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2018 Subaru Forester: New Car Review

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author photo by Autotrader August 2017

The 2018 Subaru Forester competes in a tough arena, yet despite an aging design, the Forester continues to be one of the best compact crossovers you can buy. While not as stylish as the Kia Sportage, nor as technologically-advanced as the Ford Escape or Jeep Cherokee, the Forester has more than enough accolades to keep it among the best-selling models in the Subaru lineup. The Forester's tall roof and wide side windows create an excellent 360-degree view, while its standard Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive coupled with 8.7 inches of ground clearance give it real off-road bragging rights. You can even still get a manual transmission on the base and Premium trims.

The 2018 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 2018?

For 2018, Subaru introduces a new Black Edition package for the 2.5i Premium model. Black Edition Foresters include black wheels and trim, steering-responsive LED headlights, steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters and four paint choices: Crystal Black Silica, Dark Gray Metallic, Crystal White Pearl and Ice Silver Metallic. The Forester 2.0XT gains standard torque-vectoring technology, while Subaru's EyeSight driver-assist system and navigation are made standard on the Touring trim. Models equipped with EyeSight also gain automatic high-beam assist and reverse auto braking.

What We Like

Excellent fuel economy; child-seat-friendly back seat; true off-road ability; reasonable price; powerful turbo model; high-tech safety options; available manual transmission

What We Don't

No manual transmission on the turbo model; 2.0XT Premium can't be equipped with EyeSight or navigation; pricier trims not as well-equipped as similarly priced competitors

How Much?

$23,710-$37,000

Fuel Economy

The standard engine for the 2018 Subaru Forester is a 2.5-liter boxer 4-cylinder that produces 170 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque. With the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), the 2.5 earns an Environmental Protection Agency-estimated 26 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/28 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 23 mpg city/27 mpg hwy on regular gas (premium gasoline is recommended but not required).

Standard Features & Options

The 2018 Subaru Forester comes in two models and four trims, which include the 2.5i, 2.5i Premium, 2.5i Limited, 2.5i Touring, 2.0XT Premium and 2.0XT Touring.

The 2.5i ($23,710) includes a 6-speed manual transmission, a rearview camera, air conditioning, cruise control, Bluetooth, a tilt-telescopic 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 6.2-in single-touch gesture display audio unit with AM/FM/HD Radio/single CD/satellite/Bluetooth streaming. Options for the base model include a CVT automatic and an alloy-wheel package.

The 2.5i Premium ($26,610) adds a power moonroof, 7-in touchscreen audio with multitouch gesture control, Siri Eyes Free, Starlink multimedia (including Bluetooth SMS text messaging and dual USB ports), SirusXM radio, 17-in alloy wheels, automatic climate control, a 10-way power driver's seat with power lumbar support, reclining rear seats, rear privacy glass and an All-Weather package (AWP) that adds heated side mirrors, heated front seats and windshield wiper de-icers. CVT-equipped models gain X-Mode and hill-descent control but make the AWP optional. Unlike the manual models, CVT models can be equipped with a power lift gate, rear cross-traffic alert, blind spot monitoring, fog lights and the EyeSight driver-assist package.

The 2.5i Limited ($30,310) adds the CVT and X-Mode with hill-descent control, a blind spot monitoring system, rear cross-traffic alert, leather seating, the AWP, fog lights, auto headlights, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a power rear tailgate. Options include navigation, Harman Kardon audio and EyeSight with steering-responsive headlights, auto high beams and reverse automatic braking.

The 2.5i Touring ($34,005) adds EyeSight, navigation, HID headlights, a heated steering wheel, 2-setting memory for the driver's seat, 440-watt Harman Kardon audio, one-touch folding rear seats, steering-responsive headlights, auto high beams, reverse automatic braking, keyless access and start, dual-zone automatic climate control, integrated side-mirror turn signals, PIN-code access and polished 18-in wheels. A brown leather interior is a no-cost option unique to the Touring trim.

The 2.0XT Premium ($30,410) brings a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine, a sport suspension, 18-in wheels, a high-torque CVT automatic with SI-DRIVE, and dual exhaust pipes. Unlike the 2.5i Premium trim, the XT Premium does not offer the option of EyeSight or a power rear tailgate.

The 2.0XT Touring ($37,005) adds all the 2.5i Touring's features to the 2.0XT Premium.

All models equipped with Starlink can be upgraded with a subscription-based Safety Plus and Security Plus package that includes remote lock/unlock, vehicle locator, stolen-vehicle recovery, SOS emergency assistance, collision notification, roadside assistance, and monthly vehicle health reports and reminders.

In addition to the above option packages, Subaru offers a huge number of dealer-installed options.

Safety

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. In crash tests, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the Forester five stars overall, while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rates the Forester as Superior for its accident-avoidance technology and awarded it a Top Safety Pick+ rating for model year 2017.

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 inches 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 are 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 the XT model's 18-in tires vastly improve handling without diminishing ride comfort or increasing noise levels. The real joy when driving the XT is the rush of power from the turbo engine. If you require superior passing power and jackrabbit sprints, this is the engine you'll want in your Forester. The XT's 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. Performance figures are not exactly in the WRX's territory, but the XT can still dash from zero to 60 mph in just 6.2 seconds.

Other Cars to Consider

2018 Honda CR-V -- The base price for a front-drive CR-V with an automatic transmission is about the same as a Forester with standard AWD. The CR-V does offer the same excellent resale value and reliability as the Forester, but in a newer, more modern package.

2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport -- The Santa Fe Sport has more powerful engine choices and better high-end features, such as ventilated seats. But the Santa Fe Sport'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 that of the Santa Fe Sport.

2018 Ford Escape -- The Escape costs more when similarly equipped with all-wheel drive and an automatic transmission, is smaller inside and has lower fuel economy than the Forester. The Escape does have a more upscale interior, better audio and infotainment features, and a more stylish exterior.

Used Subaru Outback -- A 2015-2016 Subaru Outback gives you the same great all-wheel-drive setup but with more room and a more sophisticated interior, plus an available 6-cylinder engine.

Autotrader's Advice

If fuel economy and some modest creature comforts top your shopping list, the 2.5i Premium with the CVT, the All-Weather package and a power rear liftgate would be our pick. On the other hand, if power and performance are paramount, then the turbocharged 2.0XT would be our choice. Inexplicably, Subaru doesn't offer EyeSight or navigation on the 2.0XT Premium trim, which means if you want either you'll have to move up to the 2.0XT Touring. However, once you reach the Touring trim level, be prepared to pay a premium on par with what you'd pay for a similarly equipped Outback.

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New 2018 Subaru Forester 2.5i Limited
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New 2018 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Touring
New 2018 Subaru Forester
MSRP $37,905
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New 2018 Subaru Forester 2.5i Premium
New 2018 Subaru Forester
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New 2018 Subaru Forester 2.5i Premium
New 2018 Subaru Forester
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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2018 Subaru Forester: New Car Review - Autotrader