Introduced to our market in 1997, the Subaru Forester was among the first wave of car-based Japanese crossovers along with the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. Originally built on the Impreza platform, the first generation Forester was marketed as a more rugged alternative to the existing all-wheel drive wagons Subaru was selling at the time, notably the Legacy and Impreza Outback. Fast forward to today and the classic Forester recipe remains the same. It’s still running on Impreza hardware and it still has never compromised to look all swoopy like other crossovers. It’s a tall, short, square wagon with the ride height of an SUV.
Like many crossovers, the 2017 Subaru Forester offers a roomy cabin and good fuel economy. But it’s also an adventurer, with a powerful optional turbocharged engine, all-wheel drive, and plenty of ground clearance for off-road excursions. A 170-hp 2.5-liter flat-four is standard, with a six-speed manual or continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT); XT models get a zippier 250-hp 2.0-liter turbo flat-four and a CVT. A 6.2-inch or optional 7.0-inch touchscreen gives phone and audio connectivity; Subaru’s optional EyeSight system includes automated emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane-departure warning.
Inside, the controls are simple, logical, and easy to use; it’s a vehicle you can drive for the first time without having to study an owner’s manual. Interior materials include a mix of matte and soft-touch surfaces accented with matte-finish metallic trim, and they have been improved in recent years. One of the main complaints about the Forester, along with many Subarus, has been interior noise. For 2017, Subaru addresses that issue by adding even more soundproofing, thicker door glass, restructured door seals, underfloor insulation, and an acoustic windshield. We haven’t driven it yet, but these measures will certainly reduce wind, engine, and road noise, though we can’t say how it will compare to the competition.
As a repeat IIHS Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick+ award winner, the Subaru Forester is one of the safest crossovers on the market. Available active-safety features are highlighted by Subaru’s excellent EyeSight camera system, which spots road hazards ahead and brakes to avoid an accident or reduce its impact. This system gets color cameras this year and they provide a longer, wider field of vision. Also newly available are automatic high-beam assist, steering-linked headlights that point into turns, and reverse automatic braking.
The Subaru Forester may not feature the most attractive exterior designs, practicality comes first, so the Forester won’t have you doing double-takes, but compared to the top contenders in the crossover segment, the 2017 Subaru Forester offers plenty of interior space for passengers and cargo, great visibility, safety features Despite its shortcomings in the looks department, the Forester is one of the best small SUVs, the Forester is a good value, with remarkable interior volume, thrifty fuel economy, and top safety scores.
The Forester is a fine vehicle, but there are other cars in the class worth considering. The Honda CR-V is a perennial contender for best in class and has one of the most comfortable interiors in the segment. The Mazda CX-5 and Ford Escape are both more fun to drive than the Forester. All three of these vehicles also have better predicted reliability ratings and only cost about $1,000-$1,300 more than the Forester. If you’re dead-set on a Subaru but not sold on the Forester, the Outback has many of the same strengths, plus a few advantages for about $3,000 more.