Subaru Forester Buying Guide: Dealmakers & Dealbreakers

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The Subaru Forester has a tall profile, allowing for great visibility and among the most cargo space in the segment. (Source: Subaru)

Few compact SUVs deliver the practicality of the Subaru Forester. The no-nonsense layout provides an unrivaled base of versatility. With standard all-wheel drive, the Forester delivers confident handling in all types of conditions. Its upright profile allows for plenty of cargo room, as well as superior headroom and great visibility. If you are looking for a veritable Swiss Army Knife in the compact SUV segment, the Subaru Forester might be your best bet.

2017 Subaru Forester Fast Facts

Pricing: $22,595-$34,295
Seating: 5-passenger standard


• Low starting price
• Spacious cabin w/ lots of headroom
• Large, upright cargo area
• Standard all-wheel drive
• Outstanding EyeSight safety technology
• Easy-to-use infotainment
• Great visibility
• IIHS Top Safety Pick+
• One of the few crossovers w/ optional manual transmission


• Pedestrian fit-and-finish
• Stiff ride
• Uninspired handling
• NHTSA scores actually lower
• Infotainment Still Needs Improvement
• High-priced
• Consumes lots of oil (compared to competition)
• Noisy cabin

Dealmakers: Subaru Forester’s Top Lifestyle Features

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The Forester can be the ultimate weekend lifestyle vehicle. (Source: Subaru)

The Forester oozes with frugal practicality, but that doesn’t mean it’s the Franciscan Monk of the crossover market. IT is available with great infotainment and high-tech safety features, but at its core is a ton of space for the money– for both passengers and their cargo.

Dealmaker: Spacious Cabin with Lots of Headroom

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The upright cabin makes the Forester feel larger than its compact footprint.(Source: Subaru)

Take one look at the Forester, and you can get an idea of why this compact SUV has such great headroom. This is one of the most upright layouts in the segment. Where many options among compact SUVs go for a “streamlined” design, it is done at the expense of headroom. Not so with the Forester, which has a more traditional profile, and as a result, has some of the best headroom (and subsequently visibility) in the segment.

Dealmaker: Large, Upright Cargo Area

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The Forester has some of the most cargo area in the class. (Source: Subaru)

The upright layout also helps when it comes to use of the total cargo space. With the rear seats up, the Forester has 34.4 cubic feet of cargo space. Fold that rear seat down, and the Forester provides 74.7 cubic feet of cargo space, which is one of the highest cargo capacities in the segment. Not only does it have a high capacity, but its upright profile and squared off liftback means the actual hatch to access the cargo is one of the largest among compact SUVs. If you have a large item to move, few will move it in this segment like the Forester.

Dealmaker: Standard All-Wheel Drive

Standard all-wheel drive has long been one of the hallmarks of Subaru. With the exception of the rear-wheel drive BRZ sportscar, any new Subaru you get will have all-wheel drive. If you live in inclement regions of the country, this is a fantastic standard feature. Every other crossover requires you paying a little more, but Subaru offers it standard, and it is one of the more competent setups as AWD systems go.

Dealmaker: Outstanding EyeSight Safety Technology

Subaru’s EyeSight is a high tech safety suite, comprised of cameras and sensors to provide adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, lane keeping assist, lane departure warning, and more.

In addition to this, EyeSight has a unique feature, which can detect when a vehicle pulls away in front of you. If you are at an intersection and the vehicle in front of you pulls away while you remain stopped, EyeSight will make an audible warning to the driver. We don’t condone distracted driving, but this is a very logical way to keep other drivers from being held up by a distracted driver.

Dealmaker: Easy-to-Use Infotainment

The Forester has a pretty straightforward infotainment system. The fonts are easy to read and the menu navigation is logical. Called StarLink, this infotainment system provides control for the navigation system, vehicle settings, a Bluetooth-connected phone, music, podcasts, and apps like Pandora an Aha internet radio. It is not the best infotainment system on the market (that could go to Chrysler Uconnect or Chevrolet MyLink), but it never gets in the way and does its job without fuss.

Dealmaker: Great Visibility

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The upright cabin makes the Forester yields plenty of visibility for drivers. (Source: Subaru)

Coming back to the upright layout, the profile of the Forester yields good visibility. Too often, modern crossovers have large, oversized pillars, often in the pursuit a unique design. The Forester’s more traditional profile not only gives it a more SUV-like appearance, but also provides superior sight lines. The Forester is available with blind spot monitoring system, but you don’t really need it. Other crossovers have such poor sight lines, the blind spot systems are almost necessary to be aware of your surroundings.

Dealbreakers: Subaru Forester’s Worst Lifestyle Features

But it’s not all rosy with the Forster. Subaru’s focus on utility makes the Forester a very useful vehicle, but that means it has to give something up to keep the price down. As we’ll see there are a couple areas where the Forester falls short.

Dealbreaker: Pedestrian Fit-and-Finish

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Even a well-equipped Forester feels cheap at times. (Source: Subaru)

This is a typical complaint of Subaru models (with the exception of the Outback and Legacy). Fit and finish and general interior quality suffers. These elements suffer so that the Forester can have a Swiss-Army-Knife cabin, able to fold seats away and hold tons of camping hear or large items. So while it is extremely utilitarian, it is not the most luxurious place to spend a road trip.

Dealbreaker: Infotainment Still Needs Improvement

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The Subaru Starlink infotainment system is a great improvement– but still needs some work. (Source: Subaru)

As we said, the infotainment gets the job done, but for some that’s not enough. The layout is pretty basic, and does not yet have support for features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Such features are becoming expected, and while the infotainment is competent, tech-savvy buyers will prefer more advanced infotainment systems, the the ones found in the Chevrolet Equinox and Jeep Cherokee. Also for some smartphone owners, the absence of CarPlay and Android Auto will be a dealbreaker.

Dealbreaker: Consumes Lot of Oil Over its Lifetime

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The Subaru boxer engine is well-balanced, but consumes oil. (Source: Subaru)

Subaru engines have a unique design. It is a four cylinder engine, split into two banks of two, laid flat and opposing each other. It is called a Horizontally Opposing Four Cylinder engine, or “Boxer,” because the pistons face each other and “punch at one another.” The makes for a very low center of gravity (good for handling characteristics), but past versions of this engine have had problems with oil consumption. If it were determined that was a leak, you’d have to replace the head gasket– a pricey job. This is complicated by the fact you typically have to replace the head gaskets on both banks of cylinders, even if there is just a leak on one side. Subaru says this problem has been addressed, but only time will tell if it has truly been resolved.

Dealbreaker: Front Seats Too Firm

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The front seats of the Forester are quite firm– even in higher-end models. (Source: Subaru)

The Forester suffers from seats that, while supportive, are just too darn firm. Getting a good seating position is fine, but no matter which position you finally land on, it just is not as comfortable in seats in rival cars (like the Jeep Cherokee). You can put up with this around town, but it will become a pain on long road trips. So if you plan on heading up to ski country with the Forester, keep that in mind.

Dealmaker: Success with Simplicity

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The Forester comes with plenty of helpful features for all sorts of driving. (Source: Subaru)

The base price gets you keyless entry, a backup camera, and even the touchscreen infotainment system– as well as Subaru’s standard all-wheel drive. And you get that at a price that falls under some of the competition.

Trims Offered

2.5i: (MSRP: $22,595)
• 17-inch steel wheels
• Symmetrical all-wheel drive
• Keyless entry
• Backup camera
• 6.2-inch StarLink infotainment touchscreen

2.5i Premium: (MSRP $25,495, includes everything from 2.5i, plus)
• 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels
• Panoramic power moonroof
• Raised roof rails
• Automatic climate control
• 7-inch StarLink infotainment touchscreen

2.5i Limited: (MSRP $29,195, includes everything from 2.5i Premium, plus)
• Fog lights
• Heated front seats
• Leather trimmed upholstery
• Power rear tailgate
• Blind-spot detection w/ rear cross-traffic alert

2.5i Touring: (MSRP $31,295, includes everything from 2.5i Limited, plus)
• 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels
• LED adaptive headlights (turn w/ steering wheel)
• One-touch folding rear seats
• Keyless entry w/ push-button start
• Heated steering wheel

2.0XT Premium: (MSRP $29,295)
• 2.0 turbocharged engine
• Chrome dual exhaust
• Sport design front fascia
• Cloth seating
• Unique 18-inch wheel design

2.0XT Touring: (MSRP $34,295, includes everything from 2.0XT Premium, plus)
• Blind spot detection
• Harmon Kardon premium audio sytem
• Dual-zone automatic climate control
• Leather seating
• Heated steering wheel

Dealmaker: A Fuel-Efficient Snow Monster

The Forester is something of a throwback in the compact SUV community. It has been around for longer than many entries, and also offers things you wouldn’t readily expect anymore in this segment– like the availability of a manual transmission. But the availability of the manual doesn’t mean the Forester is very exciting, as we’ll explain.

Handling: Stiff, but Confident

The Forester has decent ground clearance and standard all-wheel drive, which translates into fantastic all-weather/all-condition driving. The AWD will help it corner well too, and the steering is very well weighted, but you’ll have to get used to its taller center of gravity. As Edmunds puts it: “The Forester is tall and exhibits ample body roll when you’re driving around turns quickly, but it’s easy to control.” But the Forester has a rather stuff ride, care of the same taught suspension.

Drivetrain: Adequate Acceleration

The base engine provides decent power, but nothing acceptional. Its 170 horsepower will be perfectly adequate for daily driving. If you seek more power, the 2.0XT offers a turbocharged engine making 250 horsepower. The base engine is offered with a manual transmission, but unfortunately, you can’t get that manual with the more powerful 2.0XT engine. This is a real disappointment for anyone trying to get that Subaru rally racing feel in a more versatile package.

Performance Specs

• Engine #1: 2.5-liter four-cylinder
• Output: 170 horsepower / 174 lb-ft of torque
• Transmission: 6-speed manual, CVT
• Drivetrain: AWD
• Towing: TBD lbs.
• Fuel economy, 6MT: 22/28/24 (city/highway/combined)
• Fuel economy, CVT: 26/32/28 (city/highway/combined)

• Engine #2: 2.0 turbocharged four-cylinder
• Output: 250 horsepower / 258 lb-ft of torque
• Transmission: CVT
• Drivetrain: AWD
• Towing: TBD lbs.
• Fuel economy: 23/27/25 (city/highway/combined)

Dealmaker: Among the Safest

There are two major safety organizations that test road cars and publish scores. They are the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). NHTSA scores vehicles out of five stars, while the IIHS scores on a scale of Poor, Marginal, Acceptable, and Good. Additionally, the IIHS offers “Top Safety Pick” recommendations, as well as “Top Safety Pick +” for vehicles with advanced crash avoidance and mitigation features. The crash video above is of a 2015 model, which is carried over to the 2017 model.

The IIHS also affixes a crash avoidance technology rating for vehicles. Top Safety Pick+ vehicles have “Superior” crash avoidance ratings, mid-range scores are “Advanced,” and the minimum crash prevention tech is considered “Basic.” If a vehicle is not a Top Safety Pick+, we’ll include any subsequent crash prevention technology.

Crash Test Safety: Top Marks

The Subaru Forester earns a 5 Star overall crash test rating from NHTSA, putting it at the forefront of the safest vehicles from a crash test standpoint.

Crossover NHTSA Overall Crash Results
Toyota RAV4 5 Star
Subaru Forester 5 Star
Ford Escape 5 Star
Hyundai Tucson 5 Star
Kia Sportage 5 Star
Nissan Rogue 4 Star
Jeep Cherokee 4 Star
Honda CR-V N/A
Mazda CX-5 N/A
’18 Chevrolet Equinox N/A
’18 GMC Terrain N/A

TheSubaru Forester is joined by the Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, Hyundai Tucson, and Kia Sportage as 5 Star crash-test vehicles. Right behind that lead pack is the Nissan Rogue and Jeep Cherokee as 4 Star crash test vehicles. The Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5, 2018 Chevrolet Equinox, and 2018 GMC Terrain are all so new that they have not been tested by NHTSA. When these vehicles have been tested, we will update our safety tables accordingly.

IIHS Test Results

Crossover IIHS Results/Awards
Toyota RAV4 Top Safety Pick+
Nissan Rogue Top Safety Pick+
Subaru Forester Top Safety Pick+
Hyundai Tucson Top Safety Pick (Superior)
Kia Sportage Top Safety Pick (Superior)
Jeep Cherokee None (Superior)
Ford Escape None (Basic)
Honda CR-V N/A
Mazda CX-5 N/A
’18 Chevrolet Equinox N/A
’18 GMC Terrain N/A

The Subaru Forester is joined by the Nissan Rogue and Toyota RAV4 as the only vehicles that earns a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the IIHS. The Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage don’t earn the “+,” but are still Top Safety Pick vehicles, and both have “Superior”-level crash avoidance technology. The Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5, 2018 Chevrolet Equinox, and 2018 GMC Terrain are all so new that they have not been tested by NHTSA. When these vehicles have been tested, we will update our safety tables accordingly.

The Subaru Forester comes with a full complement of front and side impact airbags, tire pressure monitoring system, backup camera, and full-time all-wheel drive.

Safety Tech: EyeSight, For the Win

The Forester is available with Subaru’s impressive EyeSight safety system. This system uses cameras and sensors to provides forward collision warning and avoidance, lane departure warning and avoidance, and adaptive cruise control. It also has a feature that alerts you if a car has pulled away in front of you at a stop light and you have not responded. Read; It alerts you when you’ve been staring at your phone and didn’t notice the light turned green.

Reliability: Just Better than Average

Despite the peace of mind delivered by its safety ratings and available EyeSight, the Forester does not provide the same kind of Predicted Reliability, earning between “About Average” and “Better Than Most.” This is good, but far from as good as it could be. The Predicted Reliability score is given if Vehicle Dependability Studies are not available for that vehicle.

Tiebreakers: Comparing the Forester to the Competition

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The Nissan Rogue also offers plenty of cargo space, but also adds an available third row and available Hybrid model. (Source: Nissan)

Subaru’s focus on practicality means it might not have the same performance or eye-catching interiors as some rivals, but if you focus on substance over style, the Forester is a great call. But are there better calls in the crowded compact SUV space? Read on to learn more.

Ford Escape (MSRP $23,750-$31,000)

The Escape is one of the performance-oriented and upscale options. It has sharp handling, strong turbocharged engines, and an upscale cabin. It also has great SYNC3 infotainment technology. But its cabin lacks the storage options.

Ford Escape vs Subaru Forester:
• Tight handling and strong engines (Forester sometimes feels underpowered)
• Impressive SYNC3 infotainment (Outguns Subaru infotainment)
• Strong fuel economy on certain engines (So does Forester)

Learn more about the Ford Escape here.

Jeep Cherokee (MSRP $23,595-$37,695)

The Cherokee is the only compact SUV that offers true off-road capabilities, and its available V6 is strong (though the base I4 is underwhelming). The Cherokee also has impressive cabin quality, and some of the best infotainment in the segment, in the form of Uconnect.

Jeep Cherokee vs Subaru Forester:
• High-quality cabin (Forester sometimes feels cheap)
• Outstanding infotainment (Forester has so-so infotainment)
• Potent V6 and impressive Off-Road capability (Forester capable, but not as much as Trailhawk)

Learn more about the Jeep Cherokee here.

Nissan Rogue (MSRP $$23,820-$31,310)

The Rogue pushes the definition of “compact,” with three rows of seating, tons of cargo space, and plenty of cabin space for occupants. The Rogue also has a smooth ride, and is one of the few options in this segment with a hybrid variant.

Nissan Rogue vs Subaru Forester:
• Only three-row compact crossover (Forester only two rows)
• Large cargo area (Forester most cargo space)
• Rogue Hybrid Option (No hybrid option on Forester)

Learn more about the Nissan Rogue here.

Toyota RAV4 (MSRP $24,910-$36,150)

The RAV4 has a good reputation for reliability, easy-to-use infotainment, and is even available as a hybrid mode. The RAV4 also has plenty of rear seat space, making it a great option for carpooling.

Toyota RAV4 vs Subaru Forester:
• Standard high-tech safety gear (need to shell out for safety tech)
• RAV4 Hybrid model (No Forester Hybrid option)
• Surprisingly spacious rear seats (Forester also spacious cabin)

Learn more about the Toyota RAV4 here.

Should I Buy a Subaru Forester?

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The ability to tackle snow is one of the many reasons to consider the Forester. (Source: Subaru)

As you’ve seen, the Forester is not alone in this segment. But shopping through all the options can be confusing, so which one to choose? In the section below, we highlight the winners, based on what your buying priorities are.

So Which to Buy?

• If you love upscale cabins: Escape, Cherokee

• If you actually enjoy fun driving: Escape, CX-5

• If you require cargo space: Forester, Rogue

• If you want second row cabin space: RAV4, Rogue, Forester

• If you want the latest safety and infotainment tech: Escape, Cherokee

• If you want to go off road: Cherokee, Forester

• • If you want the best fuel economy: RAV4 Hybrid, Rogue Hybrid

• If you’re on a tight budget: Forester

Dealmakers vs. Dealbreakers Final Tally

Dealmaker: Low starting price
Dealmaker: Spacious cabin w/ lots of headroom
Dealmaker: Large, upright cargo area
Dealmaker: Standard all-wheel drive
Dealmaker: Outstanding EyeSight safety technology
Dealmaker: Easy-to-use infotainment
Dealmaker: Great visibility
Dealmaker: IIHS Top Safety Pick+
Dealmaker: One of the few crossovers w/ optional manual transmission

Dealbreaker: Pedestrian fit-and-finish
Dealbreaker: Stiff ride
Dealbreaker: NHTSA scores actually lower
Dealbreaker: Infotainment Still Needs Improvement
Dealbreaker: Consumes lots of oil (compared to competition)
Dealbreaker: Noisy cabin

Final Tally: +3
Market Average: TBD

The Subaru Forester is the truly substance-first option in the compact SUV market. It delivers some of the most cargo space in the segment, features standard all-wheel drive, and is an IIHS Top Safety Pick+. These are terrific hallmarks of any great family vehicle. It also has a tall greenhouse that makes for plenty of headroom and great rearward visibility. Its interior might be rather low-grade compared to other options, the cabin might be noisy, and the ride might be stiff. But the Forester checks off the boxes if utility is your main concern.

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