2016 Subaru Forester Review

Made for Adventure

I have a lot of respect for those old Subarus that are still on the road. Sure, some of them may grumble around with their boxer engines and many look very dated, but then I see that splatter of mud or that small ding or scratch and understand: that’s proof of an adventure.

When you’ve been on a few great adventures with a car, it’s hard to give it up or replace it. That’s the lesson I learned while I was out testing the 2016 Forester on the Canadian east coast. It may not be the sexiest or sportiest car in its segment, but its capability is hard to beat and when you have the confidence to go anywhere, you’ll end up going everywhere.

Landing in New Brunswick, I found myself face-to-face with a mid-trim level 2016 Subaru Forester. While the design is inoffensive, the boxy look just screams Subaru, and that’s a good thing. It stands out in its own way.

As the power liftgate opened to accommodate my luggage, I’m again reminded of the Forester’s fantastic cargo-carrying capability. There’s up to 34.4 cubic feet of storage with the seats up and an oceanic 74.7 cubic feet with the seats down. Opting for the large moonroof cuts into the cargo space a bit, which is unusual, but the Subaru’s interior design reflects the boxy exterior: practical and spacious.

Familiar Interior

As I jumped into the front seats, one of the biggest changes for 2016 sits in the center console. Subaru now offers its touchscreen infotainment system, Starlink, as standard equipment. It uses touch-sensitive buttons rather than old-school tactile ones, which are very modern looking but aren’t speedy to respond. The touchscreen features large, easy to hit buttons, and is generally pretty user friendly, but I just wasn’t happy with how bogged down the system can feel.

starlink

A 6.2-inch screen is standard on the vehicle, while a 7-inch unit is fitted to more premium models. Both systems offer smartphone integration, meaning you can pump in some music from an Internet service like Aha or Pandora. Starlink can even show your calendar entries, news and weather information.

Other changes include some aluminum trim around the vents on the dash and a lane-change function for the turn signals, which flashes the turn signal three times with just a tap of the stalk.

The other big new change involves the EyeSight safety system. First offered on the Forester on 2015 model year vehicles, EyeSight is a camera system that’s mounted high on the windshield that helps provide front-collision warnings and emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning. Now, models with the technology feature steering-sensitive foglights, which will illuminate in the direction of a turn.

Eyes On Adventure

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I’ll be the first to admit it: I love EyeSight. As many road trips take place on the interstate, the adaptive cruise control is a luxury that I always appreciate. Over the course of driving 600 miles through the Canadian Maritimes, I found myself switching the convenient feature on quite a few times.

The camera-based system is capable of more than just adaptive cruise control. It can also warn you when you’re veering out of your lane and when you’re approaching a slower moving or stationary object. These features help the Forester earn an IIHS Top Safety Pick + rating, a rating that’s shared with just four other vehicles in its segment (the Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V and Mitsubishi Outlander are the other three).

Further enhancing the safety and drivability of the vehicle are the excellent sightlines. The boxy, upright design provides a large greenhouse and a lot of window space to peer out of, making it easy to check your blind spots and maneuver the vehicle in tight spots.

Getting Going

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Cruising on the highway is easy and worry-free, until it’s time to make a pass. With 170 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque, the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine isn’t exactly underpowered, but passing requires a bit of planning. The CVT is responsive and fuel efficient, getting 24 mpg in the city, 32 mpg on the highway and 27 mpg combined. Also available is a six-speed manual transmission that’s engaging and easy to use, although less fuel efficient, earning 25 mpg combined.

For those who are power hungry, the Forester XT is available with a turbocharged 2.0-liter that makes 250 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Only available with the CVT, this model is considerably faster and more comfortable at higher speeds. Subaru also has two sport modes for the car, called Sport and Sport Sharp, which give the CVT the traits of a conventional automatic transmission with six or eight pre-set gear ratios. It’s important to note that a CVT still sounds very different than a conventional automatic, and it makes a lot of noise when trying to accelerate as the rpms shoot into the engine’s powerband. The Forester is no different and is loud when it is accelerating.

SEE ALSO: Should I Buy a Car with a CVT?

That Subaru Charm

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Being safe and smooth on the highway is a trait that’s shared with many of the Forester’s competitors. While Forester is comfy, the same could be said about the Honda CR-V or the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, so what makes the Subaru stand out? The answer is obvious when you go off-road, as I did several times while driving through the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick, P.E.I. and Nova Scotia.

With its standard all-wheel-drive setup and above-average ground clearance, the Forester exudes the right confidence to go on an adventure. In other crossovers, you’ll likely pass a dirt road without thinking twice about where it leads, but in the Forester, curiosity gets the best of you, since you know it’s capable enough to get you out of any sticky situation that may arise.

2016-Subaru-Forester-review-roadPiloting the Forester over some neglected roads found that its suspension is soft enough to deal with potholes and uneven pavement. The Forster XT model is a bit stiffer, a fair compromise for how much sportier it is on the road.

By the end of our journey, the Forester was picking sand out of its tread, mud from its grille and even seaweed from its wheel wells. Early in our trip, we drove the Forester onto a beach and found wet sand that was as red as the crustaceans the area is known for. While I slipped and nearly face-planted while running around taking photos, the Forester moved about with ease.

The car didn’t just get through the crummy conditions; it got through without any flaw or complaints. Following that experience, the Forester found itself splashing through a narrow and muddy trail through the woods. Trees blurred past the side-view mirrors and if there was any stutter in the Subaru’s step, the tow truck would have a tough time getting to it.

2016-Subaru-Forester-review-mudPredictably, the tow truck was not needed. The Forester blasted through the grimy roads as confidently as it dawdled along the beach. Those who think that Subaru’s rally heritage only extends to its sporty WRX and STI models need a reality check; that DNA is also in its big cars like the Forester, too.

Suddenly, I was pulling off everywhere to get a better view of the Canadian landscape. The terrain becomes a puzzle that the driver and Forester can solve together.

The only other vehicle I would feel comfortable doing this type of trip in would be a Jeep Wrangler, but riding in a dedicated off-roader like that comes with plenty of compromises. The Forester is safe, sedate and comfortable on the highway, but when the weekend comes, it can whisk you away to a place you didn’t know you could get to, offering the best of both worlds.

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The Verdict: 2016 Subaru Forester Review

This is the charm of a Subaru and it’s something that’s hard to let go of. The Forester is the ideal companion for both the hum-drum and the adventurous. Starting at $23,245 (or $27,670  CAD) and topping out at $34,645 (or $39,670 CAD) for a fully loaded Forester XT, this Subaru is easily among the top tier of compact crossover on sale.

  • Shiratori1

    Personally, I feel that the Forester is one of the two best CUVs that are available (the other being the CR-V).

  • Jonny_Vancouver

    No love for the Rav-4? :*(

  • Jonny_Vancouver

    “While I slipped and nearly face-planted while running around taking photos, the Forester moved about with ease.” Nice, lol -good review!

  • Csli

    No!

  • Shiratori1

    The Rav-4 is middle-of-the-road. It’s decent, but it’s not really class-leading in any particular way.

    We’ll see if that changes when specs for the hybrid come out.

  • pbug56

    Just avoid any Honda with a V6 and automatic trannie (unless you like replacing trannies once in a while).

  • Jim Meehan

    The Subaru is great but some of us would prefer the outback and some also need the manual trans. So Subaru US has screwed us. They elilminated the outback manual in the US, so I thought that I would just buy one in Canada where the manual (need for towing behind my RV) is alive and well. Surprise, The Canadian distributor will not sell across the border to a us citizen. I was willing to take delivery in Canada but not if you are a us citizen. One dealer even took my order but the distributor made him refund the deposit. This really sucks and the us claims that they are totally separate so nothing they can do. I think the whole thing is really poor. If it is not sold in the us but is available elsewhere what is the big deal. I am willing to submit warranty claims by mail for reimbursement. But no they really are not interested in letting you buy what you need. Wish there were another vehicle I wanted but there is not

  • CJ Hodge

    Subarus are snow machines! They eat up the cold weather. Love my Forester.

  • Subaru Guy

    Love Foresters, but HATE CVT’s. Argh!!!!

  • lugnut

    Correction for the author, EyeSight was first available in 2014. It was an option I chose not to purchase when I was picking and choosing options for my 2014 Forester limited. I am old school, in that I still want control of the vehicle. I do not trust anything electronic that seems it can drive better and react better than me.

  • acro47

    I have the 2014 Forester 2.5i Touring, best car I’ve ever had (I’m pushing 70), luxurious and spacious for road trips, feisty & dependable on snow and ice. I may be a rare one who likes the CVT; if on occasion one of my children drives my car, they say “Wow, Mom, that’s one zippy little car!” My only negative is the NAV system, it too often takes me miles out of the way when on unfamiliar roads and I don’t figure out until later that there was a shorter or more direct route. I’ve gotten to depend more on Google maps which is an irritant considering the extra $$ spent on the Touring package. But I do love my Subaru.

  • Eric Lemon

    6MTs are hard to find but nice to drive in comparison. And none of that, “I drive in too much traffic.” This clutch can be pushed with your pinky.

  • Applehead

    Love my 2015 XT. He’s right, it exceeds expectations in situations that would scare the pants off ordinary SUVs. Just wish they would stop trying to reinvent the wheel and let Apple (and Google) handle the heavy lifting of infotainment. As soon as they do I’m upgrading.

  • Banokles

    Correction for you, all electronics can react faster than you. Do you turn off your ABS/EBD system, it can brake faster and more effectively than you can? Do you deactivate your airbag which can activate (electronically), inflate & deflate faster than you can blink? Would you like fighter jets flown solely by human pilot, they would fall from the air immediately btw. I find it completely absurd when someone says they ‘don’t trust electronics’ – you trust electronics every time a traffic light turns green that the others have turned red. You trust electronics to keep a life support machine going, you trust electronics not to irradiate your microwave meal and not to in inadvertently start nuclear war. Can elecronics be trusted to drive better than you, sure. Electronics have been flying planes and taking man to the moon for the last 40 years.

  • Banokles

    Not available in Europe either.

  • lugnut

    @ Banokles ..this is merely MY opinion. And just when is it we STOP driving our vehicles? When do we rely on “electronics” in vehicles to do the work for us? Myself, I like to be able to accelerate or decelerate at my discretion , NOT some computer chip in my vehicle. At what point do we drivers cease paying attention to the road in front of us…you are probably too busy texting your friends and would rather let the vehicle take control. At what point do we stop paying attention to the road or all that is around us…to rely on a computer chip to nudge us back to reality when we veer from our lane of travel. Electronics worked really swell in the GM vehicles where the ignition failed to either start the car or stop it for no reason at all. While I do agree “some” electronics are needed and maybe they do react faster than I…..I will still NOT rely solely on that EyeSight apparatus and that is why I chose NOT to purchase it. I WANT complete control of my vehicle and not having to rely on a computer chip that CAN fail at any time. Nuff of this.

  • Ludlow Trust

    I bought a 14 Forester 2.5X two years ago and live in way South Georgia. Since it has been in 33 states and five Canadian provinces but some severe shortcomings have soured the experience. The jokeahama tires were noisy and ROUGH riding so they got changed out for Pirellis at 11K and the Pirellis wore out after 27K more. Mostly happy but several sore spots that would keep me from buying another are the sound system (basic) and the aircraft carrier sized black dash board. When the midday sun is shining in the South the black dash gets hot and the heat rolls up right over the AC into your face (white exterior and light grey interior, why a black dash?). I am on my third radio (they just quit working) and it has a terrible interface that just drops the bluetooth at random times (just as you pull onto the interstate and get up to speed) or won’t connect without a five minute episode of button pushing. It doesn’t give any info about the song name or artist even though the music source provides it.

    Thankfully I didn’t get the dash touch screen or back up camera or the eye sight. I just did 2500 Klicks in the Maritimes and and at 80 to 100 KPH the eye sight would have driven me crazy.

  • Lainer

    You can’t tow an AWD vehicle I thought unless it’s on a flat bed due to that AWD system? Am I wrong?

  • Jeffrey Grinnell

    I understand, but it is intended as a convenience. Just like having programmable station buttons on the radio or power windows. It just happens that the Eyesight system provides not only convenience of adaptive cruise control when you wish it, but it also provides safety features, like collision warning and braking, all the time.

    Also, you can say you don’t want to rely on a computer chip that can fail at any time, but in any modern car you already are relying on a computer chip…actually multiple chips. Fortunately, computer chips are much more reliable and hardy than you make them out to be based on your inordinate concern for their failure.

  • lugnut

    Jeffrey, yes I DO understand there are MANY computer chips in the present day automobiles including the Subaru…and YES they may react quicker than I, but…the time WILL come when we will have NO control over the automobile and as I stated earlier, I am from “old school” in that I WANT to be able to have control over my car, NOT the other way around. When I am driving in ANY given situation, I am doing just THAT…driving. I do NOT text nor talk on the phone when I am DRIVING. I have no kids to deal with so no distractions. The “eyesight” is designed for just THAT in my humble opinion…for those who do “other” things while they ARE supposed to be concentrating on the road. Enough of this discussion, I was only voicing “my” opinion regarding the “eyesight” and why I chose NOT to spend the extra money on it. NOT everyone feels the same as I and that’s what makes this country so great…we ALL have different opinions. Have a MERRY CHRISTMAS Jeffrey!

  • Ascrahk Baqsaque

    Our 2010 Forester is at 140+K mileage is slowly requiring maintenance per our local mechanic: brake pads (though I don’t hear squealing), timing belts, and the heat shield is at it again with the rattling at low rpm. Per Edmunds dot com, trade-in is at $5k, some dealers are willing to take $10k difference for a $28K Premium (no Eyesight just floor mats).
    We’re torn between doing the total 150K maintenance vs trading it in/ selling ourselves for a later 2016 once the 2017 starts pushing them out. Yes, it’ll lower our availability for the 2016, but, we’re assuming it’ll be a better price point.

    Should we jump into the 2016 or just wait till the better equipment/ soundproofed 2017?
    Thanks