2017 Subaru Forester 2.5i Premium
New styling and additional improvements make great SUV even betterI’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.
Of note, 2017 marks a mid-cycle refresh for Subaru’s second bestselling model. Yes, it dropped a notch after the Outback surged forward with 30,000 new buyers last year, narrowly edging out the Forester with 182,898 sales to 178,593. No doubt Subaru won’t mind the Forester getting beaten by one of its own, especially a pricier more profitable model, while the compact entry was hardly a slouch, moving its sales up more than 3,400 units since 2015, and that was just a year after making gains of more than 15,000 over 2014.
It’s difficult to say whether the Forester will be able to retake its lead during 2017 despite its makeover. You see, it’s the mildest redesign in its class, the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, Nissan Rogue, Mazda CX-5, and Kia Sportage also going under the knife for 2017; the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it (much)” mantra seeming particularly appropriate.
Seriously, only 2.5i trims are noticeably affected and then it’s mostly about the lower fascia that gets wider, deeper, and more complex with a body-color center and larger black corner vent-like cutouts housing chromed appliques on my Premium 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 part of both the Premium and Limited upgrades, whereas the only changes made to the rear are mostly red taillight lenses, a similar set of C-shaped LEDs giving them a squared off shape when seen from directly behind. I like what they’ve done, but Subaru’s plastic surgeons certainly applied the scalpel with restraint.
If you move up a trim level to 2.5i Limited, leather upholstery, heatable front seats, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and a powered liftgate get added, while 2.5i Touring trim adds full LED headlamps with steering responsive active cornering, 18-inch alloys, a heatable steering wheel, dual-zone auto HVAC, an eight-way powered driver’s seat with memory, one-touch folding rear seatbacks, and more, but believe me I didn’t feel shortchanged one iota to be in this Premium. 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 and alloys.
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 center 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 Premium model benefiting further with body-color mirror caps, roof rails, a rear rooftop spoiler, an auto climate control interface with upscale knurled metallic dials, a large high-resolution color touchscreen with Subaru’s updated Starlink interface, Starlink Safety and Security connected services, two more speakers for the stereo for a total of six, illuminated visor mirrors (on wonderfully large sunvisors), a 10-way powered driver’s seat, auto up/down front windows, a folding rear center armrest with integrated cupholders, a near panoramic sized powered sunroof overhead, as well as items not initially noticed such as reclining rear seats.
The 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 $22,595 base model, which include auto on/off halogen headlamps, power-adjustable side mirrors, variable intermittent wipers, a new tilt and telescopic multifunction steering wheel design, cruise control, a sliding front armrest, retractable cargo cover, and a protective cargo tray, a rearview camera, 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, 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.
My tester also included a $2,145 package that added blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and Subaru’s third-generation of EyeSight active safety features which 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, while that package also included the a windshield wiper de-icer, heated side mirrors and two-way heatable front seats, as well as steering responsive fog lamps, an electroluminescent gauge cluster centered by a color TFT multi-function display, and a powered liftgate, while the last upgrade with $500 for the Lineartronic CVT.
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. Truly, X-Mode turns a seemingly docile crossover utility into a very handy 4×4. It’s not quite capable of keeping up with a Jeep Wrangler on a Class 4 trail, 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-liter 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 Premium models. Along with strong performance the base powertrain delivers good fuel economy when compared to its AWD-equipped compact challengers, my tester rated at 26 mpg in the city, 32 on the highway and 28 combined, whereas manual-equipped models are rated at an estimated 23 city, 30 highway and 26 combined. Of note, all Forester 2.5i models receive PZEV emissions certification.
If fuel economy isn’t quite as high on your agenda as performance, Subaru offers much more exciting direct-injected and turbocharged 2.0XT Premium and Touring models at $29,295 and $34,295 apiece, with 250 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, and you won’t give up much at the pump with a 27 mpg city, 23 highway and 25 combined 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 Premium model’s Yokohama 225/60R17 Geolandar all-seasons, the little SUV feeling as nimble through the curves as its fully independent suspension with front and rear stabilizer bars 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 1,500 lbs when equipped with their own brakes, or 1,000 lbs without, but the Forester’s cargo hold should be ample enough to limit the need to tow. Models without the powered liftgate get 34.4 cubic feet behind their standard 60/40-split rear seatbacks and 74.7 cubic feet when folded flat, whereas my upgraded tester made do with 31.5 and 68.5 cubic feet 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.
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 being a compact SUV and therefore inherently narrower than a mid-size, it would be 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 well being 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.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press