2018 Subaru Forester: Performance, intuitive cabin and top safety marks in a compact SUV

By Mike Blake Carlisle Events
Thursday, February 8, 2018

Five years into its fourth generation, and a year removed from a solid style refreshening, the Subaru Forester remains a sports utility ride for the granola-and-fresh water brigade. It gained a following among those who genuinely love the “forest” portion of the name, despite the fact that very few Forester owners really take their vehicles off road or deep into the woods.

Beginning with its first incarnation in 1997, the Forester replaced the Impreza Gravel Express in Japan, which was marketed in the U.S. as the Subaru Outback Sport. Perhaps a crossover from the beginning, even before the term existed, Subaru gave its early version the slogan: “SUV tough, car easy.” This fourth-gen model is marketed as a crossover, employing the versatility of a minivan, car and small sports-ute in its abilities.

Last year, Forester upgraded its architecture, styling, interior niceties and safety – resulting in a Top Safety Pick+ rating by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The 2018 Forester is a top IIHS pick again and has earned the National Highway Traffic Safety Association’s (NHTSA’s) highest overall safety rating of five stars.

After the 2017 augmentations, the 2018 Subaru Forester adds only minor upgrades including a new Black Edition that combines distinctive style with substantial equipment upgrades -- and a black-out finish on wheels, body trim and grille and extends into the cabin with black cloth upholstery and black gloss dashboard trim; Active Torque Vectoring now standard on the 2.0XT Touring trim; Touring models now feature EyeSight Driver Assist Technology as standard and EyeSight-equipped models gain High Beam Assist and Reverse Auto Braking.

With unitized body construction, ring-shaped frame reinforcement safety structure, Forester presents a raked windshield, character lines in the hood, chiseled front end, projector headlights and LED taillights. Considered within the industry as a compact crossover SUV, the Forester’s 103.9-inch wheelbase supports its 181.5-inch length, 70.7-inch width and 66.4-inch height with ground clearance of 8.7 inches. Curbweight for the 2.5-liter engine models is about 3400 lbs., with the 2.0-liter turbo models weighing in at about 3700 lbs.

Inside, the Forester cabin is intuitive, with controls, alerts and items that are easy to use and read, and placed where you’d expect them to be without consulting the manual. My test drive in 2.5i Premium trim was outfitted with 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat, reclining rear seatback, cloth upholstery, automatic climate control, STARLINK™ 7-inch Multimedia Plus audio/communication system, six speakers, analog gauges with LCD display and color multi-function display.

The cabin is roomy with good sightlines, and offers 41.4 inches of front headroom with 39.8 inches in the rear seats. Legroom is 43.0 inches on row one and 38.0 inches in row two, with shoulder room of 57.0 and 56.5.

Available with two engine choices, Forester comes with either a 2.0-liter turbo or a 2.5-liter engine. The 2.0 turbo puts out 250hp and 258 lbs.-ft. of torque, and the 2.5 delivers 170 horses and 174 lbs.-ft. Fuel economy is rated at 26mpg/city, 32mp/highway and 28mpg combined for the 2.5i with an automatic transmission, and the 2.0 turbo is rated at 23/city, 27/highway and 25/combined for automatic. My test 2.5i Premium Forester averaged 28.1mpg in mixed-use driving over snow-covered streets and less-than-perfect interstates.

While turbo tests have come in at a swift 6.8 seconds for a zero-to-60mph dash and a 15.3-second quarter-mile, my test Forester in 2.5-liter configuration was not as quick, but was slow and steady, with the sprint finished in 8.7 seconds, en route to a 16.8-seond quarter-mile. Acceleration was predictable and powerful enough to pass at speed, and the handling was more carlike than trucklike.

The suspension was a bit stiff – good for drivers, but less-so for passengers, with a 4-wheel independent setup -- MacPherson-type struts, lower L-arms, coil springs and stabilizer bar up front and a double wishbone rear with pillow ball joint mount, coil springs and stabilizer bar.

The 2018 Subaru Forester is available in six trim options -- four for the 2.5i and two for the 2.0XT. The 2.5i bases at $22,795; the 2.5i Premium starts at $25,695; the 2.5i Limited begins at $29,395 and the 2.5i Touring starts at $33,090. All 2.5i models base with manual transmissions and the 2.0XTs are automatic. The 2.0XT Premium bases at $29,495 and the 2.0XT Touring starts at $36,090.

My test drive was the economical 2.5i Premium, with a Panoramic Sunroof and AWD. The automatic transmission added the Lineartronic Continuously Variable (automatic) transmission for $500. My test drive added an All-Weather Package with windshield wiper de-icer, heated side mirrors and heated front seats for $500; the Eye Sight Driver Assist Technology Package added blind spot detection, rear cross traffic alert, fog lights, adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, lane departure and sway warning and lane keep assist for an additional $1195 (packaged with the all-weather package for a total of $1695); an auto-dimming mirror was $344; rear cargo tray was $79.99; body side molding was $267; door edge guards were $155; remote engine starter added $455; rear bumper cover was $98; rear seatback protector was $93 and destination and handling added $915, for a sticker-as-tested of $30,296.

> Visit www.CarlisleEvents.com for more on the automotive hobby.

Mike Blake, former editor of KIT CAR magazine, joined Carlisle Events as senior automotive journalist in 2004. He's been a "car guy" since the 1960s and has been writing professionally for about 30 years.

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