Four years into its current model cycle, the 2018 Subaru Forester, the brand's best-selling model, continues to offer a shape that's more station wagon than SUV, wrapped around all-wheel-drive security, crossover-like practicality, and car-like ride and handling. But an interior, even on upper-trim models, that's more modest than lavish may turn off those looking for luxury touches.

Best Value

The 2018 Subaru Forester ranges at $23,710 (including a $915 destination charge) for a base 2.5i with a six-speed manual to $37,005 for a CVT-equipped 2.0XT Touring model. The top-of-the-line Touring trim is also available with a non-turbocharged boxer engine and includes a leather-trimmed interior, moonroof, a suite of active safety features, and 18-inch alloy wheels. The WRX-derived turbo engine produces 250 horsepower, but the 170-hp 2.5-liter base engine is a smarter choice for everyday use.

The smart money, though, passes on the Touring and snags the mid-range 2.5i Premium (which is also available with the 2.0-liter, turbocharged four). By forgoing a leather interior and moonroof, you can save nearly $3,700. Included in that savings are two option packages: the Black Edition package with interior, exterior and off-road enhancements, and the All-Weather Package with EyeSight and Blind Spot, which adds one of the most advanced active safety suites on the market alongside some neat off-road enhancements.

Here's how we'd build it:

  • Model: 2018 Subaru Forester 2.5i Premium
  • Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder
  • Output: 170 hp / 174 lb-ft
  • Transmission: Continuously variable transmission
  • MPG: 27 city / 42 highway
  • Exterior color: Ice Silver Metallic
  • Interior color:Gray
  • Options: Continuously variable transmission ($500), Black Edition ($1,150, 18-inch alloy wheels, steering wheel paddle-shifters, X-mode, hill descent control, cargo tray, steering responsive headlights, black-accented fog lights and exterior mirrors, auto-on/off headlights, LED headlights, leather-wrapped shift lever handle and steering wheel, welcome lighting, cloth upholstery with simulated leather bolsters) All-Weather Package + EyeSight + Blind Spot ($1,695, heated outside mirrors and front seats, rear view camera, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, blind spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, steering responsive fog lights).
  • Base Price: $27,110
  • As Tested: $29,955

Performance Pros

2018 INFINITI QX30
  • Even with 8.7 inches of ground clearance, the Forester's solid, car-like handling feels sportier than competitors like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.
  • Subaru's continuously variable transmission is one of the best-performing CVTs available.
  • The only vehicle in its class to offer standard all-wheel-drive.

Performance Cons

  • The 2.5-liter engine, the most widely-available engine choice, offers only adequate performance.
  • The Forester's 1,500-pound towing capacity is only middling for its class.
  • Subaru's X-Mode system, which offers advanced off-road capability, isn't available on the base model.

Interior Pros

  • Despite its wagon-like looks, a low window line and fairly high driving position offer a nice view of the road.
  • 108 cubic feet of passenger space, plenty of rear seat room, and an optional (standard on Touring models) one-touch rear seat contribute to the Forester's versatility.
  • An acoustic windshield plus additional sound-deadening materials added in 2017 mean quieter and more pleasant long-distance trips.

Interior Cons

2018 INFINITI QX30
  • Flat front seat cushions lack adequate side support.
  • A narrow cockpit means taller drivers, especially, may find their legs in contact with the hard plastic trim found on the center console and lower door panels.
  • Interior materials on even the top-trim models can hardly be called premium.

Our Favorite Thing

8.7 inches of ground clearance, standard all-wheel-drive, and a car-like ride give the Forester an advantage over the competition in the small SUV class.

Our Least Favorite Thing

Even the top-trim $37,000-plus Touring model features an interior that skews more towards the utilitarian.

Right For

2018 INFINITI QX30

A smooth ride, plenty of interior room, a slew of available active safety features and the confidence of all-wheel-drive make the latest Forester a good choice for families.

Wrong For

The Forester's rather simple looks are still a few steps below class leaders. The style conscious will be happier with a Mazda CX-5.

The Bottom Line

Despite an interior that features function over style, its car-like handling, small-on-the-outside, big-on-the-inside versatility, and standard all-wheel-drive make the 2018 Subaru Forester one of the best small sport utility vehicles on the market.