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2018 Subaru Forester Overview
Now in its 20th year and nearing the end of its fourth generation, the Subaru Forester compact crossover SUV enters 2018 with a few minor safety updates and a new 2.5i Black Edition package, which spruces up the exterior and adds some upscale interior features. Currently the automaker's bestselling vehicle, the Forester hasn't changed much since its debut in 1998. Even as other crossover SUVS like the Nissan Rogue and Mazda CX-5 have become lower, sportier, and more aerodynamic, the Forester has retained its tall, boxy shape and all-wheel-drive (AWD) platform, emphasizing function over form. But while it hasn't changed much outwardly, the Forester has continued to improve in areas like handling, stability, comfort, and safety. Add in an affordable entry-level price point and expansive cargo capacity, and it's easy to see why the Forester has stayed so popular over the years.
For 2018, Subaru continues to offer the Forester in a variety of trims and with a choice of two engines. The base 2.5i, 2.5i Premium, 2.5i Limited, and 2.5i Touring trims come equipped with a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder Boxer engine good for 170 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque. The base 2.5i and 2.5i Premium trims receive a 6-speed manual transmission with Incline Start Assist. A Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) is available and is the only transmission offered on the 2.5i Limited and 2.5i Touring trims. With either transmission, 0-to-60 times are around 8.5 seconds. When paired with the manual transmission, the 4-cylinder engine yields fuel-economy numbers of 22 mpg city, 28 highway, and 24 combined, while the CVT boosts those to 26, 32, and 28.
Buyers who prefer more power can opt for the Forester 2.0XT Premium or 2.0XT Touring trim, which make the trek to 60 mph about 2.2 seconds faster, thanks to a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine. The turbo is mated to the CVT and generates a more-respectable 250 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, with fuel-economy numbers of 23, 27, and 25. It does, however, require premium fuel, and as you might expect, it pushes the Forester toward the upper end of the "affordable" range.
The new 2.5i Black Edition package, available only at the 2.5i Premium trim level, adds unique features like exclusive black cloth seats with leatherette bolsters, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift handle with silver stitching, black gloss and silver metallic finish on the dash, and chrome finish on the interior door handles. It also comes with a cargo tray, cargo-area approach lighting, and the All-Weather package. The exterior receives an exclusive front grille with a blacked-out wing motif, black accent trim on the fog lights, black finish on the side mirrors, and 18-inch black alloy wheels. Subaru offers the 2.5i Black Edition package with a choice of Crystal Black Silica, Dark Gray Metallic, Crystal White Pearl, and Ice Silver Metallic exterior colors. It's available only with the base engine and CVT transmission, although Subaru has included steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters for manual shifting—a feature previously available only on the 2.0XT trims.
Aside from the new 2.5i Black Edition package, the Forester lineup remains largely unchanged for 2018. While it looks more streamlined now than when it debuted two decades ago, the Forester will never be considered a flashy or sporty vehicle. It's content with its current shape and design, which makes for a roomy interior with plenty of cargo space. A 2017 update freshened the Forester's exterior appearance with a new hexagonal grille, revised C-shaped headlights and taillights, and redesigned wheels, but otherwise, its flat hood, conservative front end, straight sidelines, and slightly flared wheel wells roll over unchanged for 2018.
All Foresters continue to sit on a platform borrowed from the Impreza and come equipped with Subaru's symmetrical AWD system. The platform's 4-wheel independent suspension and electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering provide sedan-like handling and a smooth ride over most road surfaces. All trims get traction control and Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC), which adjusts the torque and braking as necessary to keep the vehicle stable. In addition, all trims except the base 2.5i and 2.5i Premium come equipped with X-Mode technology, which enhances the AWD system and VDC to reduce wheelspin and improve traction on slippery surfaces. At the top of the lineup, the 2.0XT Touring trim receives Active Torque Vectoring, which works with the VDC to apply the brakes to the inside front wheel for optimal cornering.
Several of the Forester’s exterior features are trim-specific—starting at the 2.5i Premium trim level, a rear spoiler and roof rails come standard, while the 2.5i Limited and 2.5i Touring trims get fog lights and the 2.5i Touring trim upgrades the headlights to steering-responsive LEDs. Exterior highlights for the 2.0XT trims include a sportier front fascia and dual chrome exhaust pipes. The 2.5i Touring, 2.0XT Premium, and 2.0XT Touring ride on 18-inch wheels, while all other trims get 17-inchers.
Inside the Forester, function over form continues to be the major theme. While hardly lush or luxurious, especially on the lower trims, Forester's 5-passenger cabin is comfortable, attractive, and spacious. Rear passengers sit high, and the tall windows and thin pillars result in good outward visibility. The quality of the materials, while adequate, doesn't reach the level of those found in some of its competitors, like the Honda CR-V. However, the Forester bests the CR-V when it comes to overall affordability.
Interior highlights for the 2018 Forester include a 10-way power-adjustable driver's seat for all trims except the base 2.5i, leather upholstery for the Touring trims, and heated front seats for the 2.5i Limited, 2.5i Touring, and 2.0XT trims. All Foresters get some version of the automaker's Starlink multimedia system, with variations in screen size. The Touring trims come standard with navigation and a Harmon Kardon 8-speaker audio system.
In terms of cargo capacity, the Forester stands near the top of its class. The base 2.5i trim offers 34.4 cubic feet of storage space behind the rear seats, which expands to 74.7 cubic feet with the seats folded. For all other trims, a standard powered panoramic moonroof reduces cargo space to 31.5 and 68.5 cubic feet, respectively. By comparison, the Honda CR-V offers 39.2 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 75.8 cubic feet overall, while the Toyota RAV4 checks in at 38.4 and 73.4 cubic feet. In all Foresters, the rear seatback splits 60/40 and folds flat for a smooth loading surface. All trims except the base 2.5i receive reclining seatbacks, while the Touring trims get one-touch folding rear seatbacks. The 2.5i Limited and Touring trims also come with a power rear gate with auto close for easier trunk access.
The automaker's EyeSight driver-assistance technology, introduced to the Forester with the 2017 update, is now standard on the Touring trims and gains high-beam assist and reverse automatic braking for 2018. The EyeSight suite comes with adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, and a pre-collision braking system. All trims get a reversing camera, while the 2.5i Limited and Touring trims add blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert. In terms of crash testing, the 2017 Forester was awarded a 5-star overall safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Top Safety Pick+ status from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
All in all, the Forester continues to deliver a potent package of benefits and features, which makes it a good value for buyers seeking a multitasking daily commuter. Though a redesign is due soon, don't expect it to deviate too much from the current tall and boxy shape, which has helped keep the Forester a bestseller for the past two decades.
Rob has been a contributor to CarGurus since 2007, and an automotive test-driver and writer since the early ’90s. He’s test-driven everything from BMWs and Jags to Bentleys and Saabs, with an occasional Range Rover, Ferrari, Porsche or Lamborghini thrown in. He also created the annual Car of the Year and Exotic Car of the Year awards for Robb Report magazine. He currently resides in California.
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