Despite receiving a total makeover after only one year, the 2015 Subaru Forester has already snapped up more awards and plaudits than any Subaru we can think of in recent history. If you're seeking out a compact SUV, it's hard to beat what the Forester is peddling. Looking for an affordable price? The 2015 Subaru Forester starts around $23,000, nicely equipped. Looking for good fuel economy? The Forester's highway figures are near the top of its class. Want the option of a manual transmission or powerful turbocharged model? The Forester offers both (although sadly not together). Plus, the Forester comes standard with one of the best all-wheel-drive systems on the road.
The 2015 Forester is also strong in the areas of interior comfort and noise levels, available equipment and overall ride and handling. The turbocharged XT model boasts significantly more power than the base 2.5i trims, plus upgrades to its frame, suspension, brakes and steering make for a more enjoyable driving machine. Finally, Subaru bolsters the Forester's already impressive safety credentials by offering the EyeSight driver-assist system on many trims.
What's New for 2015?
Premium models with the manual transmission now come equipped with a power moonroof, while Subaru's EyeSight driver-assist system with adaptive cruise control and collision avoidance is made available on the Premium trim. The base 2.5i gains a rearview camera as standard equipment, and the Harmon Kardon audio system can now be added to Limited models. The Touring trim is outfitted with new high-luster, 18-inch alloy wheels, but navigation is removed from the standard equipment list.
What We Like
Excellent fuel economy; child-seat-friendly back seat; true off-road ability; reasonable price; powerful turbo model; high-tech safety options
What We Don't
No manual transmission on the turbo model; XM Satellite radio only available with poorly designed navigation radio; uninspiring interior and exterior design
The standard engine for the 2015 Subaru Forester is a 2.5-liter boxer 4-cylinder that produces 170 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque. With the continuously variable (CVT) automatic transmission, the 2.5 earns an Environmental Protection Agency-estimated 24 miles per gallon in the city and 32 mpg on the highway, fuel economy that rivals or bests the figures posted by some of the Forester's front-wheel-drive rivals. A 6-speed manual is standard on base and Premium models and comes with a less-sophisticated all-wheel-drive system that offers slightly lower fuel economy figures of 22 mpg city/29 mpg hwy.
The XT brings a direct-injection 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that produces 250 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. The added horsepower doesn't detract from fuel economy either, which comes in at 22 mpg city/28 mpg hwy on regular gas (premium gasoline is recommended but not required).
Standard Features & Options
The 2015 Subaru Forester comes in two models and four trims, which include 2.5i, 2.5i Premium, 2.5i Limited, 2.5i Touring, 2.0XT Premium and 2.0XT Touring.
The 2.5i ($23,045) includes a 6-speed manual transmission, a rearview camera, air conditioning, cruise control, Bluetooth, a tilt-telescoping steering wheel, power windows, power mirrors, power door locks, remote keyless entry, a 60/40 split-folding rear seat, a rear wiper/washer and a 4.3-in color multi-information display. Options for the base include a CVT automatic transmission and an alloy-wheel package.
The 2.5i Premium ($25,445) adds a power moonroof, 6-speaker audio, 17-in alloy wheels, HD radio, a 10-way power driver's seat with power lumbar support, reclining rear seats, rear privacy glass and the All-Weather Package (AWP) that adds heated side mirrors, heated front seats and windshield wiper de-icers. CVT-equipped models make the AWP optional but unlike the manual models can be equipped with a navigation radio and EyeSight.
The 2.5i Limited ($28,945) adds X-Mode with hill-descent control, leather seating, automatic climate control, the All-Weather Package, fog lights, auto headlights, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a power rear tailgate. Options include navigation, a Harmon Kardon 440-watt audio upgrade and EyeSight.
The 2.5i Touring ($30,945) adds HID headlights, Harmon Kardon audio, 1-touch folding rear seats, keyless access and start, dual-zone automatic climate control, integrated side-mirror turn signals and polished 18-in wheels. Options include navigation and EyeSight.
The 2.0XT Premium ($29,345) brings a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine, sport suspension, 18-in wheels, a high-torque CVT automatic with SI-DRIVE and dual exhaust pipes.
The 2.0XT Touring ($33,945) adds all the 2.5i Touring features to the 2.0XT Premium. Navigation and EyeSight are the only optional features.
At the high end of the tech scale is Subaru's EyeSight driver-assist system. EyeSight can maintain a safe distance between you and the cars ahead when adaptive cruise control is engaged, or it can help to avoid accidents by slowing the vehicle in the event of an imminent collision, along with giving audible warnings to alert the driver. At speeds under 19 miles per hour, the system can actually bring the car to a stop before rear-ending the car ahead; at greater speeds, EyeSight will slow the vehicle (if the driver fails to act) to lessen the force of impact. EyeSight also includes a lane-departure warning system and pedestrian detection.
In addition to the above option packages, Subaru offers a huge number of dealer-installed options including fog lights, remote start, a 115-volt outlet, upgraded speaker kits, rear cargo cover, crossbars for the roof rack and a number of roof-rack accessories for holding skis, bikes, kayaks and cargo-carriers.
The Forester has been given all the safety features mandated by the federal government, plus added protection in the form of a reinforced passenger compartment frame and a driver-knee airbag. Subaru expects the Forester to earn a 5-star crash-test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and earn top marks in all the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests, including the new small-overlap offset crash test.
Behind the Wheel
Performance with the 2.5-liter engine is surprisingly strong, with good acceleration and passing power and quiet operation. The Forester rides and drives more like a small car than an SUV blessed with 8.7 in of ground clearance. Subaru's electric assist power steering is a bit numb in the curves, but not annoyingly so, and the nicely weighted steering wheel makes it easy to keep the Forester tracking straight and true. Most noticeable is the comfortable ride and low interior noise levels.
The XT trim provides a much sportier ride, thanks in part to its stiffer chassis, increased spring rates and bigger brakes. To our delight, we found that the XT model's 18-in tires vastly improve handling without diminishing ride comfort or increasing noise levels. Of course, the real joy when driving the XT is the rush of power from the turbo engine. If you require superior passing power and jack-rabbit sprints, this is the engine you'll want in your Forester. While performance figures are not exactly in the WRX's territory, the XT can dash from zero to 60 mph in just 6.2 seconds.
The Forester's CVT automatic includes a low mode setting for more controlled descents. On Limited and Touring trims, the car features X-Mode with hill-descent control, a system that provides better control in certain driving situations. On the XT trim, the CVT includes a version of the SI-DRIVE system found on the WRX. SI-DRIVE includes three modes: Intelligent (I), Sport (S) and Sport Shift (S#). In Sport and Sport Shift, the CVT can simulate a 6- or 8-speed gearbox for maximum response to throttle input.
Other Cars to Consider
Honda CR-V -- In front-wheel-drive form, the CR-V with its standard automatic has a lower starting price than the Forester and rivals it for resale value and reliability. But the Forester gets better fuel economy even with its standard all-wheel-drive system, which is much better suited to off-roading.
Hyundai Santa Fe -- The Santa Fe has more powerful engine choices and much better audio, infotainment and navigation systems. But the Santa Fe's fuel economy, especially on the all-wheel-drive models, falls far short of the Forester's, and its all-wheel-drive system is only part-time. The Forester's base price is also a few thousand dollars less than the Santa Fe.
Ford Escape -- The Escape costs more when similarly equipped with all-wheel drive and an automatic transmission, is smaller inside and has a lower fuel economy than the Forester's. The Escape does have a more upscale interior, better audio and infotainment features and a more stylish exterior.
If fuel economy and some modest creature comforts top your shopping list, the 2.5i Premium with CVT, the All-Weather Package and a touchscreen navigation radio would be our pick. However, if power and performance are paramount, then the 2.0XT Premium would be our choice. The Limited is nice if you like leather seating, heated seats and automatic climate controls, and those who must have all the bells and whistles will find them on the Touring trims. Be prepared, though, to pay a premium for the top models, on par with what you'd pay for a similarly equipped Outback.