2017 Subaru Forester 2.5i Review

There’s no need to check the undercarriages of the countless Subaru Foresters on the road to conclude that few, if any, spend much time on the trail.

Like most of the rest of Subaru’s lineup, though, the Forester is ready, willing and able to have some fun off the beaten path. And so that’s where we fittingly find ourselves on our journey — off the beaten path. Actually, it’s the side of a winding dirt road somewhere near Crowsnest Pass, Alta., in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies.

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It’s raining, and yours truly is working quickly with a colleague to change the flat tire we’ve earned driving the 2017 Subaru Forester 2.5i. How exactly it happened is somewhat of a mystery. We can’t make out a puncture through all the mud, but the tire is losing air quickly, hissing incessantly like a prairie rattlesnake.

A Little Old, a Little New

The 2017 model year marks the 20th anniversary of the wagon-ish Forester’s introduction, and a fitting time to introduce a mid-cycle refresh. Minor tweaks to the exterior, including an updated front bumper on 2.5i models, a new grille, and LED daytime running lights and tail lights, give the Forester a refined look, while the interior gets an updated steering wheel design and available saddle brown upholstery. But the most notable addition for 2017 is the third-generation version of Subaru’s EyeSight driver assist suite, which has evolved into one of the most well-rounded safety packages on the non-premium market and now includes reverse automatic braking, steering responsive headlights and lane keep assist.

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The reverse automatic braking system works in the same manner as forward collision mitigation but is geared toward low-speed scenarios like backing out of a driveway or parking spot. Say, for example, a bicycle or garbage can is left at the bottom of the driveway. The system will alert the driver and, if nothing is done to avoid the obstruction, will intervene by applying the brakes to bring the Forester to a jarring halt.

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Not much has changed elsewhere, with the same roomy interior and sizeable cargo area that offers 34.4 cu-ft with the rear seats upright and 74.7 cu-ft with them folded, the latter of which proves more than the larger Dodge Journey with both rows of rear seats folded.

Under the Forester’s hood lies the familiar choice of a pair of four-cylinder boxer engines depending on trim level — a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter in 2.5i models, like the one we’re driving, or a turbocharged 2.0-liter in 2.0XT models. The former makes 170 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque, and can be paired with the choice of six-speed manual gearbox or a reworked continuously variable transmission, while the latter makes 250 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, but, sadly, only comes mated to a CVT.

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Regardless of engine or transmission, all Foresters put power down through full-time all-wheel drive in typical Subaru fashion. And about that all-wheel drive…

Off-road Prowess

It’s unlikely the average Forester owner is going to venture off into the woods in their daily-driven family hauler. But unlike the competition, the Forester is more than happy to oblige should the occasion arise. And it’s one of those occasions that brings us back to our story, before flat tires and soupy roads.

We’re at the base of a 7,100-ft mountain, and we’ve discovered a proverbial off-road playground. Rocks abound here, the stuff that Jeep owners’ dreams are made of, and a dirt track that appears to snake its way toward a shallow stream. We start with the rocks, working our way around with ease, not avoiding but rather searching for bigger and better obstacles.

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Like its stablemates, the Forester’s long and low snout means strategic approaches to avoid damage, but its 8.7 inches of ground clearance are confidence-inspiring, leaving basketball-sized boulders in the rearview. Whether ascending or descending stoney, grassy or muddy hills, the Forester’s X-mode comes in handy for even the most experienced off-road driver, controlling brake, accelerator and center differential clutch force to handle the job with little human input — no need to touch the pedals.

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Push the Forester to the limit, and it just keeps coming back for more. Take something you think the Forester can’t do — driving through a shallow river, for example — and it handles it with ease. Put a set of aggressive tires on the Forester, and it’s easy to imagine how much more capable it would be.

On-road Poise

As great as the Forester is off the road, it’s equally adept on it. Somehow, some way, the Forester is more sedan than sport ute when it’s back on the asphalt. It’s not overly tippy, and the chassis and suspension are responsive and on-point, and the steering is nicely weighted and doesn’t feel loose and floaty.

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With the 2.5-liter engine under the hood and the CVT pushing power around, the Forester handles passing maneuvers with ease, and doesn’t suffer from much of the rubberiness typical of continuously variable transmissions.

It’s also an economical combination. Over the course of more than 300 miles of driving on just about every terrain imaginable, we averaged somewhere in the neighborhood of 26 mpg — just slightly off the pace of the combined EPA fuel economy rating of 28 mpg. Spend a little more time on the highway and a little less on the trail and the Forester could easily exceed what the sticker says.

Subaru has also added loads of undercarriage and body panel insulation, as well as thicker glass, to reduce cabin noise to a negligible amount. It’s impressively quiet despite the the full-time all-wheel drive.

About the only complaints while driving relate to the tall front seats, which make it feel like both driver and passenger are sitting on stacks of phone books, and the location of the rearview mirror, which is mounted low on the windshield to accommodate the front EyeSight cameras, creating a rather large and awkward blind spot for taller drivers. The lane keep assist system can also be a little like bowling with only one gutter bumper, correcting the steering away from the lane markings on one side of the vehicle but pushing it towards the other without correcting itself.

The Verdict: 2017 Subaru Forester 2.5i Review

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Replacing the factory-fitted 225/55/R18 all-season with the unnervingly narrow spare takes mere minutes before we’re back on the twisty, washed-out, rutted road we were navigating. Steady rainfall has left the surface looking and feeling like the bottom of a cup of instant coffee, a real momentum-killer should your foot come off the accelerator for even just a second or two. But we press on, determined to make it to the bottom — or is it the top? — of what seems like a never-ending hill that carves its way up and down, back and forth through the woods, until we emerge unscathed, the Forester caked in celebratory mud.

There isn’t a vehicle I would have rather taken on our journey.

  • RSJ

    I just bought a new 2017 Forester at my local Subaru dealer here in Florida. I don’t deal with snow and I am not an off-roader but the AWD adds stability to the handling and also is great in the rain and storms here in Florida not to mention the beach and occasional camping/hiking treks to the numerous state parks here. I have family that own early model Foresters (2014) and this new 2017 is much quieter and also the CVT seems to perform much more smoothly – its still a CVT and has its quirks now and then particularly in stop and go driving situations but overall its much smoother and more linear than early models. The acceleration seems more eager in this updated version and you get to 60 mph very quickly and so smoothly that it catches you by surprise almost. Like most CVT’s if you “floor it” you will get the typical engine whine and a little bit of the “rubber band” effect but its much less pronounced in this new version – the powertrain feels so refined that you don’t need to “floor it” to get up to speed – just drive it easy and calmly and you will reap the rewards of this CVT powertrain. Overall, the updates are very noticeable and worth putting this SUV on your list along with the CR-V and the CX-5 but I found the Forester to be a tad more refined with a much more solid feel to it than the competition. Good luck!

  • Jonny_Vancouver

    Nice to hear from someone who owns one. Thank you for your post. /thumbs up

  • Althea Later

    A simple solution to the passenger seat being too high or too low would for Subaru to add a dang height adjustment lever to the seat!!! Subaru did this a few years ago after people were complaining about the seat being too low. Now they removed it??? What gives? Stop being stingy, Subaru!

  • cooper

    The Forester does have a 10 way front passenger seats. Forester seats do go up and down.

  • cooper

    Just ordered a 2017 Forester Touring 2.5i. The updates to the 2017 is exactly what was needed for the Forester. Suspension was updated and is quieter inside. It is a the total package compared to the Rav4, CRV, and Rogue. Not to mention resale value is higher than almost any other cuv built to date.

  • Johnny Markin

    We have had our 2017 Limited for about 10 days now. I am really, really happy with the vehicle at this point, and although the voice commands to Nav really need sorting out, pulling over and punching in data is sufficient. It also integrates with my iPhone well enough to launch maps with Siri (I keep the phone mounted on the air vents). I got the incoming messaging working, too, after installing the Starlink App. HD Radio is a pleasant surprise, too. Some of the Infotainment functions are a little awkward, but no system is brilliant, I’ve discovered. But the ups far outweigh the downs for us. I can’t wait to get in and drive – run errands or whatever! And really happy with the flip down seats for moments I’ve had to haul large items. Harmon Kardon stereo sounds great, especially with the quieter cabin in this iteration. And the visibility, moonroof, and eyesight make this an amazing vehicle to be in.

  • Sorry

    Just bought one based on all the comments and have had it for one month. Loved it until we got one full week of rain and there is water pooling on the passenger side floor. Now of course concerns are what other troubles this will cause..smell, down the road rusting etc….

  • Jerry Courtney

    Leased my second Subaru in two months, a 2017 Outback Limited and a Forester Premium . Have taken both on long trips, 300 miles plus. Best two cars we have ever driven.

  • johnc

    ummm, no, they don’t. Maybe the highest trim model does, but the premium and base do not. The passenger seat is like sitting in a booster seat. It is very uncomfortable too. I just put a deposit on one, and am thinking about pulling the plug just for that reason.

  • George L

    It is years behind the new CR-V. YEARS!

  • George L

    Unfortunately a common problem with the Forester.

  • George L

    Actually, NONE of the Forester’s US models have a passenger seat height adjustment. They are ALL manual and only 4 way adjustment (front/back and seat back) even on the highest Touring trim.

  • George L

    Interesting, because there are countless reports of this car still being jittery off the start due to its accelerator drive-by-wire setup and for its jittery steering response as well. Subarus have never been designed to be “refined.” I’m wondering, have you driven the competition?

  • cooper

    Yes if you don’t mind not have any road feel in the steering, the crv is a not a bad granny mobile. But, the back end of the new crv looks like a mistake. Plastic rear bumper that will fade and crack covers 95% of the back end of the vehicle. Also Have yet to see a new crv with rear bumper paint matching the rest of the car. Talked to my local Honda salesmonkey about that issue. And he said Honda is trying to get the paint issues worked out. Honda bean counters took over this latest design.

  • cooper

    Limited and higher models have height adjustment for the drivers seat.

  • George L

    1. That “granny mobile” has a much faster 0-60 than the car reviewed in this video and better lateral numbers too.
    2. Plastic bumper cars are on all cars since the late 1990’s, including all Subarus.

    The latest design has all safety features standard on 3 of the 4 trims. They have 4 USB chargers standard on 3 of the 4 trims. They have rear seat ventilation. More rear seat room (headroom, hip room, leg room and shoulder room), and more trunk space with and without the rear seat folded. It has a more powerful engine than the 2.5 AND at the same time delivers better fuel economy. With the updated AWD system that can now transfer up to 60% of torque to the rear, I don’t see how the Forester can compete in the CUV segment. Plus, there are reports that a Hybrid version is coming in 2018.

    I can’t even start with all the shortcuts Subaru took with the Forester. Literally too many to mention.

  • cooper

    We test drove the new crv, and we tried to like it. Just could not get past the numb steering, crap awd, and off color paint on every rear end of the model.
    The back end of the new crv looks awful. It’s not that rear bumper is plastic. Its that it is rear end is 95% bumper that goes all the way to the rear door handles. Bean counter crv model. The obnoxious looking rear end does not match the rest of the car. In 6-8 years everyone of these new crv’s will look like crap.
    I also live in a mountain state. Everyone I talk to that has had a crv awd says just get the fwd model because the awd is crap. Add some snow tires if needed, but don’t waist your time with an awd crv.

    Honestly, you sound like a board Honda sales person. The crv is one of the top selling cars for people over the age of 65. It’s not completely bad. New model just looks awful.

  • George L

    All models have height adjustment for the driver’s seat (the base 2.5 has manual controls while all others get power), but that’s not the subject of the conversation, is it? None of the passenger seats have power or height adjustable controls.

  • George L

    You have lost ALL respect from me because you clearly don’t know what you’re talking about. First off, you’re getting your impressions from random people. Second, the current CRV model has a totally different AWD system than the last one (not that you’d know anything about AWD) and lastly, you seem to not know much about car bodies. Plastic is on EVERY car. All the premium cars have full plastic backs. They’re easier to fix and can be molded neatly.

    I don’t sell any car and I drive a Toyota. Where do you even get your info from? One of the top selling cars over the age 65? You’re a tool. You literally make shit up left and right. You can’t spell. Half of your posts are literally incoherent in English. You down everything you talk about and you base your opinions on absolutely NOTHING.

    Just stop commenting.

  • George L

    300 miles is a long trip? lol

  • Kenneth

    “Just stop commenting.”
    Judging by the number of your obsessively-negative comments, I might suggest taking that advice yourself.

  • George L

    “Obsessively negative?” You’re either 5 years old or a Trump junkie. Just because someone disagrees with you (and with valid backing), doesn’t mean they’re obsessively negative. In this case, you’re simply WRONG. Just deal with it like an adult or at least try to.