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2016 Subaru Forester 2.5i Limited review by Carey Russ +VIDEO

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
Subaru Forester 2.5i Limited

You can count on the Forester to be comfortable, capable, and useful


            • SEE ALSO: Subaru Research and Buyers Guide

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
Subaru Forester 2.5i Limited

When you think of Subaru, what comes to mind? Outback? WRX? Maybe BRZ? They're all well-known, but the best-selling Subaru in the U.S. is the Forester.

Which shouldn't really be a surprise. The Forester has been pleasing people who liked Subaru's all-wheel drive, all-weather abilities in an SUV-look package without SUV thirst or bulk since its introduction in 1998. Now in its fourth generation, the Forester has gotten larger over the years, for more interior space, but is still reasonably-sized outside, for easy maneuverability and parking in town. With 8.7 inches of ground clearance and all-wheel drive, it is also just as at home on dirt or gravel forest roads. Some of which are in better shape than many a city street…

Changes since the current version debuted for 2014 have mainly been to electronic safety and infotainment systems. The Starlink™ safety, security, and multimedia systems have been upgraded and the EyeSight® driver assistance technology system adds Lane Keep Assist and steering-responsive foglamps to its adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, and lane-departure warning systems.

As before, 2016 Forester models are 2.5i, with a namesake 2.5-liter, 170-horsepower four-cylinder engine and 2.0XT, with 250-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged, intercooled, and direct-injected four. The 2.5i comes in basic, Premium, Limited, and Touring trim levels, with the 2.0XT offered in Premium and Touring trims. Engines are, of course since this is Subaru, horizontally-opposed for a low center of gravity and excellent road manners. A six-speed manual transmission is standard in the lower levels of the 2.5i, with a CVT optional. A CVT is the only choice at Limited and above, and with the turbo.

The "base model" 2.5i has all of the necessities and then some, including the Starlink system, a rear-view camera, trip computer, remote keyless entry, and locking glovebox. Premium adds a power driver's seat, alloy wheels, an upgraded Starlink system, panoramic moonroof, and more, with options including the EyeSight system and navigation. Limited means CVT only, with adaptive cruise control, the X-Mode off-road and slippery-road electronic assistance system, automatic climate control, a power tailgate, welcome lighting, and more. And more option possibilities, including EyeSight and a further upgraded Starlink and audio systems. Touring builds on that.

I've spent the past week with a 2.5i Limited with the navigation, Harman/Kardon audio, and EyeSight systems. Winter where I live doesn't usually involve snow, but it can mean plenty of rain and debris on the roads. Which are shining examples of deferred maintenance. No problem in the Forester. Subaru perfected its all-wheel drive systems long ago, for traction when needed and sure grip no matter what condition the road surface is in. That 8.7 inches of clearance adds peace of mind when there is debris or when road repairs wash away. And as always if you want a car that's as capable in reasonable dirt for outdoors purposes, a Subaru is a good choice -- without truck thirst. Too many CVTs react slowly to the driver's demand for acceleration. Not this one! It benefits both acceleration and fuel economy, and provides smooth power with no waiting. The latest Forester is just like its forebears, only better.

APPEARANCE: As has been the way with changes to Forester styling over the years, external changes are evolutionary for continuity, but with more visual interest added to the details. If the overall shape is familiar, all the better for identification. The wide, chrome-trimmed hexagonal grille (as seen on other recent Subarus), "hawkeye" headlights, and sculpted hood give it more presence at the front. A strong shoulder line and moderately-flared wheel arches define the sides. The tailgate styling reprises the hood, and huge taillights at the rear quarters ensure that the Forester is visible at night. Yes, there is black plastic cladding around the lower perimeter, but interestingly it does not extend to the wheel arches. Ground clearance is an SUVish 8.7 inches but the plastic panels underneath are less skid plates than a near-complete aerodynamic undertray.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
Subaru Forester 2.5i Limited

COMFORT: Good clearance, yet no difficulty getting in or out? Must be a Subaru. Ladder not necessary. Form follows function, but that's not to the detriment of form. The design strikes a good balance between intuitive simplicity and visual interest. Soft-touch materials are used for the upper parts of the instrument panel and doors, with silvery plastic trim. separating that from the lower sections and a light-colored synthetic cloth headliner. The tachometer and speedometer are backlit for good visibility, with odometer and fuel gauge between. Further information is displayed at the top of the center stack. The Starlink touchscreen in the stack is larger than previously, for easier use and a better view from the rearview camera. Well-marked hard buttons surrounding the screen control navigation, audio, and Starlink app functions. Audio here is AM, FM, and Sirius/XM radio, CD, USB and jack, and Bluetooth-streaming including Pandora and Aha. SXM weather, sports, and stock info is also available. The Limited seats are trimmed in leather, front buckets heatable, with a good high-eyepoint seating position. The driver's is power-adjustable; the passenger's manual. Climate controls are simple rotary knobs at the bottom of the stack. Interior storage is good, with a locking glovebox, deep console box with armrest, and pockets with bottle holders in all four doors. The rear bench seat cushion is only mildly contoured and the central tunnel is low, so the rear center position is more useful than in many other similarly-sized cars. Outboard positions have excellent leg, head, and hip room. The view through the standard extra-large sunroof is best from the rear seat. The rear seatback is split 60/40, and each side can be reclined a bit. There is plenty of space behind the seats, with small compartments in the foam plastic insert between the load floor and space-saver spare tire.

SAFETY: Safety has long been a Subaru priority. A unibody structure based on the "Ring-Shaped Reinforcement Frame" architecture ensures crashworthiness, which is enhanced by a full complement of airbags, four-wheel antilock disc brakes with Brake Assist and Electronic Brake-force Distribution, and all-wheel drive traction. Anti-whiplash front seats, a driver's knee airbag, Brake Override to cut engine power if both the throttle and brake are applied simultaneously beyond a certain threshold, and an impact sensor that cuts fuel to the engine during an airbag deployment are more recent innovations. The EyeSight system combines adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, and lane departure warning systems and is based on a stereo camera system, not radar.

RIDE AND HANDLING: The Forester has always had a reputation for nimble handling and good ride comfort. Subaru wasn't going to mess up a good thing, so there were only detail changes to the fully-independent MacPherson strut front, double-wishbone rear suspension when the current generation appeared. In 2.5i models, it's tuned moderately, with an emphasis on ride comfort. Want more sport? That would be the XT, or a WRX. Steering assist has changed from hydraulic to electric. Some electric-assist systems are numb to the point of feeling like video game controllers. Not this one -- steering feel is no different than it used to be, and effort is appropriate. Good soundproofing and attention to aerodynamic details keeps the cabin quiet, and the Forester tracks well in strong winds.

PERFORMANCE: All is familiar here, too. There have been no changes to the four-cylinder, 2.5-liter boxer engine for a while, and no complaints there. With 170 horsepower (at 5800 rpm) and 174 lb-ft of torque (at 4100 rpm) and the Subaru Active Valve Control System to control valve timing for improved efficiency and decreased emissions, it's proven technology. The biggest change with the newest Forester was from a conventional torque converter automatic to a continuously-variable transmission (CVT). No discrete gears, so no shifting, and the electronic controls try to keep the engine at its most efficient speed as much as possible. The result is very good low-speed acceleration, all the better to deal with traffic, and very good fuel economy, especially on the highway. I got low twenties around town and high twenties on the highway for 26 mpg overall. Being a Subaru, all four wheels transmit power to the ground all the time. The Active All-Wheel Drive System uses an electronically-controlled transfer clutch to apportion the front-rear split, not the brakes via the stability control system as some other AWD system do. X-Mode provides optimized control on slippery surfaces at low speeds, good for visits to the ski slopes in the winter or your favorite camping spot in the summer. Or your driveway on a bad day.

CONCLUSIONS: As ever, the Subaru Forester is comfortable, capable, and useful.


2016 Subaru Forester 2.5i Limited

Base Price $ 28,795

Price As Tested $ 31,790

Engine Type horizontally-opposed aluminum alloy DOHC 4-cylinder with variable cam phasing

Engine Size 2.5 liters / 152.4 cu. in.

Horsepower 170 @ 5800 rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 174 @ 4100 rpm

Transmission CVT

Wheelbase / Length 103.9 in. / 180.9 in.

Curb Weight 3419 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 20.1

Fuel Capacity 15.9 gal.

Fuel Requirement 87 octane regular unleaded gasoline

Tires P225/60 R17 98H Yokohama Geolander m+s

Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, EBD, BA, VDC standard

Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent double wishbone

Ground Clearance 8.7 inches

Drivetrain inline front engine, full-time all-wheel drive


EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 24 / 32 / 26

0 to 60 mph 8.6 sec

Towing Capacity 1500 lbs.


Navigation plus harman/kardon audio plus EyeSight® $ 2,145

Destination and delivery $ 850

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