Right now, Southern California is in the midst of the wettest winter season that’s been seen in decades. While it offers a much needed respite from a record-setting drought that lasted roughly half a decade, the conditions are less than ideal for reviewing most new cars, as SoCal freeways typically grind to a halt when it rains and the safe pace required in such weather usually provides very little information about how a vehicle really behaves at speed under typical use.
Subaru’s efforts to quiet down the cabin have paid off as well.
But it’s under these compromised conditions that this Forester (and essentially all of Subaru’s vehicles) are truly in their element. And while this compact SUV has humbler origins than the rally-bred WRX sedan, it benefits from the development of the company’s most sport-oriented model in a number of ways, a strategy that’s been expanded upon even further for the Forester 2.0XT’s refresh for 2017.
Still, as crossovers and SUVs continue to supplant sedans as the dominant vehicle on America’s roadways, the Forester faces some worthy competition from both Japanese and American automakers. We grabbed the keys to this turbocharged, CVT-equipped example and braved the (slightly damp) elements to see how the newly revised Forester currently stacks up.
Refining the formula
While the 2017 Subaru Forester 2.0XT is powered by the same turbocharged, 250 horsepower four cylinder mill as the last one we drove a few years ago (which we continue to be fans of today), Subaru has sought to keep the Forester fresh with a host of tweaks inside and out that improve on the recipe rather than reinventing it.
While much of it is typical fare for a mid-cycle refresh – updated looks by way of a revised front and rear fascias, new interior trim options and different wheel designs – this top-spec 2.0XT Touring has a few technological tricks up its sleeve that help set the Forester apart from other entries in its competitive set.
Active torque vectoring isn’t a feature one might typically associate with compact SUVs, but this handling-enhancing tech now finds its way into the 2.0XT. Derived from the WRX and WRX STI models, Subaru’s torque vectoring system is designed to reduce understeer during hard cornering by strategically applying the brakes to the inside wheels to help the vehicle tuck into the curve.
The technology is bundled in with the latest version of the optional EyeSight driver assistance package, Subaru’s active safety suite, which includes adaptive cruise control, blind spot detection, lane keep assist, and pre-collision braking features.
On the road
Sitting at the helm of the Forester, a few interior updates reveal themselves as well. Along with the new availability of the Saddle Brown leather package equipped here in this Touring model, the Forester sports a new steering wheel that features last year’s rethought control scheme, a revision which makes button layout far less daunting than the previous design.
Although the optional 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system is also essentially a carry-over from 2016, it’s a welcome improvement over the system in the last Forester we tested. That only elevates Subaru’s infotainment offering from near-dismal to adequate though, as the optional Starlink system still lacks features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. However, the system earns back a few points for its straight-forward menu layout and responsive hardware.
Upon setting off we’re reminded of the virtues of Subaru’s turbocharged 2.0-liter four cylinder power plant. Plucked from the WRX, the gutsy mill manages to work around much of the shortcomings of Subaru’s CVT automatic gearbox, and steering wheel-mounted shift paddles provide legitimate function for quick overtakes without the need to wait for the CVT’s software to figure out what to do. Few people buy compact SUVs for their performance prowess, but combination of ample power and a fairly buttoned-down suspension tuning may surprise a few would-be owners. However, that sportiness comes not only at the added cost of the 2.0XT trim but in its additional thirst at the pump.
In terms of road noise, Subaru’s efforts to quiet down the cabin with thicker glass, and acoustically treated windshield, and additional insulation have paid off as well, and the latest Forester feels more premium overall feel at speed for it.
The aesthetic seems to fit well with the honest, low-pretense theme of the Forester.
Even in less than optimal conditions weather the Forester remains eminently planted on the road and surprisingly responsive for a high-riding sport utility. The combination of all-wheel drive and its spirited power plant gives the Forester 2.0XT a level of confidence and capability in both wet and dry conditions that vehicles like the Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5 simply cannot match, while X-Mode (standard on CVT-equipped Premium, Limited, and Touring models) provides both off-road tuned stability control and hill descent control, giving the Forester a leg up where the pavement ends as well.
Despite the updates for 2017, the Forester still largely plays it safe on when it comes to aesthetics both inside and out in comparison to some of its more extroverted competitors like the Toyota RAV4. Whether that’s a strength or weakness is largely in the eye of the beholder, but the aesthetic seems to fit well with the honest, low-pretense theme of the Forester overall.Our Take
Essentially all of Subaru’s tweaks to the Forester 2.0XT Touring for 2017 improve upon an already solid formula. The problem Subaru faces here is that in this crowded segment, anonymous styling isn’t necessarily a selling point. Additionally, many of the Forester’s greatest virtues (like the turbocharged motor) command price tags that take this SUV out of bargain territory. Still, the 2.0XT Touring has it where it counts when it comes to capability, road-holding confidence and cargo capacity, the latter of which has much to do with Subaru’s resistance to recent industry trends toward coupe-like rooflines for smaller SUVs.
What are the alternatives?
The Foresters list of competitors is fairly extensive and includes the aforementioned Ford Escape, Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5, along with the Hyundai Tucson, Dodge Journey, Chevrolet Equinox, and Jeep Cherokee, among others.
How long will it last?
Given Subaru’s expected generational life cycle for the Forester, this model probably still has some life left in it before a successor steps in, especially when considering that this year marks a refresh for the model.
The DT Accessory Pack
However, in March of last year the company unveiled some details about its next generation modular architecture, the Subaru Global Platform, which debuted underpinning the fifth generation Impreza earlier this year.
This new platform is able to accommodate hybrid, plug-in hybrid and all-electric systems in additional to traditional gasoline drivetrains and is said to make future Subaru models safer, more fun drive due to additional rigidity and a lower center of gravity, and less costly to produce. But the company hasn’t yet mentioned when the Forester might move to this new platform, so this model isn’t likely to undergo any major changes in the immediate future.
Should you buy it?
That depends where your priorities lie. On one hand the Forester 2.0XT Touring is somewhat thirsty and this top-spec package starts at $34,295 before adding options packages like EyeSight and the Starlink navigation system, which are bundled together and ring up an additional $1595. While opting for a lower trim level can drop the price tag significantly, the naturally aspirated 2.5-liter motor reveals shortcomings in the drive train that are remedied to a large degree by the mill used here in the 2.0XT.
On the other hand, if you live in an area where all-wheel drive stability is important and the added grunt of the turbocharged motor is appealing to you, the 2017 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Touring is a solid option that offers a lot of capability in comparison to most of its competitive set.