2015 Subaru Forester XT review

The 2015 Forester XT manages to add turbocharged fun, great tech, and styling menace without losing the practical street cred that got it here.
The 2015 Forester XT manages to add turbocharged fun, great tech, and styling menace without losing the practical street cred that got it here.
The 2015 Forester XT manages to add turbocharged fun, great tech, and styling menace without losing the practical street cred that got it here.

Highs

  • Gutsy turbocharged four-cylinder engine
  • Aggressive new wheels and styling details
  • Fun and useful tech features
  • Interior size and layout

Lows

  • Frustrating infotainment system
  • Lower than expected gas mileage

DT Editors' Rating

Several days into my week with the Forester, I was still struggling with what I was going to say about it. That is when fate intervened.

I had just finished dinner and was sitting down to contemplate my stance on the Subaru when the phone rang. When I answered, my ear was bombarded with the wails of my friend’s seizing cat.

“Baxter is having a seizure!” my friend screamed into the phone. “Can you give us a ride to the vet?”

I leapt into action. After all, this was not just a chance to be a good friend, but also to put the Forester through the sort of challenge that your average Subaru driver might face: a cat rescue.

Turbocharged

For $34,000, the Forester XT comes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged BOXER four-cylinder that produces 250 horsepower
Find your next car, truck or SUV on Edmunds.com
and 258 pound-feet of torque … and that intoxicating turbo whoosh.

Up to this point I had been puzzled why someone would buy the sporty, turbocharged Forester XT over its naturally aspirated brother, the Forester 2.5i. Suddenly, though, I got it.

Given the stress and urgency of the situation, I popped the Forester XT into “ST” mode, which tightens the suspension and fights transmission lag.

As long as you respect the fact that you are in a small – if tall – SUV, the Forester XT is a blast to drive.

While the transmission is less laggy in ST, it also means that you really need to do all the shifting yourself via the steering wheel-mounted paddles. If you don’t, the transmission will keep the engine above 4500 rpm, which is a bit extreme … even for an emergency vet trip.

After pulling up in front of my friend’s apartment, another reason to buy the Forester became apparent: It can fit a white-knuckled driver, two distraught pet owners, and a cat carrier with ease.

What’s more, the ride and handling is good enough that you can drive briskly on rain slick roads without A.) Killing anyone or B.) Eliciting complaints from passengers … or vomit from a sick cat.

The steering is precise and there is a lot of traction. Just don’t act like you are in a WRX; it will get jerky if handled roughly. And remember kids: cat carriers don’t come with airbags.

In fact, as long as you respect the fact that you are in a small – if tall – SUV, the Forester XT is a blast to drive.

Styling

While cooling my heels in the pet hospital’s waiting room, I glanced out into parking lot filled – appropriately enough – with Subarus and Volvos. As my heart pumped the residual adrenaline through my veins, I pondered the XT’s other virtues.

The Forester XT also has the looks to match the sporty driving dynamics. For 2015, Subaru added a bit of menace to the look of the family-friendly SUV. The front end has some decidedly rally-car touches; the grille is one of the most aggressive I have seen on a Subaru and the chin scoops look like they belong on the STI.

Before the wild ride, I thought that these touches were an unnecessary pretension. Afterwards, though, I realized that the Forester earned its sporty bits.

My favorite touch, though, is the wheels, which not just complement the look of the car, but are awesome in and of themselves. Whenever I walked out to the car, I always got a kick out of seeing those wheels. Sadly, basically all of these distinguishing details are only available on the high-end Forester XT.

My only real complaint about the more basic Forester’s styling is the somewhat high profile, which makes the it seem a bit narrow and top heavy. But even that makes the Subaru stand out among its more squat competitors.

Interior

As for the interior, it’s something of a mixed bag. The leather seats and trim on the XT look great. I would be happy to have them in a car that costs nearly twice as much.

That said, some of the trim feels a bit cheap and runs at odd angles, which makes it seem like it doesn’t quite fit. For instance, the tops of the door panels run contrary to the angle of the window, which just seems weird.

The Forester XT offers plenty of tech toys – I especially like the active cruise control.

Even so, the basic design is excellent.

Take the dual, dash-mounted LCD screens for example, which I like very much. The lower screen displays the infotainment, while the smaller one just above it displays vehicle data.

Visibility from the Forester XT is excellent, too, making parking and tight maneuvering easy. Throw in the massive moonroof and the high driving position, and the Subaru Forester is just a nice place to be.

Usability

People buy cars like the Forester not so much to drive them, but to use them, and Subaru has carried that part of the equation off well.

The Forester does a lot of things well.

The Forester XT offers plenty of tech toys – I especially like the active cruise control. And, despite being reasonably sized, there is plenty of room for four adult humans; something that plenty of small SUVs can’t actually boast. Even with the seats up, you can get $300-plus worth of Costco groceries in the back.

2015 Subaur Forester XT cockpit

Throw in fact that that the Forester XT comes standard with Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel drive, and you have an awfully practical set up.

It’s not all sunshine and roses, though.

As Digital Trends has written of other Subarus, the infotainment system isn’t great. The screen resolution is poor and the interface is clunky and slow. On the upside, it isn’t willfully complex like a lot of systems, so at least you never feel lost using it.

The Forester XT is rated to a combined 25 mpg – 23 city and 28 highway. I managed just 18 mph in my time with it. I have no doubt that the car could do better on different roads and with more economically minded driving – e.g. fewer emergency trips to the vet. I feel it is worth noting that it won’t get 25 everywhere.

Conclusion

If you’re wondering, Baxter the cat made it.

As for the Forester XT, even if you don’t need pet ambulance-like turbo power, the Forester has a lot to offer. The non-turbocharged, Forester 2.5i model may not have the same luxuries as the XT, but it is a lot cheaper … $6,000 cheaper. Still, though, it has all of the basic things that make the Forester worthwhile.

If you do anticipate the need to get places quickly, then the XT model may well be worth the extra money for you. It is refreshingly pleasant to drive, which is a nice quality in this vehicle segment. And, despite the STI-ish touches, it still qualifies as something of a sleeper.

Highs

  • Gutsy turbocharged four-cylinder engine
  • Aggressive new wheels and styling details
  • Fun and useful tech features
  • Interior size and layout

Lows

  • Frustrating infotainment system
  • Lower than expected gas mileage
Product Review

BMW’s smallest M car is its biggest performance statement

The BMW M2 Competition is frighteningly quick in a straight line, and its short wheelbase lends itself to some hilarious power slides, but it’s the curvy roads and tight tracks where this coupe comes alive.
Cars

The best minivans you can buy aren’t just for soccer moms

It may be hard for some buyers to accept, but the best minivans are incredibly versatile vehicles. They were developed specifically to haul people, and the best ones on the market don't feel like a penalty box. Check our list and see for…
Cars

The best hybrid cars save on fuel without sacrificing fun

The best hybrid cars are fuel-efficient and all the rage, but which one should you buy? We’ve broken through the noise to let you know the best hybrid, and a few interesting alternatives from different categories.
Cars

From rugged wagons to hot sports cars, the 2019 NY Auto Show brought it all

From city cars to supercars, anything goes at the New York Auto Show. Automakers from all over the globe traveled to the 2019 show to unveil their newest concept cars and production models.
Cars

The best diagnostic adapters monitor your car so you don't have to

Sometimes called dongles, the best car adapters will tell you what's wrong under the hood while help you keep tabs on your family and routine maintenance.
Emerging Tech

Japanese taxis will use facial recognition to target you with ads as you ride

A Japanese startup is trying to reinvent in-taxi advertising by using facial recognition technology to identify the key characteristics of riders and then presenting them with appropriate ads.
Cars

Nvidia agrees with Tesla’s take on self-driving cars, but corrects specifics

Nvidia vice president Rob Csongor agreed with broad statements by Elon Musk at Tesla's April 22 Autonomy Investor Day. Csongor then took exception to what he termed were inaccuracies about Nvidia's self-driving car chip.
Cars

Stop backing into your neighbor's car with the best backup cameras

The right backup camera will allow you to better avoid vehicles and other obstacles without taking your eyes off the road, rendering "sorry, I hit your car!" notes a thing of the past. Here are our current favorites.
Mobile

Waze vs. Google Maps: Which map app should you be using?

Waze and Google Maps are two of the most popular apps for those looking for turn-by-turn navigation, yet there are some notable differences to point out. Here, we examine both to decide which offers the best feature set.
Business

Tesla posts $702M Q1 loss as deliveries fall sharply; Musk promises turnaround

Tesla lost $702 million during the first quarter of 2019 as deliveries fell sharply, and demand for the Model X and the Model S flattened. The company predicts it will again lose money in the second quarter.
Cars

Ambitious but not rubbish: The best Top Gear episodes

Since its relaunch in 2002, Top Gear has become required viewing for any serious gearhead. The great moments from this show may seem too numerous to count, but we've managed to pick some of the highlights from the first 26 seasons.
Cars

Qiantu K50 electric sports car was designed in China, will be built in the U.S.

The Qiantu K50 is a Chinese electric sports car that will be marketed in the United States by California-based Mullen Technologies. The carbon-fiber bodied, 402-horsepower K50 is expected to go on sale in 2020.
Cars

Volkswagen prepares its electric ID R race car for its toughest challenge yet

The Volkswagen ID R electric race car will head to the Nürburgring to set a lap record. With Romain Dumas at the wheel, the ID R will try to become the fastest electric car around the grueling, 12.9-mile long track.
Cars

We found the best trucks for everyone (including truck haters)

Pickup trucks have evolved to meet the demands of a shifting marketplace. They now have to compete with cars and crossovers, as well as other trucks. Here are the best trucks currently on the market.