the heated rearview mirrors that evaporate frost and fog – but such safety features are like insurance or a karate black belt. You’re glad to have them but don’t ever feel bad that you haven’t used them.

In the same spirit, we also did not test the capabilities of the ‘whiplash reducing’ front seats.

The Technology Package features “Eyesight”, Subaru’s collection of interventionist safety features that watch and react to conditions on the road: pre-collision braking, brake assist and throttle management, plus adaptive cruise control and a very attuned lane departure warning, which my wife hated when she drove. Beeps would sound off and a graphic of the violated lane line judgmentally flashed, reporting her failure to colour within the lines. (You can turn it off easily with the switch at thumb range on the steering wheel.) There’s also a lane sway warning which beeps when you’re weaving within your lane, usually a symptom of sleepiness but fun to play with on one the world’s most boring drives, the 401 between Toronto and Montreal.

Though similar products of the Eyesight cameras, the above two features are not the same as lane keep assist, which will actually direct you back into your lane while on cruise control at highway speeds. It’s another of those safety features whose efficacy I didn’t actively challenge in situ.

Then there’s lead vehicle start alert. It politely beeps when the car in front of you has departed and you’re distracted, maybe fussing with the kids in the back but probably still staring at your phone, counting likes on Instagram. In Toronto, we already have this feature in every car new and old. It’s called Other Driver Alert (ODA): if you don’t immediately attempt to bump-start the departing car ahead of you, ODAs pound their horns and salute with middle fingers.

And bringing home the bronze: how much fun it is to drive.

On flowing highway conditions, the 2017 Subaru Forester’s ride is smooth, comfortable and unremarkable in both driving modes. Highway 401 doesn’t provide many challenges for drivers beyond staying awake, but city conditions do. Cities provide the true test of a vehicle’s agility.

And Montreal? With its just-in-time-for-Expo67 crumbling infrastructure Montreal offers new levels of frustration to even the most elastically bitter Torontonians. You need to be crafty, yes, but – as with horseback riding – you need a car that’s suited to its surroundings. The Forester is just well-sized enough for a city driver with a 34.8 ft steering circle; any bigger and it would be another problem, rather than a solution to the sudden congested conditions that places like Montreal and Toronto produce.

Segue! We’ll veer off here slightly (it’s OK – the lane departure alert’s been de-activated) and talk more about the Forester’s well-planned dimensions. If your kids are growing weed-like into teens, there’s space to accommodate them in the back: a roomy 965 mm of legroom and 1,011 mm of headroom. That backseat 60/40 row folds down easily. The resulting spread of cargo isn’t quite level, so don’t transport drywall, but there’s loads more space. Even with the backseat up, there’s still a significant 75-cubic feet of cargo volume.

And for the truly space starved? By the time you ascend to the Limited trimline, your Forester includes a tonneau cover and easy-to-clean cargo area tray of sturdy rubber. Beneath the tray and the removable cargo floor, there’s even a bit more storage space among the spare tire’s quarters to cache gold ingots, heroin, hard drives full of national secrets, skates – those sorts of things.

Back to the drive: The steering is easy to adjust to but feels slightly artificial. The Forester is 1,732 mm tall. High up as you are in the driver’s seat, the steering could offer more feedback to the pilot. As mentioned above, lane departure alert got a good workout during our family test.

Speaking of the family, my wife found the 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with power lumbar support and memory comfortable but I had problems getting it to fit my somewhat simian form. The collapsible steering wheel fit well though.

The Forester’s continuously variable transmission (CVT) is dependable, efficient and makes the most of its 2.5L4-cylinder engine but is not responsive enough to leap to action for an impatient urban driver to seize opportunities. It delivers just 170 hp up at 5,800 revs and at 4,000 a slightly brighter amount of torque, 174 lb-ft. Thankfully, the CVT has a nominally ‘manual’ mode you can and should paddle in for a touch more immediacy. Considering how much I exploited the M-mode for extra kick during launches at traffic lights – plus the excessive heat – my fuel economy was pretty good.

‘Segue’ is a noun and a verb.

Measured in litres-per-100km, this Forester’s government-OK’d fuel ratings are an aspirational 7.4 on the highway, 9.2 city and 8.4 combined. We tended to derive 8 or 8.1 on the highway but rarely much higher than 8.4 in the city and, again, rarely was the A/C off.

Finally, speaking of government-blessed fol de ral, the Forester meets the cryptically titled ‘Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle’ (PZEV) standards. (Partial emissions? Isn’t a ‘part’ of zero still zero?) PZEV is a brain-teasing Californian invention for measuring automotive ecology. This Forester’s tailpipe emissions rated 6/10 for carbon dioxide and 7/10 for smog, 10 being the best for either scoring. According to Wikipedia, PZEVs must provide a long-lasting 15-year or 150,000 km warranty on their emissions-reducing tech.

All of which provides a final neat segue for this review.

The 2017 Forester is good value, chock full of safety features which Subaru hopes will last a long time. And like its PZEV ratings, it’s partially fun, earning between 6 or 7 out of 10.

3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 5 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 3 years/unlimited distance roadside assistance

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Model Tested 2017 Subaru Forester 2.5i Limited
Base Price $37,295
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,675
Price as Tested $39,070
Optional Equipment