2017 Subaru Forester 2.5i Touring Road Test Review

July 08 2017, Docksteader Subaru

2017 Subaru Forester 2.5i Touring Road Test Review

New styling and additional improvements make great SUV even better 

The Auto Journalist Association of Canada's "Best New Small Utility"? Forester owners know such accolades are well deserved, as do the folks working at the company's Mississauga-based headquarters, not to mention those selling and servicing the compact SUV at the Japanese brand's 92 Canadian dealerships, but they'll no doubt be smiling just the same.

I've never been on Subaru's payroll or a Forester owner, although full disclosure requires me admit to selling new Justys, Imprezas, Brats, Loyales, Legacys, Outbacks, SVXs, and yes Foresters way back in 1994. I've also had the pleasure of living with every Forester generation for weeks at a time over the last 16 years of my auto journalism career, and therefore have experienced them grow in size and sophistication first-hand, from their tall wagon-like roots to their current fully-fledged compact SUV status.

New styling details improve design

For 2017, sub Forester XT trims get refreshed, with a new wider, deeper, and more complex lower fascia featuring a body-colour centre and larger black corner vent-like cutouts housing chromed appliques and circular fogs in my 2.5i Touring trimmed tester. The brand's hexagon-shaped grille gets a new insert too, while the headlamps receive new C-shaped LED accents and sparkle with today's de rigueur crystal-like glitter. Around the side, new 17-inch wheels boast machine-finished spokes with black painted pockets, these unique to Touring spec, whereas new mostly red taillight lenses highlight the changes in back, a similar set of C-shaped LEDs giving them a squared off shape when seen from directly behind. I like what they've done.

If you move up a trim level to Limited, full LED headlamps with steering responsive active cornering enter the picture, but believe me I didn't feel shortchanged one iota to be in this Touring. In fact, I wouldn't have minded a base model, as the changes make it look better than last year's entry-level Forester despite missing some chrome, fogs and alloys.

A quieter and more refined experience 

That base model is improved inside too, first off from better soundproofing thanks to additional insulation, better door seals, an acoustic windshield, and thicker side glass, making this the quietest Forester ever. It's a nicely designed and detailed cabin too, filled with metallic silver accents, a soft touch synthetic dash top that wraps all the way down to the halfway point of the centre stack, plus across the door uppers and panels front to rear, contrast stitched leatherette armrests, attractive black and blue checkered fabric upholstery, excellent quality switchgear, and more.

Of course these improvements and high quality carryover details make every Forester feel more refined, my Touring model benefiting further with a stitched leather-wrapped sport steering wheel (in a new design with available heat), a leather-clad shift knob, chromed inner door handles, an electroluminescent gauge cluster centered by a colour TFT multi-function display, a dual-zone auto climate control interface featuring upscale knurled metallic dials, illuminated visor mirrors (on wonderfully large sunvisors), a panoramic sized powered sunroof overhead, a powered tailgate in behind, as well as items not initially noticed such as a windshield wiper de-icer, reclining rear seats, Subaru's rear/side vehicle detection system, and two more stereo speakers for a total of six.

Get ready for great sound quality 

That audio system delivers good bright highs and excellent bass response, by the way, partially due to a graphic equalizer integrated within the infotainment display featuring separate presets to quickly customize the sound for whatever you're listening to, from dance or rock, to classical or talk.

All of these features include items pulled up from the Forester's second-rung Convenience trim ($29,195), which adds the fog lamps I mentioned earlier, plus auto on/off headlamps, a rooftop spoiler, welcome lighting, a comfortable 10-way powered driver's seat with powered lumbar support, two-way heatable front seats, a sliding front armrest, a rear centre armrest with integrated cupholders, a retractable cargo cover, and a protective cargo tray; while base model ($25,995) features pulled up to Touring trim ($30,495) include roof rails, power-adjustable heated side mirrors, variable intermittent wipers, a tilt and telescopic multifunction steering wheel, cruise control, a 6.2-inch high-resolution colour touchscreen with a rearview camera and Subaru's improved Starlink smartphone integration (featuring Aha radio, Pandora, etc), plus AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA/HD audio, Bluetooth phone connectivity with streaming audio, aux/USB ports, satellite radio, all the usual active and passive safety features including whiplash reducing front seats, a driver's knee airbag, Vehicle Dynamics Control with lateral-g and yaw-rate sensors, and much more.

No shortage of available luxury features 

If you'd still like more, you can move up into aforementioned Limited ($35,795) trim that adds leather in black or new Cognac Brown, driver's side memory, heated rear seats, larger and more sophisticated 7.0-inch infotainment with navigation, etcetera, while my Touring tester and the Limited model can be upgraded with an as-tested $2,800 Technology package that adds steering responsive fog lamps (on the Touring), proximity access with pushbutton ignition, as well as Subaru's third-generation of EyeSight active safety features that now include lane keeping assist and an enhanced pre-collision braking system to the features available on last year's Forester, including pre-collision throttle management, lead vehicle start alert, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, reverse automatic braking, and adaptive cruise control.

A standard feature I haven't mentioned yet is a Subaru staple, the brand's now legendary symmetrical all-wheel drive system. Believe me when I say it's a cut above most AWD designs, and therefore much more capable of digging your SUV (or any Subaru) out of a packed snowplow created drift or an unexpectedly deep ski hill parking lot, let alone wade you through shallow rivers, muddy logging roads, or anything else God's country throws into your path. The Forester comes standard with class-leading ground clearance too, and when equipped with its as-tested continuously variable transmission (CVT), hill-descent control and even better, Subaru's X-Mode off-road setting that really adds to its mountain goat character.

Real 4x4 capability separates the Forester from the tall wagon crowd 

X-Mode turns a seemingly docile crossover utility into a very handy 4x4. It's not designed keep up with purpose-built 4x4s on class 4 trails, but is nevertheless more extreme than any of its closest rivals, and all you need to do is push the big silver button ahead of the shifter when the wheels begin to slip or slide, leaving all but throttle and steering control up to your Forester. 

That throttle continues to connect to one of the most interesting engines in the auto industry, Subaru's horizontally opposed "boxer" flat four that sits nice and low in the engine compartment for better handling. Boxers are also inherently torque-rich; the Forester's base 2.5-litre making a potent 174 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm as well as 170 horsepower at just 5,800 rpm. The engine works perfectly with the ultra-smooth CVT, while a six-speed manual is available in base and Touring models. Along with strong performance the base powertrain delivers good fuel economy when compared to its AWD-equipped compact challengers, my tester rated at 9.2 L/100km in the city and 7.4 on the highway, whereas manual-equipped models achieve an estimated 10.9 city and 8.3 highway. Of note, all Forester 2.5i models receive PZEV emissions certification.

Forester XT provides serious performance without pump penalty 

If fuel economy isn't quite as high on your agenda as performance, Subaru offers the more exciting direct-injected and turbocharged 2.0XT ($33,995) with 250 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, and you won't give up much at the pump with a 10.2 L/100km city and 8.6 highway rating. Subaru adds torque vectoring to the 2017 model for a bit more agility around the corners, while all XTs get 18-inch rims to help in this respect too.

I certainly wasn't held back by my Touring model's Yokohama 225/60R17 Geolandar all-seasons, the little SUV feeling as nimble through the curves as its fully independent suspension was comfortable over rough patches of pavement, while its four-wheel disc brakes were plenty capable even during panic tests.

Trailers need to be kept to the usual 680 kilos when equipped with their own brakes, or 453 kg without, but the Forester's cargo hold should be ample enough to limit the need to tow. Base and Convenience models get 974 litres behind their standard 60/40-split rear seatbacks and 2,115 litres when folded flat, whereas my Touring and the Limited trim above make do with 892 and 1,940 litres respectively, the price paid for a powered liftgate. Of note, a handy sub-floor storage compartment allows a place to store greasy towels and gloves, or anything else you wouldn't want to soil the carpeted load floor with.

A lot of SUV for great value 

Roominess is a Forester trait, the compact SUV quite tall and therefore accommodating for larger occupants. It's spacious in back too. I had approximately eight inches ahead of my knees when the driver's seat was set to my five-foot-eight medium-build body, plus another four inches above my head, while my shoulders and hips never felt cramped. I don't think it would be a problem to get three adults side-by-side across the rear bench, although with the centre armrest lowered it's more comfortable with just two.

I can't tell you how many people I've recommended the Forester to over the years, for many of the reasons noted above, as well as Subaru's superb reputation for reliability and ultra-strong resale values. Such is why the brand enjoys unparalleled customer loyalty, most owners never leaving for something flashier or more feature filled, even those whose financial wellbeing would allow them to step up to a costlier brand. Fortunately, the new Forester offers most of the features premium buyers want for a price that's much more grounded in reality.