The Subaru Forester is the bright exception to the common wisdom that small crossovers are dull mall buggies that can't cut it off road. But the Forester isn't just an exceptional crossover. With its blend of driving satisfaction regardless of road conditions, real-world usability, and very reasonable cost of ownership, it's also one of the best all-around vehicles of any type.

Pricing and Equipment

Subaru gave the Forester a set of mild updates for 2017: the front bumper and headlights have been redesigned, a new windshield and more sound insulation bring a more hushed tone to the interior, and Subaru's ambitious EyeSight safety-sensor suite is available on most trim levels.

A base Forester 2.5i starts at $22,595. Most buyers will probably start their considerations with the 2.5i Premium, which includes EyeSight on its short option list and has an opening list price of $25,495. The Limited adds leather, the Touring installs a few more comfort and convenience features, the 2.0XT Premium cranks up the power with its turbocharged motor, and the top-spec 2.0XT Touring brings it all together for an MSRP of $34,295.

Most Foresters carry Subaru's 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, which makes a very usable 170 horsepower. EPA fuel economy estimates come in at 26 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. The 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder installed in XT models produces 250 horsepower and returns 23 city/27 highway.

  • Subaru has taken the initiative to make an impressive array of high-tech safety gear available in its mainstream-priced products. EyeSight includes adaptive cruise control, obstacle-avoidance braking, blind-spot sensors, and rear traffic sensors. Should those systems not be able to prevent an impact, the Forester has earned excellent all-around crash test scores.
  • If you're considering a 2.5i or 2.5i Premium, be advised that EyeSight and the All-terrain package are only available on CVT-equipped Foresters.
  • Subaru knows its customers: Among the few available options is a dedicated paddleboard carrier.

Performance Pros

Subaru Forester

People buy small crossovers for their functional attributes as much as for their rugged image. High seating, reasonable dimensions, good usability, and some ability to deal with bad road conditions are all expected parts of the agreement. The Forester doesn't just tick off the boxes on some product planner's checklist, though. It is a thoroughly considered and well-resolved vehicle that works extremely well in just about any conceivable driving situation from urban mazes to to dusty trails.

  • The Forester manages to pull off the unusual feat of being both a capable trail wagon and an enjoyable street vehicle with well-tuned handling and direct steering.
  • Subaru's continuously-variable automatic transmissions (CVTs) are widely considered the best in the industry, with good responses and a minimum of the rubber-band windup which makes other CVTs slightly annoying. For traditionalists, a six-speed manual is available on the lower trim levels.
  • The turbocharged motor in the 2.0XT is a close relative to the one in Subaru's fierce WRX and boots the Forester around with authority.
  • Fuel economy is well above the norm for this type of vehicle.

Performance Cons

  • Rock-crawling ability will ultimately be limited by the Forester's Legacy-derived chassis and lack of lockable differentials. The Forester has great off-road moves for a small crossover, but isn't intended to be a hardcore off-road machine.
  • Note to would-be part-time rally drivers: The turbo motor is CVT-only. A special setting allows the driver to use the paddles shifter to cycle through preprogrammed ratios, but the effect is slightly contrived.
  • Towing capacity is on the light side at 1,500 pounds.

Interior Pros

Subaru Forester

The Forester's roomy cabin follows the same pattern as its Subaru sisters: logical layout, high-quality materials, a serious effort at creating a serene and peaceful zone for all occupants. If it doesn't have much style, it does bring flawless functionality and plenty of comfort.

  • Even beyond the official measurements, the Forester feels roomy inside, especially in back, and is lined with useful cubbies and cupholders.
  • The quality of Subaru's interior materials continue to improve, giving the Forester a substantial and durable feel. The extra soundproofing and acoustic glass also make for a significant decrease in ambient noise while on the move.
  • Outward visibility is excellent, a switch from the bunker mood found in many new vehicles.

Interior Cons

  • Long-legged types may find the front seats short on cushion length and thigh support.
  • While not as blandly functional as some other Subaru interiors, the Forester's cabin would be well-served by a dose of character to go with its logical layout.

The Most Pleasant Surprise

The Forester will drive mud-splattering circles around some more powerful and expensive competitors. And yet it's pleasant on the pavement and good on gas.

The Least Pleasant Surprise

As Subaru moves closer to being a mainstream player, it has outgrown some of its rootsy, elemental simplicity. Many buyers will appreciate the extra sound deadening and upscale interior trim, but some longtime Subaru lovers may find the results a bit too, well, normal.

The Bottom Line

If there was an award for the official vehicle of the enlightened outdoors enthusiast, the Forester would be a near-lock for top honors. It does literally everything that can be asked of a modern crossover in a well-rounded and very agreeable way. If you live for the outdoors—or live in a place where conditions in those outdoors are a major concern—we recommend the Forester without hesitation.