2017 Subaru Forester: Keeping up with the Joneses

Strong points
  • Comfortable ride
  • Quiet cabin
  • Large trunk
  • Loaded with modern technology
Weak points
  • 2.5L H4’s power is still only adequate
  • Prone to understeer
  • CVT is not a fan of spirited driving
Full report

HIGH RIVER, Alberta – If the name of this small southern Alberta town rings a bell, it’s because it was all over the news three years ago when a massive flood almost wiped the 13 000-citizen community right off the map. In these three short years, High River has managed to rebuild its little town and show the world, and the elements, that it’s too strong and resilient to just disappear.

In many ways, the links between Subaru and High River are relevant. Like the citizens of the municipality who are here to stay, so are Subarus. Get this: 98% of all Subies sold in Canada in the last 10 years are still on the road today. As well, like the town, Subaru is about people, especially those that end up as passengers in their cars.

The very popular Forester (1 in 3 Subarus sold over the last few years) arrived to immediate acclaim in 1997. This compact crossover has been a staple in its segment and in order to maintain the momentum, Subaru’s now given the fourth-generation ‘ute a mid-cycle refresh.

Sharper and quieter

For the 2014 model year, the Forester regained some of its boyhood good looks. The third-gen version was anything but handsome, but that’s behind us now. The most notable upgrades come from the new front bumper skin and the revised headlights, which may now sport BRZ-themed, C-shaped LEDs. The rear taillights are also touched up with LEDs of their own.

New wheel designs are introduced and although not the prettiest, play a role in making this Forester the quietest ever. In fact, the 2017 Forester might be the most refined Subaru in the showroom yet.

The hushed cabin is a result of a new acoustic windshield, side windows that drop lower down in the doors, more insulation in the doors, cargo area, and transmission tunnel. The outcome is a serene environment even at speeds above the provincial speed limit of 110 km/h. The engine noise is surprisingly muffled, as are wind and road projections.

This is a good thing for the typical Forester buyer, which are between 30-40 and 50-70 years of age. Well, essentially the Forester targets everyone, but I’m thinking of young families and retirees. For both of these groups, safety is more than often at the very top of their list of priorities. And when safety is mentioned with Subaru, EyeSight inevitably comes up.

EyeSight has been the story at Subaru over the last four years as it is an important aspect in in the brand’s success with safety ratings. For the 2017 Forester, it too receives updates.

New cameras offer a better field of view, and features such as lane keep assist, blind spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert are included. Reverse automatic braking is also new and it uses sonar (instead of radar as it’s more precise in close proximities) that will detect objects and stop the vehicle automatically.

Staying on the topic of technology, the Forester features a standard 6.2” touchscreen, the only one in the segment. The infotainment system is up to snuff with loads of connectivity.

On or off-road

Driving the Forester has never been a more luxurious experience. And I do mean what I’m writing. The suspension has received minor tweaks both front and back for a more comfortable, flatter ride. Keep in mind this has not altered the Forester’s impressive 220-mm ground clearance, which we put to the test on a few occasions. The steering ratio had been sharpened up, vastly enhancing response and feel. With the quieter cabin and smoother ride, all of the drama has been removed from the driving experience.

Some mild updates were also brought to the powertrains. The 2.5L boxer four-cylinder engines are now all PZEV, while the CVT automatic’s pre-set gears are tighter for better acceleration. The result is improved fuel economy numbers on paper. On the road, the average driver will not notice any changes.

One of the two Foresters tested displayed odd shuddery shifts under acceleration, but I’m convinced this was an isolated occurrence. Besides that, the 2017 Forester drives and feels like a far more premium product than its price point suggests. Oh, and it’s quite capable off-road as not only is AWD a standard feature, but X-Mode comes with all CVT models. I also say this because the Forester is the only compact crossover that can be had with AWD and a six-speed manual transmission.

In this segment, the options are nearly endless. The Japanese and Koreans are very strong with the likes of the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Hyundai Tucson. Then there’s the best-selling Ford Escape. The Forester’s large trunk, smooth ride and extra technology make it a very safe long-term bet.

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